WOMAD 2017 – Day 2: Photos and Review


Here’s the 13th Floor coverage of Day 2 of WOMAD 2017. There are scores of new photos from Michael Flynn and words by Tim Gruar…

Saturday started with a perfect salmon-coloured sunrise.  I clamoured up to the top of the stand to a view of the campsite which covered the entire racecourse.  This is by far the largest campsite WOMAD has seen. There were a few rumblings that the shower and toilet facilities are overstretched and the organisers, Taranaki Arts Festival, may need to invest in more infrastructure to meet demand.  But that’s only a minor point.  The dew from last night was already drying off, as the queues for the showers and the coffee carts were already around the corner.  

Musically, it was a big day. Traditional Korean percussionist Tago performed with a vibrancy and intensity that brought the whole Brooklands Bow stage to life.  In one segment, they showed us a special harvest dance involving a special hat with a long stick and a ribbon at the top.  The dancer bops up and down in time with a fierce dervish rhythm, turning his head from side to side to lead the ribbon like a snake gracefully. If frantically through the air like a rhythmic gymnast. With some encouragement and much dressing up in costume they enticed a young volunteer to also try, delighting the audience and the performers.

Mid afternoon I caught Lord Echo, aka Black Seeds’ guitarist Mike Fabulous.  Today it was a loose jam session of some fluidity meshing dub and funk with old school beats and live instruments and vocals.  With Mara TK and Lisa Tomlinson providing vocals and Lucien Johnson, Isaax Asseli and another providing horns and percussion they brought the grooves if not the show.  We did get some glimpses of what’s  on Mike Fab’s job list with a couple of new singles.  But, as he told me in an interview later, he’s not comfortable on the controls, as he was, at the back of the stage.  And that was obvious.

Mercedes Peon turned in and performance with Spanish intensity.  Her voice could cut glass, so strong.  She mixes a calling chant with deep, intense beats that radiate at the lower ends of the register.  It’s more like a mountain of sound than a song structure.

Canadian folk outfit The East Pointers proved to be another favourite.  Being very sunny at that time they were almost in ho-down mode.  Their music is parochial but swings like a farm gate. The best way to describe the scene was a big line dance, with the occasional tie died shirt.

Brushy One-String, the Jamacian Blues act provided great fun.  Like John Lee Hooker he had a deep blues feel to his music, full of heaps of resonance and reverb. Despite his ramshackle appearance his skill on what is essentially a bo-diddley was very apparent.  He mixes a hot brew of blues and Jamaican reggae along with a whole raft of other sounds into his cooking pot.  It’s hard to describe accurately, so I’d recommend you check out Luciano Blotta’s duly reggae doc called *RiseUp*.

If there was one performer I was totally mesmerised by, it was Malian Oumou Sangare’ (The Songbird of Wassoulou). Many African artists at WOMAD bring a Westernised version of their music to make it more palatable, or it’s so blended with other traditions that it’s difficult to determine where one culture starts and another ends.  Sangare’ is different, in that she seems to have created her own unique sound that defies definition.  There are times when she held an entire song on one simple bass groove, whilst singing chants and counter rhythms over it.  Backed by a wonderful band with modern instruments and two backing singers they performed a series of songs all different but charming in their own way.  Sangere’ didn’t engage with the audience, which is hard on the Bowl Stage due to a lake separating the audience from the performer, but with her elaborate dress and the vibrancy of the performance it was hard not to be impressed.

New Orleans came to town in a big way with The Hot8 Brass Band. These guys are not only tall in stature but in sound, too.  This all black crew formed over 20 years ago, kickin’ it in the back black of the Big Easy and it shows. They play like it’s in their blood.  Loud and proud showman, they meld your trad-style high school brass band with super-sty-lee soul and Hip-Hop elements. There’s also plenty of that James Brown Show in their performances, too.  Most of their tunes are covers, melding like DJ’s tunes into each other and jumping around the genres.  Papa Was a Rolling Stone, for example has riffs from Deep Purple, the Ronettes, De La Soul and Mr Brown in there.  There was even some rap and plenty of chanting and Home Coming ra-ra (which makes sense given their roots as a High School band).  Chatting to them backstage I could see their own personal vibes and banter was one of the reasons that their show was so colourful and charismatic.

The workshops and speakers were hard to get to, in amongst all the music but I did get to Archie Roach talking with TV presenter Miriama Kamo about his own time as one of Australia’s lost generation.  These are children that as young Aboriginals were taken by the State from their parents.  The most poignant statement he made was to acknowledge that he accepted ‘Love’ as the remedy for resolving his past.  This was opposed to his earlier state of mind when anger made him ‘very crook’.  Cancer crook that is.  Roach also discussed the potential of a Treaty with Australia’s first Nation’s people and the Australian Government to recognise their land rights.  They live in hope, he said. Another moment was his stories about his own life, of living as a stolen child in foster homes, abused or ‘segregated’ for his colour and, more uplifting, how he met his (now deceased) wife Ruby fruit picking and their long 35 year partnership.  Roach speaks almost in a slow monotone, as is common with Aboriginal elders, but his words resonate very clearly – as if he was shouting to be heard.

One of the highlights of the show was 9Bach, the Welsh five piece who reinterpreted ancient folk with modern, ethereal twist.  A particularly moving came in the latter part of their set when they played a tune called Plentyn – Child – which was written on tour with Archie Roach’s Black Arm Band.  Mixed with stunning harmonies from three female vocalists it really showcased what this group can do.  They mix digital sounds with harps, guitar and drums but the sound is definitely not pop.

On my way to the Te Paepae stage, a small area, tucked away down a side-steet of Wisteria, I picked up a really good Souvlaki.  The quality of the food here is pretty good, with most coming from local eateries and venders and probably more plentiful than many festivals.  I counted over 40 at this year’s event – from curries, to crepes, wood fired pizza, jerk chicken, sushi, to home made pies.  Although I did miss the Hari Krishna stall – and the guy selling peanut butter and bananas on toast.

The night finished on a high with Serbian nut cases Emir Kusturica and his very crazy No Smoking Orchestra. These guys really brought the party with a high energy show that was a mashup of Balkan music, film scores and random juke box selections. As a very tight unit of 11, you can’t help seeing the parallels between them and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds in their intense, chaotic performing.  It’s more like a circus orchestra on acid, with Kusturica as the demented ringmaster, as they swing between rhumba and hot gypsy rhythms. They got the backstage crew to conga around the stage with them; enticed the audience to sing “Fuck You MTV”; serenaded a young audience member and played fiddle with a 3M bow.  These guys weren’t smoking, they were burning it up!  WOMAD had had many top headliners for the Saturday slot but for a world music event I think it was this band that brought back that ‘Night at the Barbican’ festival spirit that Gabriel had originally wanted. It was a brilliant way to end the night.

Tim Gruar

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Flynn:



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