fri 19/07/2024

WOMAD 2017, Charlton Park review - multicultural nirvana transcends mud-bath conditions | reviews, news & interviews

WOMAD 2017, Charlton Park review - multicultural nirvana transcends mud-bath conditions

WOMAD 2017, Charlton Park review - multicultural nirvana transcends mud-bath conditions

New names make big impressions at the 35th edition of the world music festival

Festival-goers embrace rain and Toots & The Maytals at the main stageMike Massaro

Now in its 35 year, Womad is embedded into British festival culture, flying the flags of a musical multiculturalism that is about breaking down barriers and building new relationships. It’s not something you want to lose.

Aside from pleasurable headliners – the likes of Oumou Sangare, Toots and the Maytals and Ladysmith Black Mambazo – it’s the names you don’t know who often leave the deepest impression. The BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage hosted numerous full-flavoured festival debuts – the London-Greek sound of Kourelou, for instance, or Italian acoustic trio Vesevo’s folk tunes from Naples.

There were welcome returns too, notably of Benjamin Zephaniah and his Revolutionary Minds band, confronting the tumult of interesting times with angry new verses and Seventies-style UK dub and reggae. While WOMAD is in part a jubilant, ebullient escapism into a big borderless world via its music, it is also a socio-political movement, its thriving existence here and worldwide a testament to an embracing liberalism that is under siege.

I doubt there are many Brexiteers in the festival audience, or on stage. Snarky Puppy’s Bill Laurance began his late Friday set with an impassioned Remainers’ plea, while Malian supergroup Lamomali, featuring Toumani and Sidiki Diabate and Fatoumata Diawara, ended theirs with a call for a wiser escape route from populist certainties. “If you know that you don’t know, then you know. If you’re sure you know, you don’t know anything.”

WOMAD is famously eclectic, and aside from the wide range of artists from Africa, Asia and the Americas, the plethora of European artists couldn’t help but put me in mind of a different kind of European union, and what we are detaching ourselves from as a nation, with great and distinctive music from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France,

Finnish vocal trio and Lord of the Rings composers Värttinä’s harmonies were sharp and

Greece, Finland, Serbia, and more. The voice, fiddle and electronica of Estonia’s Maarja Nuut were exquisite, while Finnish vocal trio and Lord of the Rings composers Värttinä’s harmonies were sharp and spine-tingling, finished off with a sterling guest spot from Eliza Carthy singing “Three Drunken Maidens”. Fado singer Raquel Tavaras lived up to her reputation as one of the best of the new Fadistas to appear since Mariza, while Vigüela, a four-piece from La Mancha – Don Qixote country – brought to the stage the pure traditional music of their region, broadcast live on Radio 3 on Friday night.

Colombia’s heavily percussive Grupo Canalon de Timbiqui from the Pacific coast were possessed of the same stripped vibe – no stadium drums, no bass, just raw percussion and voice. As for Ifriqiyyah Electrique in the electronica-oriented Red Tent, Sufi music has never sounded so violent, discordant, and turbo-driven – the drums and Sufi terrace chants pounded like artillery through a packed crowd. Nearby in the hi-fidelity Bowes & Wilkins stage, Portico Quartet returned to the festival where they started (their Hang drum was bought from a stall here) and previewed electronics-heavy new music to a packed crowd, the bass rumbling exquisitely through the crush of bodies.

Rain had threatened from the start, and fulfilled its promise by the Friday evening. By Saturday night, mud bath conditions had set in. Given the inclement forecast, it seemed footfall would be down this year. In fact, the crowds were still a-plenty (a record 35,000, in fact), and, all across the site, smeared with mud and a little crusty at the edges, there was WOMAD’s trademark sense of endless variety to enjoy – Bombino’s desert guitar, Seu Jorge’s Bowie tribute, new music from China, Japan, Zanzibar, Syria, from Madagascar and Lebanon. It’s why we come, it’s why the rain doesn’t matter too much. It’s the sound of a world without borders.

At WOMAD, it’s the names you don’t know who often leave the deepest impression


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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