WOMADelaide @ Botanic Park, Adelaide 12/3/2023

Welcome to Womadelaide 2023 Day 3. As I walk into the main stage area I notice there are still feathers on the ground from last night’s wonderful performance of Gratte Ciel’s performance of Place des Anges. Children are gathering the feathers and throwing them up in the air. I have been going to Womadelaide for nineteen years and by far this was the busiest I have seen it with three of the four days completely sold out so far. This is no longer your parent’s Womadelaide, it has “grown up’. This was more akin to the Glastonbury festival where you would have to sacrifice a large portion of the set before so you could get to stages early to get a good position for your favourite acts due to the crowds. Womadelaide were able to achieve this by booking some incredible acts like Bon Iver and Florence + the Machine.

First up for me on the Foundation stage was Taraf De Caliu which is a spinoff from Taraf de Haidouks and is from Romania. Under the lead of ever-smiling iconic violinist George ‘Caliu’ Anghel they gave a highly spirited performance of gypsy folk music that had the crowd moving for the whole set. George is an extremely talented violinist and he was backed by excellent musicians on double bass, santoor and accordion. The latter two were Australians who were playing because two of the original band could not make it but it sounded like they had been playing together for years

Next up was Julian Belbachir on Stage 3. Julian is the percussionist in the Australian band OKA and last year he released a fantastic world music album called Babdouklala which is a sonic journey that explores the deep roots of both North and West Africa. He was backed up today by musicians from all over the world. They created a wonderful fusion of almost psychedelic world music. Julian performed at an empty Sydney Opera House in 2020 during Covid that was broadcast on the internet. Thankfully those days are over and we are able to aww him and his wonderful band live.

Quickly back to the main stage for the incredible Kronos Quartet who are a string quartet from America that has been performing for 50 years and has played at Womadelaide several times. I was lucky to see them at the one-off Womad Earth Station at Belair in 2011 and before that with Asha Bhosle in 2007. Today the first half of their set was their greatest hits that consisted of Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix, God Shall Wipe All Tears Away by Mahalia Jackson and the earth-shattering Lux Aeterna from the film Requiem for a Dream that has been used in many film scores since. The second half of the set had the wonderful Mahsa Vahdat from Iran sing with the quartet. Mahsa has previously performed with her sister at the festival and today performed selections from the joint Kronos and Mahsa 2019 album Placeless. Mahsa has such a beautifully haunting voice that blends well with this excellent quartet.

Off to Fantastic Negrito on Stage 2 who was a revelation for me at the festival. A friend recommended him to me and I saw him on Saturday and needed to see him again on Sunday. He has a hilarious stage presence and told us he came here on an imaginary spaceship. He learned to play music by sneaking into music classrooms at the University of California Berkeley despite not being a student there. He and his band are remarkable with special mention to the keyboard player and drummer who were both world-class. The outstanding songs were Trudoo, Lost in a Crowd and Plastic Hamburgers.

After an hour break to catch up with family and friends, I went to see married couple Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn a banjo duo from America who met in Nashville at a square dance where she was dancing and he was playing. The duo presented a warm and uplifting hour of banjo music and storytelling. Their nine-year-old son Juno joined them to help with two songs and he was charming. Other highlights were Little Birdie a song about worrying about your children and an unbelievable solo banjo performance by Bela of Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. The set ended with the fan-requested Take Me to Harlan which was a splendid finish to their set.

Next up Sampa the Great is on the main stage with a powerhouse performance. Sampa is a Zambian singer and rapper based in Australia and her performance today was staggeringly fantastic. I have seen her several times and this was by far the biggest crowd I have seen her perform to and deservedly so. Her all-Zambian band has performed at Glastonbury and Coachella in 2022, the two biggest festivals in the world. On the song Freedom she tells us that music is about freedom so feel free to move around. Her backing band was brilliant and the drummer was matchless. In fact, the sound from the main stage was impeccable all day. Sampa brings together classic hip-hop and nods to traditional South African song structures. She sang Let Me Be Great from her latest album which is a duet with Angelique Kidjo her childhood inspiration who she first met at Womadelaide years ago. My highlight was the glorious Final Form one of my songs of the year in 2019 which was breathtaking. Sampa definitely made many new fans today.

I missed Gratte Ciel today as I had seen it the night before as I wanted to see Mdou Moctar on stage 7. They are from Niger and gave me one of the most brilliant performances of the day. They perform Tuareg guitar music and are one of the tightest bands that I have ever seen. They do not have a set list so I do not know what they played but I am definitely seeing them again based on their performance today. The music consists of compelling guitar riffs and drums which build and build to a frenzy for a lot of the songs. The mostly younger crowd were enthralled. One of the many pleasant surprises that Womadelaide has presented us with this weekend

I then attended stage 2 for Muete. This band never spoke to us for the whole hour and is a techno marching band from Germany. They create a hypnotic driving techno and brass style of music which reworks some electronic music hits in their set. They are an eleven-piece band with percussion and brass. The full crowd seemed to be moving as one to this sensational dance music. They remind me of the Italo Disco artist, Alex Gaudino with his song Destination Calabria. Highlights were Rej, Hey Hey and the song that most people know them from You and Me Flume Remix which has over fifty-nine million views on YouTube.

As the night was winding down I saw a spirited performance by The Langan Band from Scotland on the Zoo Stage. Again like all the acts today, they were just wonderfully professional musicians that the Womadelaide selectors have searched the world for. These three guys on guitar, Double bass and violin had a sparkling energy about them. They play uplifting progressive Celtic and folk music and played selections from both of their albums. They played the lovely Sweetness from the unreleased new album and my favourite Auld Jimmy from their first album. This song has a charming story about a man who is dying but is happy because he lived life to its fullest. The band were so excited to be at Womadelaide and were very appreciative that we danced to the fast songs and paid attention to their slow songs.

The last band I saw for the night was the last thirty minutes of the Colombian super group Ondatropica who very much impressed me even in that thirty minutes. Everyone in the crowd was dancing to their interpretation of Cumbrian, hip-hop, salsa and Afrobeat styles. The last song of the set was an incredibly altered version of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man and was a magnificent end to Sunday Night Womadelaide 2023. I can not wait until tomorrow and next year.

WOMAD Review By Richard De Pizzol

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