A warm Saturday afternoon on a glorious long weekend set the scene for the start of day two of WOMADelaide in Botanic Park. For many, Womadelaide is an immersive experience of sights, sounds, and sustainable living. While as much as it’s about the music, it’s also a festival of inspiring talks, wonderful food, and shopping for global goods. It is this holistic approach that fuelled our afternoon, starting off with a thought-provoking Planet Talks session with anthropologist and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall. A packed house jammed in to hear Dame Goodall say that a glimmer of hope exists, despite a long tunnel of darkness for humanity ahead (think poverty, over-consumption, and climate change). After such a conversation-inducing talk, it was then time to check out the diverse and beautiful wares in the Global Village. Australian Landscape Jewellery is one such stall to visit, with jewellery is displayed inspired by the couple’s travels and photography through Australia. Artwork by Delvene Cockatoo-Collins at another stall is another must-see, with purchases of her artwork able to be taken home in the form of note pads and bookmarks.
Our first visit to Stage 3 for the day was for Ausecuma Beats who wowed us with their nine-piece band. A sax, bass and guitar, added texture and groove to the West African sounds of various drums and percussion such as doun doun, djembe, balafon, and congas. Wearing traditional head-dress, leader Boubacar Gaye, expertly played the djembe while coaxing the audience to participate in crazy dance moves and repeat back Senegalese phrases while clapping along to the infectious beats. For some reason, this had many in the crowd dancing like they were doing squats in the gym, but it was clear many were having as much fun as the guys on stage. Truly an international group, members have ancestry from Guinea, Mail, Cuba, Senegal, and now all call Australia home.
After participating in a crowd circle celebrating these crazy dance moves, most of the audience, now hot and sweaty migrated to the Foundation Stage for SUB-TRIBE from Sydney and Aotearoa, NZ. This dance-inspiring dub-fusion performance by this six-piece group had tight drum and bass beats, hip hop themed tunes, and harmonious reggae-influenced dub. The audience was wowed by the lead singer’s voice which was absolutely beautiful, lyrically distinct, and complemented his amazing rap as well. The brass trio of trombone, sax and trumpet were all in sync, working hard to getting in tune early on in the first song. Mesmerising graphics on the back screen complemented the beats. A favourite song was Who’s that Knocking On My Front Door which had a spectacular two-part harmony in true dub fashion.
One of the hardest decisions when attending WOMADelaide is which stage to visit, especially when artists are only performing once. This decision had to be made when we had to decide between A.B. Original and Martinez Akustica who were performing simultaneously for their only WOMADelaide appearances. We decided to watch a portion of A.B. Original then move onto Martinez Akustica purely because we’d seen the members of A.B. Original perform in the past with their long-time collaborators the Hilltop Hoods. Clearly they had a big following with a fully functioning mosh pit with a lot of head banging and a very enthusiastic home audience.
Martinez Akustica are a guitar trio comprised of father and sons originally hailing from Chile. Their fusion of acoustic, electric, and bass guitars produces toe-tapping and technically-brilliant music. Guitar combat or duelling guitars are the descriptions that come to mind for this performance. The three acoustic guitar pieces were a highlight and when the father spoke about his family and his five children, it was clear that love energised their performance. Beautiful arrangements by the dad of Chilean songs complemented entertaining theatrics on stage.
The highlight of the day came at 7.30pm on the Foundation Stage when 25 of Melbourne’s best musicians took us through a fun, expansive, and joyful celebration of Ska. Melbourne Ska Orchestra won an ARIA Award in 2019 for Best World Album and it’s easy to see why. A megaphone heralded the entrance of all performers which set the scene for an hour of infectious energy, jumping around, and brilliant music. The brass section, reminiscent of high-school concert bands, was entertaining, energetic, and of course … loud! Steel pans from the Caribbean complemented the percussionists and a full drum kit, all introduced expertly and seamlessly in a song about the orchestra in Sans Humanite. All the songs had some story behind them and none more so than the song Bus Driver, all about one of the singers who they met when he was their Blues fest bus driver. Led by infectiously energetic Nicky Bomba of John Butler Trio fame, this performance was one not to be missed. Lygon Street Meltdown showcased some spectacular keyboard playing and of course the brass sections’ technical brilliance. In Solitary Island, the very versatile flautist came out to sing showing off some very well-rounded vocals. The song culminated in a trumpet and flute duel, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Being able to engage the audience interactively is certainly a challenge taken on by most WOMADelaide performers, but none perfected as well as the charming disarmament of Nicky Bomba. Conducting both the orchestra and the audience in well-tempered organised chaos was a sight to behold and a joy in which to participate. Through songs such as A Perfect Storm, and a James Brown-inspired He’s a Tripper, we were encouraged to join in with lots of “boomshakalakas” and “shakalakabooms”!
Motez was our penultimate performance for the night, an electronic music producer and classical pianist with a difference. Starting off with a trance track that would have been fitting in any popular club in Europe, he then introduced the first of many guests, a vocalist whose soaring sounds were accompanied by Motez’s signature resounding piano. Heavy beats that sounded influenced by Avicii provided the base for a world-premiere performance that was his only WOMADelaide appearance. A privilege to witness, the performance showcased a string quartet with some stellar glissando runs and Motez’s skills as an electronic music producer. With a lighting rig looking like the star gate from the TV show of the same name, the lighting display and sequences were an integral part of this thrilling performance. As Motez claimed, “there are a few things that you just can’t learn from a textbook” and the talent and mastery behind this music production is one such element. Talent like this is not learned but is certainly an innate gift. I’ll be looking out for what this amazing artist does next!
Courtney Bartnett then took to the Foundation stage for her only WOMADelaide performance. Her bluesy songs included some lovely harmonising and her guitar skills were phenomenal. The lure of world-class food was too much to keep us entertained so it was time to sample fare from Byron Bay’s the Fun Guys (seriously, we’ve waited a few years to taste their tempura mushrooms again, and they are a must try!) and Combi Coffee. Then it was time to return home after a great day celebrating WOMADelaide’s 30th year. Bellies full, dancing feet sore, and just a little dusty, we made our way through the spectacular Cathedral of Lights as a fitting end to a glorious day.
WOMAD Review By Kim Burley