March 14, 2008

Hot Stuff

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Womadelaide 2008
Botanic Park
March 7 – 9

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Womadelaide this year will be remembered because the weather was seriously hot – and so was the music program. When even the usually green swath of Botanic Park is looking parched and dusty we know that climate change is not just an Al Gore lecture and the current drought is getting very worrying. The temperatures climbed into the forties and day time sessions tested even the young and the faithful. Predicting the shifting shade patterns of the park’s trees has become a new art form. Despite all this, attendances remained high and weekend tickets sold out before the event. Womad continues stronger than ever.

Certainly, the Friday night program that had something for all demographics. The John Butler Trio commanded Stage 1, the guitarist working the effects pedals from slide to squelch as he played the sounds of the Australian summer – rootsy blues, guitar rags and radio hits that had the groundlings buzzing. The Black Arm Band, with a cavalcade of great Indigenous musicians, stood proud with a history of sorrow turned to determination – video screens depicted Freedom rides, Eddie Mabo and, at last, Sorry Day, marking a national shift in spirit which also infused this event with up-beat celebration.

A world away, but linked in purpose, was Mavis Staples, doyen of gospel and member of the famous family who in the early 1960s marched step to step with Dr King. With back up singers and accompanied by a haunting tremolo guitar, Ms Staples’ voice was extraordinary in range and expression. With classics like Eyes on the Prize and Wade in the Water, interspersed with Buffalo Springfield’s What’s that Sound and the Band favourite,The Weight, it was a great set. She may have been tongue-tied over the city’s name – “Allerdaide, aw shucks : Lemonade” – but the big-hearted singer offered a much finer elixir. Mavis Staples’ marvelous voice took us to a well of music all her own.

It was a good year for Australian artists. In addition to John Butler were Bob Evans (aka Kevin Mitchell), the accomplished Sarah Blasko and popular goodtime band, The Beautiful Girls. Don McGlashan’s set at high noon on Saturday reminded us what a fine songwriter the former Mutton Birds front man is, while the other Kiwi group, Kora and Samoan dance company Black Grace also played to enthusiastic reception.

The gypsy sound infused this year’s event – the amazing Taraf de Haidouks, the Titi Robin Quartet and the zany Kerem Quartet while Clube de Balanco and Victor Valdes provided the latin sounds. A big blow to the program was the late withdrawal of headliner Cesaria Evora due to serious illness. Her band valiantly covered the first set on Saturday and for Sunday night, Sharon Jones, soul star of the Daptones label from Brooklyn, New York stepped energetically up to the plate.

A true world music highlight this year was the Saturday night performance from Toumane Diabate and his Symmetric Orchestra. A 71st generation griot and virtuoso of the kora, the 21 stringed West African harp, he led his excellent band through an effortlessly fluent show, traditional sounds mixed artfully with electric instruments – and Diabate explaining and guiding the audience through the experience. It epitomized the best of Womad just when the definition of world music was starting to look a little ragged.

“Hot Stuff” The Adelaide Review , No. 337, March 14, 2008, p.20.

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