March 18, 2005

Fine-Tuning the Festivities

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Womadelaide 2005
Botanic Park

Murray Bramwell

2005 will probably be known as the Wet Womadelaide. But only because – apart from some passing morning showers in 1992 – the event has been long blessed with ideal weather. Not that the Friday night rains this year proved especially irksome, especially since most of us had umbrellas amongst our kit. And, as a reward for audience loyalty perhaps, the first evening also provided some of the best music of the weekend.

The Friday line-up, in many respects, was a snapshot of the festival itself. After the warmly received Kaurna Welcome, the Kronos Quartet took the stage with a selection – as violinist David Harrington wryly noted – that was performed at another rainy festival in 1969. It was of course the Jimi Hendrix Woodstock rendition of the Star Spangled Banner which the accomplished ensemble, who for twenty years have showcased new compositions from across the world, followed with works from India, Ethiopia, Mexico as well as a splendid suite from the soundtrack of Requiem for a Dream.

The kapa haka group, Te Matarae i Orehu, from Aotearoa New Zealand took Stage Two by storm with a martial display both ferocious and redolent with cultural pride. By contrast, Zap Mama, led by the vivacious Mary Daulne with a bevy of vocalists, played their delectable form of Afro-Cuban Paris pop with crowd pleasers such as Sweet Melody and Bandy Bandy. Then while the highly rated French unit, Lo’Jo played the mainstage , Jim Moray presented his Sweet England set of familiar folksongs – Early One Morning, Lord Bateman and the raggle taggle Gypsies – now served on a bed of beats, samples and processed guitar and topped with Moray’s almost-boy-band-perfect vocal.

Through a curtain of rain Alpha Blondy from the Cote d’Ivoire, along with his ten piece Solar System, channelled the music and the spirit of early seventies Bob Marley. With guitar riffs borrowed straight from Bunny Wailer and the irrepressible Mr Blondy’s commanding presence, Womad finally saw and heard reggae styles from the Golden Age of Toots, Lee Perry and Peter Tosh re-integrated into Blondy’s African themes of struggle and self-determination. And, finally, near midnight, the sublime vocals of Ustad Rashid Khan and his musicians created an ambience of calm and introspection for the last of the soggy stalwarts, staying on for what Womad pioneers remember as the Nusrat hour.

If there is word that describes Womadelaide this year it is accessibility. In past years musicians such as Papa Wemba performed whole sets in French and African dialect with no hint of the themes and concerns reflected in their music. And while it is expected that World Music will be sung in all languages, the extent to which Zap Mama, Alpha Blondy, the brilliantly scampering hip hop group Daara J, the Maori kapa haka group, the gypsy inspired Les Yeux Noirs and the politically staunch Vusi Mahlasela translated their lyrics and spoke directly to audiences was admirable, drawing us closer to their artistry and the values inherent in their music.

Another kind of accessibility in Womad programming, of course, is to have more mainstream anglo material. This is true of American singer Richie Havens, who reprised his famous improvised Woodstock raga Freedom/ Motherless Child but also impressed with his excellent covers of Dylan songs plus selections from his recent CD By the Grace of the Sun. His easy manner and coffee house troubadour style readily proved he also has a place in the Womad mix. Less satisfying were Capercaillie, a Scottish band with strong credentials, who served a repetitive, over-jigged set which failed to match past Celtic outings from Shooglenifty, Kila and the Afro Celt Sound System.

Australian performers are now more apparent in the Womad format. Highlights this time – the melodious Pigram Brothers playing their sunny evocations of the saltwater life in Broome and Nadia Golski’s 101 Candles Orkestra delighting the workshop crowd at Stage Six.

Which reminds us that Womadelaide is a house of many mansions. There is the high road that runs between Stages One and Two featuring high octane headliners like the hispanic big band Ozomantli and the extravagant drumming of Dulsori . And there is the low road that features such exquisite authentic miniatures as the Adel Salameh Trio and Vusi Mahlasela as well as those likeable locals, The Audreys.

Everyone has their own festival itinerary and their set of Womad moments – soaking up the sun, lazing under the trees, strolling the park greeting friends, schmoozing with Snuff Puppets, playing with the kids, and, this time, walking in the drizzling rain while flame installations courtesy of La Compaignie Carabosse defy the logic of fire and water. For these excursions, music is both background and foreground, and the park itself becomes the event. For some it is a rave, for others it verges on self-induced coma. Womadelaide is much more than the sum of its parts – it is three days of global music-making, certainly, but it is also a welcome chance to let the rest of the world go by.

“Finetuning the Festivities” The Adelaide Review, No.264, March 18, 2005, pp.23-4.

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