WOMAD Report #1

When Peter Gabriel created the WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) in 1982 I would have thought that not even in his wildest dreams would he have imagined this festival to have been such a long running success as this. Now in it’s 30th year and having entertained millions of festival goers in 21 different countries, New Plymouth has get again hosted this incredibly colourful and culturally rich extravaganza. And what a joy it is to be here yet again enjoying the atmosphere and to be watching all of these fabulous artists from around the world.

Call me biased but I can’t think of a nicer or better place for this festival. The beautiful Bowl of Brooklands is a stunning site and the whole of Taranaki seem to be right behind this annual occasion. New Plymouth is festooned with flags and posters. Every single shop appears to welcome all who are visiting. Windows are adorned with everything from images of the international artists who are appearing here this weekend right down to simple reminders to take your sunscreen to the festival. It’s all good vibes and I love it.

After a dreadful start to the week the ‘naki has turned it on again for it’s visitors. And early crowds were welcomed in traditional style by the wonderful kapa haka group, Te Matarae i Orehu. When you see a group as dramatic and passionate as this you can’t help being impressed. Personally I found their performance breathtaking. The energy on that stage today was quite exceptional.  This year there are artists that have come from as far away as Mongolia, West Africa, Palestine, Brazil, Senegal and the Congo. (To name just a few places).  It must be fantastic for all of those artists who have travelled here to witness the very essence of Maori performing arts in Aotearoa.

First up on the Brooklands Stage and making a most welcome return appearance to WOMAD was the award winning Aboriginal singer/songwriter Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupinu. Blind from birth, Gurrumul sings of life experiences. His shyness like his songs are most affecting. Singing from his two award winning and highly recommended albums, Gurrumul and Rrakala, his performance was spellbinding and eerily beautiful. Blending contemporary song with traditional. It’s such a shame that this wonderful artist was only doing one performance at the festival this year. I hope that he returns soon. It would be nice to see him in a theatre setting and doing a full length concert sometime.

One of the nice things about WOMAD is that there is something for everyone and unlike at WOMADALAIDE the artists here usually perform twice. This was not the case this time alas and because Gurrumul was giving just the one performance this time I had to divide my time between him and another performed i was eager to see. Dobet Gnahore from the Ivory Coast. tearing myself away from the Brooklands Stage I managed to make over  in time to catch the last of her set. This young West African singer was pretty dynamic to watch. She had the audience up on their feet and dancing even before I got there.

Totally engaging with a terrific voice…this is an artist that I will be watching right from the start when she performs here again tomorrow.

Next up on the Bowl stage were The Master Drummers of Burundi. Powerful percussion, complexed rhythms. I’m sure the whole of Taranaki must have heard them tonight.

Jamaican/American roots reggae band Groundation surprised and me by their storming set. Tight harmonies, funky horns and a killer rhythm section. This band led by the striking singer Harrison Stafford had everyone rocking and shouting for more. Although formed in 1998 there hasnt been a great deal of recognition for them in New Zealand so far. Howver, after this weekend this may change. Definitely a band to watch out for.

Baaba Maal taking the Bowl stage shone like a master. Groomed and polished, he appeared to go through the paces with ease. Maal is a true professional and his band has accompanied this Senegalese artist for more than 20 years. The Taranaki air might have cooled down a little but the festival goers never noticed as they danced into the night.

Finally for me…the icing on the cake today. Lojo. Led by the wonderous Denis Pean this French band. This man is poet, magician and spiritual advisor. His eclectic band weaves their spell on the audience with spellbinding music. A heady mix of French, Creole, Spanish, Arabic. Bewitching songs and hypnotic rhythms. Whilst the beautiful sisters Nadia and Yamina Nid el Mourid with their inventive and seductive whilst playing a assortment of instruments, soprano sax, percussion, kora might have brought the night to a close I’m sure their beautiful music accompanied all of those that saw this set walked home with their sounds ringing in their heads. Fantastic. WOMAD, without a doubt, one of the finest festivals ever to have graced these New Zealand shores.

– Michael Flynn

“Pure enthusiasm for music from around the world led us to the idea of WOMAD in 1980 and thus to the first WOMAD festival in 1982. The festivals have always been wonderful and unique occasions and have succeeded in introducing an international audience to many talented artists.”

“Equally important, the festivals have also allowed many different audiences to gain an insight into cultures other than their own through the enjoyment of music. Music is a universal language, it draws people together and proves, as well as anything, the stupidity of racism.”

Peter Gabriel.