Day three of WOMADelaide’s 30th-anniversary celebrations launched with a mind, body, and spirit cleanse. An hour of guided yoga from Stage 7 and the Moreton Bay Stage set punters up for a full day of music, dancing, eating, drinking, and revelling.
With an array of activities to select from we were spoilt for choice. There was Taste the World, where artists perform and share their stories while cooking favourites dishes from home that we can sample. Or unique workshops such as Haiku Hands on the Zoo Stage, teaching us a dance routine to songs on their upcoming debut album. A Planet Talk session with Waleed Aly, Scott Stephens, and Lisa Hall provided intellectual stimulation provoking critical thinking as they discussed whether children should vote. While Restless Dance Theatre performed a roving one-on-one silent disco between artist and viewer.
Then there was the music.
With an abundance of music from all corners of the globe across six stages, it was impossible to see everything. However, what was evident everywhere was that every stage at any given time was crowded with people appreciating the entertainment.
Musical highlights included Melbourne’s The New Monos. Promoting their debut album, Moron Life (2022), they shared their Argentinian heritage in song as the afternoon sun beat down upon them. The smiles on their faces and those dancing in the crowd were the perfect summary of joy experienced.
L-FRESH The LION spoke of his Sikh and Punjabi roots with dignity. He smashed through an impressive set of songs including Alchemy, Oh My, Mother, Our World, Work, and Born to Stand Out. Bold lyrics like, “Jaw dropped when I step up on the scene/ On the mic I never hesitate/ I give em that ultra light beam,” highlighted his tenacity and self-belief. Qualities considered staples of his music.
Hailing from New Zealand, SUB-TRIBE brought reggae permeated dub-fusion for their first performances in South Australia at WOMADelaide on Saturday and Sunday. Taking to Stage 2 for their second performance, they rejoiced in the grandness it offered. Playing a mix of songs from their self-titled EP, upcoming debut album, and random tracks like Tribute, a tribute to the late great Bob Marley, they perfectly captured the carefree vibe of the afternoon and the attention of the audience.
Nestled in among the trees and overhanging sleeping bats, Ausecuma Beats were grooving on Stage 7. Created from the fusion AUstralia, SEnegal, CUba, and MAli, they promote unity through music and unify they did. Rhythmic beats were blended with rich percussive sounds and complemented by luscious traditional vocals. A mosh pit of bodies danced to hits such as Sallier and Bala. The afrobeats even stirred some bats awake, who circled overhead while maintaining a watchful eye over festivities.
Born in Nairobi and hailing from the Nilotic tribes of Kenya, Elsy Wameyo shared her velvety vocals and pulsing rhymes to an appreciative audience. Revelling in the joyous atmosphere, the Adelaide resident traversed through songs such as Pastor, Never There, Nilotic, and River Nile. It was a hint of what to expect on her upcoming EP, Nilotic. With Gospel and contemporary RnB influences and strong sensibilities of her culture, Wameyo’s music is a window into her life and vulnerabilities.
After covid related reasons prevented her from performing in Adelaide in 2021, the acclaimed Emma Donovan finally returned with The Putbacks. And what a show it was! Donovan beamed as she sang My Goodness, Take Time, Leftovers, Yarian Mitji, Pink Skirt, So Much Pain, Warrell Creek Song, and Don’t Give up on Me, among others. Talking with the crowd in between sets, her light-hearted attitude and genuine delight to be there was endearing. Then when she sang…wow. Just wow. Her gut-wrenching soulful vocals were breath taking. Together with The Putbacks – Tom Martin (Guitar), Rory McDougall (Drums), Mick Meagher (Bass), Justin Marshall (Percussion) and Simon Mavin (Keyboard) – a symbiotic collaboration was formed. Classic soul married with the protest music of Indigenous Australia and heavy funk reigned supreme. It was one of the highlights of the day.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of their debut album Spirit of Place Goanna’s performance was uplifting. Shane Howard, Marcia Howard, and Roslyn Bygrave performed songs from the album that were a social commentary on many issues such as Indigenous rights. It was prevalent in 1982 and still remains so. With a slew of special guests including William Barton, Emma Donovan, John Schumann (Redgum), the Pocket String Quartet and Nick Sverdlovsk, their sunset set was meaningful and wonderful. The highlight, without a doubt, was Solid Rock performed by all collaborators. Barton’s didgeridoo, in particular, elevated an already iconic song that is steeped within the pages of history.
In among a circle of Moreton Bay Figs, Electric Fields lit up the night under the watchful guidance of the waxing gibbous moon. It was the ideal setting for a performance that can only be described as haunting, inspirational, and beautiful. Songs including Lore Women, Catastrophe and Gold Energy, among others, were a sophisticated amalgamation of electric soul and Indigenous storytelling. Zaachariaha Fielding sang interchangeably in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, and English. His unique vocals paired with keyboardist and producer Michael Ross’ musicianship created a stirring and esoteric event. Special guests Antara singers and Tjarutja First Nations Dance Collective added to the beauty and artistry.
Day Three headliners, The Cat Empire, were similarly celebrating a special occasion at WOMADelaide’s 30th birthday. It was their final original line-up performance in Adelaide. Everyone in the band except Felix Riebl (vocals, percussion) and Ollie McGill (keys) previously announced their pending departures after more than 20 years together. Opening with Hard to Explain? the next 90+ minutes would be an experience to remember.
With an enormous back catalogue of music, it would have been challenging to curate this final setlist. What we heard was the quintessential collection, the songs that forged The Cat Empire and made them loved and revered the world over. Oscar Wilde, Brighter than Gold, Daggers Drawn, and Two Shoes started things off. Then with Harry Angus on vocals, long time collaborator Julie O’Hara came on stage for The Lost Song. The sentimentality was evident as O’Hara lingered on stage that little bit extra as she hugged everyone in gratitude.
Still Young followed then The Rhythm off their self-titled debut album. Here, we watched an arresting visual and auditory extravaganza as flamenco guitarist Richard Tedesco and two flamenco dancers joined the band on stage. The dancers took centre stage, and the beat of their dancing feet was incorporated into the song in a wonderful collaboration.
In My Pocket preceded some of The Cat Empire’s most popular songs because it goes without saying they saved the best for last. Hello had everyone up on their feet jumping, dancing and singing. This continued with The Car Song and the final song of the main set, Steal the Light. Returning to the stage after a brief break, The Cat Empire gave their all to ensure a phenomenal send off to their departing compadres. Also, to Adelaide, a city Felix described as holding a special place in the band’s heart. Adelaide returned the favour with non-stop cheers rumbling through Tainmuntilla. The Wine Song, Sly and The Chariot closed the performance out.
The emotion of the moment was felt by everyone as we understood we had been privy to an extraordinary chapter, the final chapter, of The Cat Empire.
It was a fitting end to a phenomenal day at WOMADelaide.
WOMADelaide Review By Anita Kertes