November 06, 2011

Womad Earth Station

Filed under: 2011,Archive,Womadelaide

October 24

Womad Earth Station
Long Gully, Belair National Park, Adelaide
October 21-23.

When, back in March 1992, Adelaide Festival director Rob Brookman was launching his first ever Womad event, he had intended that it be held in Belair National Park in the Adelaide Hills. Severe seasonal fire danger alerts put paid to that plan and, at the last minute, everything re-located to Botanic Park in the CBD where Womadelaide has been a great biennial, and now annual, success for not quite 20 years.

But now, with this newest spin-off project, Womad Earth Station, a mix of the now-familiar music, installations and markets format with a ramped-up series of forums featuring more than forty expert speakers on climate change and environmental sustainability, the switch from autumn to spring has meant that the original idea of a festival in the Belair Park has finally been realized.

It meant more logistics – transport in by train for many, and then shuttle buses into the park itself – but the Womad faithful got with the program and, as always, the festival infrastructure and design was first-rate.

In order to re-focus on discussion and reflection, director Ian Scobie deliberately scheduled a smaller music program, but loaded it with excellent selections nonetheless. Australian performers included Emma Donovan and Pitjantjatjara man Frank Yamma with David Bridie, Vika and Linda Bull, stylish vocalist Paris Wells, and inventive jazz outfit, The Catholics, featuring saxophonist Sandy Evans and trombone player James Greening.

The Saturday line-up was weakened by the cancellation of festival drawcard, the Malian kora master, Toumani Diabate, delayed with visa problems in Paris. But Sunday’s listings more than compensated – Rickie Lee Jones performing classics like Last Chance Texaco as well as new songs Bonfires and Wild Girl, Chinese musician Wu Man playing her lute-like pipa and, closing the final night, a beautifully lucid sixty minute piano reverie from Abdullah Ibrahim.

But the headline group of the festival was the Kronos Quartet – playing an afternoon set of works ranging from Sigur Ros and Omar Souleyman to Terry Riley’s The Cusp of Magic. Then, on the final night, led by David Harrington, Kronos played a range of international works collectively entitled A Meditation on Earth, interspersed with sage quotations (read by John Gaden and Pamela Rabe) from astronauts to Chekhov, Edison to Einstein.

The true highlight, however, was on the first night when, in the bushland setting, Kronos, assisted by the Adelaide Chamber Singers, performed Terry Riley’s Sun Rings, a 90 minute tribute to NASA scientist Don Gurnett and the deep space recordings taken by the Voyager and Galileo missions. This splendid blend of music and visionary science memorably captured the aspirations of the festival and Womad Earth Station gave us something seriously cosmic to tune in to.

Murray Bramwell

Published as “Hills come alive with cosmic vibrations” The Australian, October 25, 2011, p.17.

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