March 24, 2006

Days and Nights in the Forest

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Womadelaide 2006

Murray Bramwell

As the fourteenth Womadelaide has demonstrated, not even 37 degree heat on Saturday and steady rain on Sunday night can keep a good show down. This highly ritualized event even drew increased attendances this time around, claiming 75 000 attendances overall. This is a relief for those who wondered how Womad would continue to stack up against the ever-expanding Fringe, the Festival, and even the Crows’ good run in the NAB Cup. But, we can also say -safely with hindsight !- that it is no surprise.

Womad is taking on its own inevitability – and has for some time now. The recidivist rate is very high, even with a hike in the admission price this year. Some have been every time since 1992, many have been to most. Young people who first came as little fry now return with their friends, the way it is also happening with Big Day Out. It is a tradition to go to Womad and, from the moment they step on to the cool green expanse of Botanic Park, everyone knows what to do.

Stages One and Two are where they are supposed to be, so are the food tents, the Coopers taps, Vic’s CD shop, the market displays, Angus Watt’s flags and the ever-popular Kidzone and Healing Village. This year – yikes ! – an innovation, the Speakers Corner stage, an excellent new quiet performance space which like the Zoo and Moreton Bay locations are opportunities for those unexpected acoustic treats.

The program this year was drum heavy and highlighted Australian musicians for the first time in a while. For many the Dhol Foundation, led by the supercool Johnny Kalsi in his black turban and Raybans was a high, as were the irrepressible Renegades Steel Orchestra from Trinidad. The mix of traditional and fusion, rock idioms and electronica were well managed.

On Friday night Miriam Makeba, now a senior diva on the World stage, presented a stylish but politically understated set, while Paul Kelly and his bluegrass Stormwater Boys excelled with a bright, well-chosen set which included Kelly faves like To Her Door and Our Sunshine with less performed material like Little Kings and a reinvigorated Rally Round the Drum. Aussie roots guitarist Jeff Lang and his fine band played a strong set on the Sunday with some tasty garnishes from Lucky Oceans on pedal steel. Also notable at StageThree was Joe Camilleri and Nicky Bomba with their Limestone bluebeat songs.

Irish accordionist extraordinaire Sharon Shannon strongly represented the Celtic constituency and Brazilian singer, Chico Cesar, with his straw boater and high tech perspex guitar was a highlight at the Zoo stage. The African bands were more low key this year – Lura from Cape Verde played sweet Paris-influenced pop, Kanda Bongo Man was pleasingly rock steady with his Congolese band and Orchestra Baobab, led by the highly accomplished guitarist, Barthelemy Attisso, played a marvelous fusion of Cuban son and Senegalese swing. Their set on Sunday night rivalled that of headliner Jimmy Cliff who nonetheless galvanized the drenched crowd with his reggae hits You Can Get It If You’re Really Want and a soulful reading of Many Rivers to Cross as well as singalongs of Cat Stevens’ Wild World and anthems for peace love and understanding. No rasta rascal songs here – it is the softer we come with Jimmy these days.

There are a multitude of Womads each year- our pathways and songlines different according to age, curiosity and inclination. Many sat back and let the music float by, others moved in close for the mosh. Two highlights I am left with were meditative recitals – Farida, on the Sunday just before the rain set in, singing a series of Iraqi Maqam chants of great beauty and poise, the other, last thing on Friday night – the Nusrat hour, for those who remember the first ever Womad – classical violinist Dr L Subramaniam, playing a set of “short” ragas which redefined the word sublime.

“Days and Nights in the Forest” The Adelaide Review, No.288, March 24, 2006, p.13.

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