March 20, 2007

Global Songlines

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Womadelaide : Sounds of the Planet 2007
March 9 -11.

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

It is now only a week away. Well established in its annual cycle, Womadelaide, follows the seasons back into the Adelaide autumn. And, after such a parched summer, the cool green expanse and easy shade of Botanic Park seems more beguiling than ever. This year’s is the eleventh event and marks the fifteenth anniversary of this “world of music and dance” which formed such a memorable centrepiece to the Adelaide Festival back in 1992.

Womad continues to hit highpoints. Going annual has not affected the depth and range, or the sheer scale of the event. The program last year, for instance, was the largest yet, and this time around – with 330 artists from 20 countries – the quality and diversity of the scheduling is everywhere apparent.

The list of names and musical styles is as varied and esoteric as before. Each year we are presented with unfamiliar traditions and musical forms which are startlingly intact, and expanding hybrids which remind us that, in the global community of musicians, things not only continue to change, but are accelerated by events such as Womad itself. The many long-term Womad fans, those recidivists and their families who return to the event year after year, will have noted the ongoing shifts in style and emphasis in the event – including the rise of electronica and hip-hop, the expansion of Hispanic forms, the new wave of young indigenous performers, and the mellowing of artists as their careers mature.

In 2007 there are some particularly notable inclusions – not least the large and impressive Australian contingent. We are not a world in ourselves, heaven forbid, but the variety of music generated on our continent is a reminder that, whether or not the word is politically convenient, multicultural threads are rich and strong. Prominent among the participants is Kev Carmody (currently the focus of a tribute CD project organized by Paul Kelly) whose recent album, Mirrors, features a mix of straight-up political protest and fine ballads. Fans of the Stiff Gins will welcome the return of Emma Donovan with her own band and a new album – Changes. Blues will get a real burst with the excellent Backsliders (with added member, Oils-man Rob Hirst) Their Live CD (Shock Records) of two years back is a blast from Smokestack Lightning to Jug Band Blues. Sweet Baby James, with veteran percussionist Rob Eyers, will also win fans with his nimble slide versions of blues classics alongside strong originals.

Womad has more recently steered away from Aussie rock music – Crowded House and The Cruel Sea now being faraway memories. The inclusion of introverted popsters, Augie March is a welcome change of tune,Their recent CD Moo You Bloody Choir, featuring the melodic single One Crowded Hour, will be familiar to many, but new to older Womad fans who will no doubt warm to their literate and distinctive repertoire. The Waifs, with their lively mash of blues, pop and country rock will make a much-anticipated return. Their indie CD Shelter Me suggests they are in better form than ever. And Deborah Conway, with musical partner Willie Zygier, is a terrific addition to the Womad list. With her Broad concert projects (in cahoots with women singers such as Claire Bowditch, Ruby Hunter and Ella Hooper) and the Summertime CD of a couple of years back Conway, one of this country’s smartest female vocalists, is a Sunday night must.

There is an especially strong contingent of women at Womad this time. Yasmin Levy’s revival of Ladino, a 15th century Judeo-Spanish vocal form, can be heard on La Juderia , a haunting set which returns Ladino to its Andulusian roots and combines it with flamenco. Mariza, who precedes Levy on Saturday night, brings the sweet melancholy of Portuguese Fado back to the park. Her award winning CD, Fado en Mim, is released on the World Connection label. Another exciting prospect is Lila Downs, whose Mexican-American heritage brings together old strains and hot club sounds on La Cantina, an album well worth checking out.

Last year the estimable Miriam Makeba made a majestic appearance. This year South Africa’s Mahotella Queens return after fourteen years. Their 2005 CD, Kazet, indicates they are as joyously vibrant as ever. And, on the final night, expect an extraordinary performance from the Indian singer, and Bollywood legend, Asha Bhostle accompanied by the mercurial Kronos Quartet and one expects, a bundle of beats and dubs to thicken the brew. You’ve Stolen My Heart, songs by R.D. Burman is available on Nonesuch Records.

Each Womad we have the chance to hear truly out-of-this-world, world music and this year the Tuvan throat singing sounds of Huun-Huur-Tu, a quartet from Southern Siberia will amaze, as will Etran Finatawa, a group of Tuareg and Wodaabe Saharan nomads, who combine their separate native styles and add a healthy dose of Bo Diddley to the proceedings. Griot singer, Habib Koite from Mali, is also not to be missed.

On a more ethereal note is Chinese flautist Guo Yue, once of the Guo Brothers, with his recent musical (and literary) memoir of life in the Cultural Revolution, Music, Food and Love (RealWorld) and Shivkumar Sharma and Rahul Sharma, exponents of the hundred string santoor, scheduled for the late Friday meditative spot – the Nusrat midnight hour. For the young and restless, prominent UK club personalities Mr Scruff and the Mad Professor will turn their tables and hybrid outfit The Gotan Project (check the tango anagram) will sashay with Argentinian moves and French dub FX.

Womadelaide, naturally, needs true headliners and this year there are several. Nigerian Femi Kuti and his sax-heavy band The Positive Force will raise the pulse and consciousness, and the pale prince from Mali, Salif Keita, perhaps the greatest of all the West African bandleaders we have seen, returns for one show only. His latest CD M’Bemba translates as ‘grandfather’ and his themes return to the domestic verities. It is beautifully sung and performed. As his earlier albums Amen and the acoustic set Moffou splendidly indicate, Salif Keita is a star in any firmament.

A 16 track compilation disc, Womadelaide: 2007 Sounds of the Planet, is also currently available.

“Sounds of the World” The Adelaide Review, No.311, March 2, 2007, p.12.

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