January 27, 2006

Sampling the World

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Womadelaide 2006

Murray Bramwell previews some recent CDs from this year’s Womadelaide artists

With Womadelaide, these days, it is never very long between drinks. Hardly have we absorbed the pleasures of the three day festival and we are offered the blandishments of the next one. Since going annual two years ago this festival of world music and dance continues to surpass itself – which is no mean feat, given that it began, back in 1992, as an already top-notch event. This year is the tenth fixture and it is being promoted as the largest yet – 400 artists from twenty seven countries – with almost no repeats from previous years.

That means there is plenty to prepare for – if you are interested in the music, of course, and not just lolling about on the grassy sward and snoozing under the canopy of Moreton Bay figs in Botanic Park. Not, as they say, that there is anything wrong with that. But given that Womad audiences are notorious recidivists, we have accumulated over time a substantial awareness of the music of continental Africa, the ethnic communities of Europe, and the Pacific rim including the diversity of cultures here in Australia.

So now, with the full program announced, is a good time to sample some of the sounds that await us in March. First up, on the Friday night, after the Kaurna welcome, is the eminent Miriam Makeba, the first lady of South African music. From the 1950s onwards she has, like Harry Belafonte in the Caribbean, been an ambassador for her people’s music and a proponent for their political rights. Those who may remember her only as part of the folk scene of the 1960s will be impressed by her new CD Reflections (Gallo Records) with its sharp arrangements and Makeba’s suave vocals – exploring material ranging from Hugh Masekela to Van Morrison and the Manhattans.

Also on the first night is Cameroon singer Coco Mbassi whose second album, Sisea, is earnestly impressive. Opening with Bebotedi she pays tribute to the great singers who preceded her. Mahalia, Makeba – and Salif Keita, in whose band she provided vibrant, gospel-inflected vocals. Celtic music is a mainstay of Womad and Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon, as those who have seen her on previous club tours will already know, promises to be a knockout. Spellbound, her “best of” collection from Daisy Discs is a good place to start. Onstage at Womad, with the likes of Capercaille piper Michael McGoldrick, we can expect a lively set. 2006 also brings three other distinctive women, all of whom have CDs well worth listening to – Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie’s inventive Shadow Behind the Iron Sun, the eclectic Paris-based Cape Verde vocalist, Lura, with her album Di Korpu Ku Alma and, from Iraq, Farida and her ensemble, performing traditional maqam songs..

The Australian contingent is especially strong this year with acts ranging from Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s Saltwater Band, whose album Djarridjarri is available from Skinnyfish Records, to Paul Kelly, returning to Womad after ten years, with his bluegrass band, the Stormwater Boys. Their album, Foggy Highway, is a corker and includes re-recordings of Cities of Texas and Archie Roach’s masterful ballad Rally Round the Drum. Also prominent on the bill are blues/ roots wizard Jeff Lang, whose gutsy album You Have to Dig Deep to Bury Daddy came out last year, and winsome indie singer, Clare Bowditch, with her band the Feeding Set, whose debut album Autumn Bone is terrific. Oz music veteran Joe Camilleri makes a Womad debut, teaming up with Nicky Bomba for a set based on their Limestone CD – a mix of soul, ska, reggae and British Beat.

And speaking of reggae, Womad 2006 announces for one show only – Jimmy Cliff, legend of Jamaican music and star of the cult film The Harder They Come. Many Rivers to Cross and Sitting in Limbo are among his many great songs. We can probably also expect selections from Black Magic his recent CD. Produced by former Eurythmic, Dave Stewart, and featuring guests Wyclef, Sting, Annie Lennox and the late Joe Strummer, it has topical references to 9/11 and the Middle East – but diehards might prefer the rougher-hewn Island sounds of his classic work.

Orchestra Baobab, who feature on both Saturday and Sunday nights, are a must. Re-formed after a twelve year hiatus this Senegalese outfit has close ties to the remarkable Youssou N’Dour and they exude much of the same energy and flair. Their CD, Specialist in All Styles (World Circuit) with its Cuban cadences, funk garnishes and rhythmic dazzle is among the best of this year’s Womad crop. Also high energy and musically nimble is Brazillian Chico Cesar who is preceded on Friday night by the Dhol Foundation. Named for the double-tuned drum played by leader Johnny Kalsi, the Foundation is his “other band” when not working with the Afro Celt Sound System, the fusion outfit which astonished the first Womadelaide in 1992. Listen to the Dhol’s excellent album, Drum-Believable (TDF Records).

Also at that first Womad was Indian classical violinist Dr L.Subramanian, presenting a peerless set that sent us all in pursuit of his recordings on Nimbus Records – Three Ragas for Solo Violin and Raga Hemavati both remain favourites of mine. His return, in collaboration with Amjad Ali Khan, will be a late night reverie we are also likely to cherish.

On sale also is Sounds of the Planet – Womadelaide 2006, a sampler of this year’s artists released through Shock Records.

“Sampling the World” The Adelaide Review, No.284, January 27, 2006, p.20.

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