March 01, 2009

Planet Soundings

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Murray Bramwell previews CDs for Womadelaide 2009

Now in its annual cycle, it seems no time at all before the next Womad program appears. Opening on March 6, the 2009 version is the thirteenth full-scale festival and again the program looks both recognizable and entirely unfamiliar. This is the paradox of the event and an important part of its success. There are few fixtures as pleasingly ritualized as Womadelaide and that is a strong reason why the numbers returning remain steadily high and why more, particularly from interstate, join the throng each year.

The constants in the formula – the Botanic Park site, the layout of the stages, the dazzling flags designed by Angus Watt, the high production values and excellent amenities, all signal to the crowds that they have returned to a zone where they can safely relax, meet friends, let their kids run free, lie under the trees and listen to a range of world music which is never less than interesting and often, quite sublime.

And while most festivals depend on the established reputation and cred of the line-up – for instance the Big Day Outers this year were being lured by Neil Young  and Arctic Monkeys – with Womad there is always a new list of names few of us have heard of. It is this willingness on the part of audiences to suspend doubt (if not disbelief) and a confidence in the range and flair of the scheduling that makes Adelaide’s festival of the world such an enduring attraction.

2009 will be no exception. Among some well-known names are many that are new – and sampling their music from their recent CDs, there are many distinctive new sounds to enjoy. So, no better time than now to browse the record shops, websites, downloads, MySpace,YouTube and any other virtual emanations, for a  taste of the music we will hear in March.

The headliners this time are Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80, the Nigerian AfroBeat sensations, 16 musicians strong,  a high energy sound with urgent messages, many sung in English, to Think Afrika. They appear only once on Saturday night, along with Justin Adams and the Juldeh Camara Trio, whose CD,  Soul Science – is a mix of roots and blues, griot and a very hypnotic one-stringed fiddle called a ritti. A Friday highlight will be AfroBeat veteran, Tony Allen whose extended grooves on the double CD Afro Disco Beat promise much.

Other intriguing crossovers are Speed Caravan featuring the electric oud of Algerian Mehdi Haddab whose CD, Kalashnik Love even includes a version of The Cure’s Killing an Arab, and Ska Cubano – as their name suggests, they are a Jamaican Cuban combination. Their album, Ay Caramba even includes a zany version of Istanbul (not Constantinople) It is going to be the year for interesting beats, mash-ups and mixes with Speed Caravan and DJ Dino Moran from South Africa. Appearing on two afternoons is the fabulous, if inauspiciously named, Dengue Fever – a blend of California psychedelia from brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzmann and the vocals of Cambodian woman, Chhom Nimo. Listen to their CD Venus on Earth, their sets will be a must.

The contingent of women is always strong at Womad and despite the unfortunate withdrawal of the legendary Latin American singer, Mercedes Sosa, there will be many others of distinction. It has  been announced that Malian singer, Rokia Traore is returning for the first time since 2001 to play one show only on Sunday night, Egyptian singer Natascha Atlas’s CD Ana Hina recorded with the Mazeeka Ensemble suggests a talent of great eclectic range, while Portuguese fado music, a longtime favourite with Womad crowds, is very strongly represented by Dona Rosa whose CD Historias da Rua is well worth acquiring for your collection.

Mongolian-born Sa Dingding is another prospect altogether –her album, Alive is a dizzy mix of Kate Bush vocals, Peking Opera cadences and trippy electronica. She will be worth staying up for on Friday night. Playing one set only is Rachel Unthank and her band the Winterset, a UK band with strong Geordie dialect and a repertoire of traditional  and new material which has captured the alt. contemporary audience with a sound which is  like equal parts Maddy Prior, the Pogues, Bjork, Joanna Newson and Beth Orton. Except, of course, that the Unthanks are not quite like any of those. Their excellent CD, The Bairns is one I already keep going back to.

Among  so much of the hybrid pop-inflected music which is now the Womad staple it is  a welcome contrast  to thread into the traditional acoustic program. Foremost here is the classical carnatic South Indian music of U Shrinivas. Even here, though, it is modified for mandolin and he duets with collaborator U Rajesh on electric mandolin. They play the two late night spots on Friday and Saturday – what the regulars might call the Nusrat Hour. U Shrinivas’ 1995 CD, Dawn Raga (RealWorld) is an excellent introduction to their hypnotic sound.

Another highlight will be the delectably named Dimi Mint Abba, whose CD Moorish Music from Mauritania features her haunting vocals accompanied by  (and here are some more esoteric instruments to learn about ) the harp-like, ardin and the lute-like, tidnit. Senegalese band, Seckou Keita SKQ, exponents of the kora or  West African harp,  are another treat in store. Their CD is entitled The Silimbo Passage.

The Australian and Pacific region program is again strong and varied. Many of us have been listening to Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s extraordinary self titled CD, Gurrumul, a unique vocal experience soon, you’d have to think, to become a widely discovered world music classic. To hear Gurrumul perform at Womad will be a festival highpoint. Adelaide musicians are well-represented – ARIA winners, The Audreys with their terrific When The Flood Comes, former Fruit singer, Susie Keynes has a new trio Redhead, and Akoustic Odyssey cover material included in their accomplished CD Ilios.  From the region comes Mihirangi from Aotearoa New Zealand, PNG’s Tatana Village Choir and East Timorese singer, Ego Lemos.

Womad favourites The Cat Empire, featuring their album So Many Nights, will be welcomed back, especially by their legion of young fans and , if all that isn’t enough, recently announced for one show on Sunday afternoon, Neil Finn will perform  – his first return since the truly magic Crowded House set on the very first night of Womadelaide back in 1992.

The Adelaide Review, March 2009

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