March 01, 2010

A World of Difference

Filed under: 2010,Archive,Womadelaide

A World of Difference

Womadelaide 2010
Botanic Park
March 5-8.

Murray Bramwell previews highlights from next month’s Womadelaide

To mark the new decade, and fifty years of the Adelaide Festival, Womadelaide 2010 is bigger than ever. Stretched to a fourth day, it now finishes on the night of the March Monday holiday. The program has added eight more acts, four international, four Australian, and claims performances from more than 500 artists from 27 countries.

Womadelaide remains one of South Australia’s most successful major events. Even as the state’s general claim to cultural pre-eminence comes under closer scrutiny and the Festival itself is being shadowed – and overshadowed – by Melbourne, Sydney and even Perth, Womad continues to flourish. With access to the centrally located Botanic Park and production values established when it was first introduced as a Festival event back in 1992, it has enjoyed the Premier’s particular patronage and support – enabling it to move to an annual cycle in 2003 and sign long term agreements to fend off the predations of other cities keen to grab a piece of world action.

There is something about Womad’s agreeable mix of music and dance, wine and food, and family-friendly, gentle conviviality which recalls that Don Dunstan “Athens of the South” ambience which is both Adelaide legend and Adelaide fact. On the crowded, often unseemly, national stage where cities and states jostle for cultural distinction, Womadelaide, now in its fourteenth incarnation, is still seen as a good reason for people to jump on a plane, or rev up the Kombi, and come and join in.

The Womad program is always one of surprises and revelations. Few other music festivals present their audience with an array of performers that for the most part they’ve never heard of. There are notable exceptions, of course,  such  as, this year,  Ravi Shankar  – but mostly the enthusiastic recidivists who make up the Womad crowd trust Event Director, Ian Scobie and Program Manager Annette Tripodi (along with UK Womad godfather Thomas Brooman) to come up with a schedule which will not only please and amaze but extend musical and cultural horizons.

Although she says it wasn’t intended, Annette Tripodi acknowledges that 2010 could be called the Latin Womad. A variety of hispanic styles abound with headliners such as Ojos de Brujo bringing their intense blend of flamenco, Afro-Cuban styles and urban hip-hop infusions. Their album Aocana is a lively showcase of this versatile Barcelona band and the track Nueva Vida is also included on the recently released official 14 track compilation CD – Womadelaide 2010 Sounds of the Planet.

Also exploring a mix of familiar latin styles with contemporary dance sounds are Los Amigos Invisibles. Hailing originally from Venezuela, since signing to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label they have become an international fixture with six albums and a Grammy in 2009.  Then, from Mexico comes Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich and Fussible with Tijuana Sound Machine (Nacional Records) putting together tunes ancient, modern and postmodern with accordions, brass, synths and jumping beats. Tracks like Brown Bike and Mama loves Nortec will have late night audiences jumping.

Named for a small border town in Southern California, Calexico, founded by Joey Burns and John Convertino in Tucson Arizona, also promise to be a Womad highlight. Their 2003 CD Feast of Wire (Quarterstick Records) is a delicious combination of dreamy vocals and country tunes, laced with accordions, Mexican horns, electric twang and much else. They are reminiscent of Wilco and vintage Gram Parsons. Dylan fans will know the excellent Calexico backings for the soundtrack cover tunes for I’m Not There, Todd Haynes’ eccentric Dylan tribute featuring Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett.

And for those who want their Cuban straight from the Social Club – then there is virtuoso guitarist, Eliades Ochoa, stalwart of the Buena Vista Social Club, revived and celebrated as a result of Ry Cooder’s tribute to the golden age of Havana music. Ochoa has numerous solo albums but you also can’t go past the live Carnegie Hall double CD (Nonesuch) of the legendary Buena Vistas.

Among the big-stage acts seen at Womad, Babylon Circus from Lyon, France is likely to match the best of them. Their 2009 album, La Belle Etoile (Jive/Epic)  is a tasty stew of boulevard chanson, Caribbean and Afro-beats, and oompah jug band syncopations. They could be a Gallic version of Madness until they morph into yet something else they have collected for their musical magpie nest. They play Saturday and Sunday night and are too much fun to be missed.

Besh o DroM is said to translate from Hungarian as “to ride the road, just like wild horses.” Certainly their gypsy fusion sound which traverses Transylvania and Lebanon is a full tilt experience. Formed in Budapest in 1999 they may play like wild horses but their precison is strictly equestrian. I have been listening to the soundtrack album Gyi ! that gets more frenetically interesting every time I play it.

Womad is also a festival of contemplation. The near-midnight spot once set aside for such extraordinary performers as the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Subramaniam  will, this time, include the haunting vocals of Gochag Askarov, performing Azerbaijani mugham music. Also performing on the final night is the incomparable Ravi Shankar. Over a seventy year career, and through his association with the young Beatle George Harrison, he almost single handedly

introduced the sound of the sitar to Western ears. Even as every Sixties record collection included a copy of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper and Revolver so the  Fontana LP of Ravi Shankar’s Portrait of Genius was also to be found. Shankar has a huge output – including collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin and film soundtracks. Sony has a double CD in its Essential series. Full Circle, a live set from Carnegie Hall in 2000 (Angel) is one of the most recent and it sounds majestic. In his 90th year, Ravi Shankar’s Womad performance, with his daughter Anoushka, will be unforgettable.

Women not only hold up half the sky, they are a major part of the Womad program. In recent years we have seen Miriam Makeba, Mavis Staples, the Unthank sisters, Lila Downs, Sarah Blasko and Yasmin Levy, among many, and this year, courageously outspoken singer Amal Murkus promises much. Her CD Shauq (Acum) features her powerfully resonant vocals with songs such as Diary of a Palestinian Wound and Stranger in a Far City. And, from the Western Sahara, singing in the Hassania dialect, comes Mariem Hassan, her striking voice matched by the heavy electric guitars of her band. Like Etran Finitawa  with their  Bo Diddley riffs back in Womad 2007, Marien Hassan’s band is an eclectic marvel. Her self-titled 2002 CD is a good place to discover her fascinating sound .

Sometimes programming is serendipity. Annette Tripodi describes getting an email from Canadian singer Jane Siberry to say she was going to be in South Australia over the Womad weekend and would be available to play. Known also as Issa, Siberry has produced 11 albums, the most recent entitled With What Shall I Keep Warm ? Two of her songs also feature on kd lang’s celebrated Hymns of the 49th Parallel.  Her performances a couple of years ago at the Cabaret Festival were hypnotic. Both her Sunday night solo concert and collaboration with the Tutti Ensemble will be keenly anticipated.

The Australian contingent is also as various as it is impressive. Indigenous singers, Frank Yamma and Shelley Morris will feature, as will the ever popular Xavier Rudd (his most recent album is 2008’s Dark Shades of Blue.) There will be Russian punk from VulgarGrad featuring the brilliant Jacek Koman, New Orleans influences with Mama Kin, new songs from Vorn Doolette and, for one set only, Tim Finn, whose recent Anthology tour was a fresh return to a classic repertoire.

Womadelaide also offers big names from the Club scene – DJs Nickodemus and Acid Rock lounge legend, Gilles Peterson will dazzle the late night forest revellers  while performers, Strange Fruit, the amazing  Kathikali Ensemble and the zany Cholmondoleys and Featherstonehaughs will all remind us that the ‘D’ in Womad stands for dance.

The Adelaide Review, March 2010.

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