February 27, 2015

The World in a Long Weekend: Previewing WOMADelaide 2015

Filed under: 2015,Archive,Womadelaide

Murray Bramwell

In just seven days time, on March 6, for four days and nights, WOMADelaide 2015 will fill Botanic Park with roving artists, Planet Talk speakers, KidZone artists and, of course, musicians : 58 bands from more than 30 countries. Founded 23 years ago, and an annual event since 2008, WOMAD has long been a major event in March.

Staged in the second weekend of the Adelaide Festival and flanked by the Clipsal 500 and the Adelaide Fringe, it offers all things to its diverse and staunchly recidivist audience. To some, it means high energy big ensemble acts on the Internode Centre Stage, and for others, fine-grained acoustic performances under the Moreton Bay fig trees, cutting edge late night DJs at Speakers’ Corner, or lying under the stars watching musicians at the Zoo stage.

The key to WOMADelaide’s durability as a major event, apart from the originality and range of its program, is that, in the driest city in the driest state, Botanic Park is a green haven, its numerous shade trees and spacious grounds offering passenger comfort unheard of in most outdoor festivals and certainly hard to find elsewhere in Adelaide in March.

This year’s fixture has the usual proportion of unfamiliar names. No rounding up the usual suspects at WOMAD, although there also famous headliners on the marquee as well. From its earliest years, WOMAD has gathered a rich array of ethnic, community-based musicians, as well as high profile performers from Africa, Asia and Europe, mostly unknown to Anglophone audiences here and elsewhere.

The notion of World Music has often been contested, and for compelling reasons sometimes. But it is also true that events such as WOMAD have introduced sounds and styles, politics and perspectives, which have enriched the understanding of all participants – musicians and audiences.

Over the years we have seen how WOMAD acts have incorporated new trends and music forms as more hybrids proliferate – hip-hop and other urban genres now augment reggae influences, electronica mixes with Afrobeat and Cuban, gypsy and klezmer, swing and funk. Fanfare Ciocarlia, a 24 piece Romanian brass band is like a gypsy roller derby, Jambinai from South Korea use traditional folk instruments – fiddles, zither and oboe – in league with blistering electronics to mesmerising effect.

Canzioniere Grecanico Salentino from Southern Italy feature pizzica violin, melodic guitars, bouzouki and bagpipes to create spirited dance numbers contrasted by emotive ballads . Their CD, Pizzica Indiaviolata showcases their vibrant vocals and musicality. Playing at the Zoo on Saturday night they promise to be a highlight.

African bands have been a major component of the WOMAD program and this year there are some intriguing sounds. The Malawi Mouse Boys play African versions of gospel music, accompanied by ukeleles, guitars, spoons and tin can percussion . Their sweet vocal harmonies, whistling, and lilting rhythms are impossible to resist. In contrast, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jupiter and Okwess deliver a thunderous sound and a strong political message. Bandleader Jupiter Bokondji and his band have recharged afrobeat with new inflections. Their album International is full of sonic surprises. Their live show should be a knockout.

I am also looking out for Bombino, the Tuareg guitarist Omara Bombino Moctar, from Niger, whose rock and roll desert blues have now taken him to Nashville, Tennessee where his terrific 2013 album, Nomad was recorded.

Malian virtuoso Toumani Diabate is no stranger to WOMAD. His previous appearances, which include his masterful performance of The Mande Variations, will be etched in the minds of those who saw him. This time he performs with his eldest son Sidiki, also an exponent of the kora, a 21 string West African harp. Not only a peerless musician, Toumani Diabate is also an outstanding explainer of his music.

Appearing on Sunday night at the Internode Centre Stage is Youssou N’Dour, a WOMAD legend for his extraordinary performance back in 1992, the first year of the event. Scheduled to play in 2012, he was a late cancellation because he was preparing to contest the presidential election in Senegal. Such is his stature in his country and it is an indication of the profound influence of his music. From his 1990 album, Set, to his recent reggae tribute, Dakar- Kingston (with tracks such as Marley and Medina) Youssou N’Dour is still a towering presence. His performance will be an emotional return for the faithful and a revelation for new audiences. His Saturday afternoon Artists in Conversation session with another musician turned politician, Peter Garrett, should also be fascinating.

WOMAD has had its share of American roots music from Mavis Staples to last year’s favourite, Pokey Lafarge. This time it is blues harmonica legend, Charlie Musselwhite. Now 71, his career began in the late 1960s alongside other Chicago based white musicians such as the late Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. Musselwhite’s 2012 CD Juke Joint Chapel, finds him in top form. His most recent release, Get Up! a collaboration with Ben Harper, won the Best Blues Grammy in 2014.

And for hoe-down Bluegrass dance music, Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys, from the land we now call Canadia, play everything from Laurence Welk’s Champagne Polka and Ragtime Cowboy Joe to Wildwood Flower. Their 2013 album Pickin-n-Clickin is a non-stop barnstormer.

Among the Australian contingent is C.W. Stoneking, now a regular American blues exponent on the international circuit. His careful replication of old style singing and presentation is similar to the retro-style of Pokey Lafarge. This time C.W. puts aside his National duolian guitar and tenor banjo and takes up his Fender Jazzmaster for Gon’ Boogaloo, featuring his compositions – The Zombie, The Thing I Done and I’m a Jungle Man.

Also featuring are Aboriginal performers, the Tjintu Desert Band, Emma Donovan and the PutBacks and from far North Queensland, Kamerunga.
Luke Peacock and The Painted Ladies will perform their version of The Loner, an Australian black protest album written and recorded by singer-songwriter, Vic Simms, in Bathurst Gaol in 1973.

Women musicians are a major part of the WOMAD program and this year the range is exceptional. Iranian singer Tara Tiba (now resident in Perth) blends Persian classical song with jazz stylings – her CD, A Persian Dream, is well worth checking out. Bolivian singer Luzmila Carpio performs in the ancient Quechua dialect , Hindustani vocalist Meeta Pandit is a classical diva with a voice spanning 3 octaves, Flavia Coelho brings new strands to Brazilian bossa nova and samba, and pianist Margaret Leng Tan charts new territory in contemporary composition. .

Folk-singing legend, Buffy St Marie, has been a Native American cultural leader and inspiration since the 1960s and this continues through to her recent work, Running for the Drum. I also look forward to hearing her sing Universal Soldier, a powerful mid-60s anti-war protest anthem more salient now than it ever was. At the Moreton Bay stage, Australian singer Emma Swift teams up with British cult musician Robyn Hitchcock, and from Adelaide, Julia Henning will perform, once only, on Sunday late afternoon from her excellent new album, Fledgling.

Swedish duo First Aid Kit first played WOMAD in 2012 and delighted audiences with repertoire from The Lion’s Roar. This time they will showcase their new release, Stay Gold. Enjoying much attention currently is Sharon Van Etten whose album Are We There ranked highly among the best releases of last year. Haunting, tuneful songs such as Afraid of Nothing and Taking Chances underscored with punchy rhythms distinguish themselves from the pack. She only plays once – on Friday night.

A much anticipated appearance is Neneh Cherry (with Rocketnumbernine+) featuring her project Blank Canvas, her first release in 17 years. Featuring her agile vocals combined with avant-electronic effects Neneh Cherry’s sets will not disappoint. And, another highlight, is final night headliner Sinead O’Connor – for 30 years an exceptional talent, a controversialist and a creative force – who has found a new audience with recent successes such as Nothing Compares to U. Nothing compares to Sinead O’Connor.

Other headliners not yet mentioned are the prodigiously talented, Rufus Wainwright (son of Loudon III and Kate McGarrigle, brother of Martha) whose songs range from tear-stained confessional to jaunty ragtime, Judy Garland homage, operatic aria and the theme to the movie, Grey Gardens. His recent “best of”collection, Vibrate, captures some of this spectrum. It will be great to see him perform in the WOMAD setting. Again, once only, on Friday night.

On Saturday night the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club – featuring singer Omara Portuondo with musicians Guajiro Mirabal, Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos and Barbarito Torres – perform what is likely to be among the last of their international shows. The Social Club closed in the 1940s. Now, after 16 years back on the road, these elderly veterans of Cuban music are finally calling it a day.

This year’s is a massive program and full of discoveries. For devotees (and newcomers) to electronica the late night sets by Invisible Cities and Paul D.Miller, aka DJ Spooky, are a must. Also on my list of absolutely essential inclusions are Boston band, Lake Street Dive and their uber-catchy Bad Self Portraits, Irish traditional re-imaginers, The Gloaming (whose lineup includes fiddle player Martin Hayes, former Afro Celt Sound System singer Iarla O Lionaird, and pianist Thomas Bartlett) and founder Go-Between, Robert Forster, performing under the Moreton Bays with Jherek Bischoff and Adelaide’s Zephyr Quartet. Smashed, the Pina Bausch inspired physical theatre gem from Gandini Juggling, plays twice on the Plaza on Saturday – do yourself a favour.

And, finally, the jewel in this year’s crown, the Abdullah Ibrahim Quartet. Their latest CD, Mukashi (Once upon a Time) is sublime – and if Ibrahim also plays a solo set, as he is doing in the Festival program, it will be heaven on a stick.

WOMADelaide runs from March 6 – 9.

Daily Review, February 27, 2015.

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