February 27, 2013

New Sounds in the Park

WOMADelaide 2013

Murray Bramwell

The line-up for this year’s WOMAD in Botanic Park has been announced and the anticipation begins. It is a big list – with three days and four nights to cover – and there is the usual mix of familiar names and those never-heard-of-till-now- performers who will doubtless join the 20 year list of artists who, once seen and heard, are never forgotten.  Names like Youssou N’Dour, Sheila Chandra, Toumani Diabate, Afro Celt Sound System, L. Subramaniam  and  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan come to mind – as do dozens more, all now part of our personal Womad playlists.

Some of this year’s headliners are names we know. There is reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, indelibly linked with The Harder They Come and You Can Get it if You Really Want. He has a new CD, aptly named Rebirth, and is supported by his backing band Engine Room. Tracks like World Upside Down, Ship is Sailing and One More (also on the indispensible WOMADelaide 2013 Sampler)  will renew the interest of even the already rusted-on fans.

Also performing on Sunday night is Salif Keita, for me the most memorable and haunting of all the Afrobeat aristocracy who have played at Womad. His Malian griot heritage blends powerfully with the eclectic funk, groove and jazz  influences that have layered a succession of great albums. My favourite is still Amen with such crowd chant  classics as  Yele n Na and Lony, but his latest CD Tale is a fresh new take – the track Samfy even includes a sample from the B-52s’ Planet Claire.

South African artists feature regularly at Womad. It is now four years ago that we saw the esteemed freedom pioneer Miriam Makeba, who, alas, died later that year (we recently lost another music legend headliner, Ravi Shankar) This year Hugh Masekela, master jazz rhythm trumpeter and staunch anti-Apartheid campaigner will lead his band through a repertoire drawn from a career that began in 1954.

His 2008 album Phola  (to get well, to heal) with tracks such Bring it Back Home, Sonnyboy  and the Joke of Life remind us of that exceptional form of courage and character which, like the spirit of  Nelson Mandela himself,  is creative, just, reconciliatory and always looking forward. So too with the Soweto Gospel Choir which, for more than ten years,  has presented its compelling blend of African hymn, American gospel and Jamaican chant.

Also performing in the Adelaide Festival program, as well as Womad, is viola da gamba player Jordi Savall. Celebrated as the director of the Hesperion XX ensemble, Savall has been a major figure in the revival of early music. His CD, The Celtic Viol, is a vibrant miscellany of Irish and Scottish tunes, jigs and laments – and for his Monday night performance he is accompanied by Andrew Lawrence-King on Irish harp and Frank McGuire on bodhran. Scottish trad trio LAU will also carry the Celtic music flag. May there be many more at future Womads.

Women musicians often hold up more than half the Womad sky and this year is no exception. Spanish singer Amaparo Sanchez brings a blend of Hispanic influences, as indicated in the title of her current album Tucson-Habana. Accompanied by Joey Burns and John Convertino from influential roots band (and recent Womad guests) Calexico, as well featuring guest vocalist Omara Portuondo, Sanchez brings bravura intensity with Hoja en Blanco, Desde Siempre and the sampler track, Corazon de Realidad.

Algerian singer Souad Massi is also a likely highlight. Her CD, O Houria (Liberty) is a Parisian blend of North African lyricism and contemporary pop. Some lyrics in Algerian, others in English, the song titles include All Remains to be Done, Stop Pissing me Off and, as a coda, with guest singer Paul Weller, Let Me Be in Peace.

Mari Boine, an indigenous Sami woman from far-Northern Norway (and also Professor of Musicology at Nesna University College), blends her native joik music with contemporary jazz and folk styles. With her commanding and intriguing melodies, her terrific CD Sterna Paradisea (Cuovgga Airras) lists song titles such as Skealbma (The Mischevous) De mana Rahkasan (For my daughter) and Iditveiggodettin (Dawn).

It is good to see Womad beginning to draw on the rich talent in the indie Americana scene. Abigail Washburn who has recently released a playful, plaintive solo album entitled City of Refuge, appears with collaborator Kai Welch at 7 pm on Saturday night and again late afternoon on Sunday.  Also in the richly variegated weird folk style are UK singer and violinist Seth Lakeman (whose plaintive single Lady of the Sea is a YouTube hit ) and, playing one concert only on Friday night, The Tallest Man on Earth, aka Swedish songwriter (and Bob Dylan sort-of-soundalike),  Kristian Matsson.  He played before at the Womad Earth Station in 2011 and many of us will be keen to survey his heights again.

The Australian contingent is a strong one with some true crowd favourites. The Cat Empire will reign supreme on Friday night and gutsy blues singer/guitarist Mia Dyson and local SA favourite Heather Frahn will also draw the numbers.  You Am I veteran and treasure, Tim Rogers will perform with The Bamboos , whose current album Medicine Man promises a great live set, as do thumping reggae dub unit Kingfisha, and, from across the  Tasman, Kiwi duo Swamp Thing, whose release Balladeer, sounds very easy to sink into.

Then there are the intriguing groups and performers who represent living traditions and styles and extend our sense of the richness and variety of global music . From India this time we have two notable women performers – the Hindustani classical vocalist, Manjiri Kelkar, accompanied on tabla and harmonium, and representing the Southern Carnatic classical tradition, vocalist Sudha Ragunathan.

The late night midnight hour spot on Friday night was first claimed by the extraordinary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This time the Alim Qasimov Ensemble from Azerbaijan  will perform in the mugham tradition, a form of sung poetry with musical accompaniment.

Other performers not to be missed include Malian ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate  and his band Ngoni Ba, Vieux Farka Toure (also from Mali)  and Japanese duo Shunsuke Kimara and Etsuro Ono playing a traditional banjo-like instrument known as the tsugari-shamisen. Mention should also be made of The Volatinsky Trio, with their enticing mix of guitar, cello and cimbalom.

There are many names I haven’t mentioned, including a whole program of DJs and electronica as well as strolling park performers from Compaignie Luc Amoros.

But I want to close with my two favourites. Oud player and mesmerising vocalist Dhafer Youssef plays late on Sunday night at Stage 2 and will be worth staying on for. He performed at the Guitar Festival here a few years back – in duet with German guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel (they have an aptly named CD entitled Glow). His singing and musicianship was truly extraordinary.

And, at the Zoo Stage on closing night, will be the cellist Zoe Keating. From the West Coast of the US, she wrangles an array of  live samples, loops, sustains and reverbs to weave exciting and sublime sounds. She played to enthusiastic audiences at the most recent Cabaret Festival and anyone who heard (and watched) her then, will be back for more of her dazzling repetitions. Her newest recording is called Into the Trees, which is where, from March  8 to 11 in Botanic Park , we also will be heading.  Let the wild rumpus begin.

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