WOMADelaide, a four-day festival extravaganza (in attendance for three days this year) was everything you could possibly want or imagine from an outdoor event – phenomenal weather, great crowds, gorgeous natural surroundings courtesy of Adelaide’s Botanic Park, awesome food and most importantly, incredible music from all around the world ready to be enjoyed and discovered.
In short, this had to be one of the most enlivening experiences to be had at a festival. To be present amongst talent, joy and the sheer pleasure of music was nothing short of rejuvenation and food for the soul. Sounds a bit extravagant, right? But here were acts from all over the world, across all sorts of genres sharing the same stages – music that many may otherwise not discovered by the ears and bodies present.
And then there were the crowds, coming in droves of all sorts, young and old, creeds, race and homes yet everyone managed to get along peacefully and serenely. In a world where there is so much hatred, injustice and intolerance around (let alone the violence), witnessing and participating in something like this just restores a little faith and hope in humanity within the confines of a park, despite all the stupidity that exists outside of its boundaries.
So where did it all start? Saturday afternoon, having realised there was no chance of getting anywhere close enough to hear, let alone see David Suzuki’s Keynote talk (I’ll settle for a book at a later date…) and stumbling across The Spooky Men’s Chorale. Unexpected as it was, it seemed the perfect way to start. Somewhat serene, somewhat intriguing, extremely enthusiastic and undoubtedly talented, the 16 performers on stage (each with their own mics for a change!) captivated with the simple powers of song and voice. It might sound serious, but there was much joy, happiness and humour to be revered, including a devout love of hats and ensuring that language was no barrier with some carefully handmade signs during Ba’hari Ghibb.
With Calexico scheduled for two sets, it seemed the perfect time for a daytime listen to Calexico with the sun beaming down, bodies swaying to the slower numbers and feet busting out their best Latino inspired steps amongst a huge crowd of what seemed to be fans and new discoverers alike. The other, an evening set with the sunset being the most incredible backdrop to the main stage and an even more enthusiastic crowd up for a party. Two incredibly tight sets, altering the set order slightly each time but the guys know what works on stage and it was delivered as effortlessly and impeccably as ever. Up a little closer to the stage, you get to watch the cool, calm John Convertino drumming away with style, the casual social exchanges between the band on stage and even with Joey Burns at the helm, everyone had their integral roles especially when it came to multi-instrumental duties.
Under the shade of the trees, home grown talent in the way of Wasted Wanderers made themselves known, apparently already warranting a bit of a following for themselves after forming on stage at The Grace Emily Hotel in Adelaide. Cruisy and carefree seems to be the way of the land here, happily sharing a decent melody and sing a bluesy rock song or few for a crowd in idyllic surroundings (Goddamn Anything was a standout).
Already creating an impressive appearance on stage in their traditional dress, the sounds on the approach to the stage were a tantalising intro to a performance from Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha. Without speaking a word of Ukrainian it’s difficult to muster any meaning here, but it doesn’t matter – they take their craft seriously and certainly aren’t afraid to explore what an Eastern European ‘hood would sound like by venturing into some hip hop flavoured sounds that were rewarded in awe and cheers from a mesmerised audience. All sorts of influences came through in the sound and some might ask why – but the question really is why not? There were no limits here, and it presented a really entertaining listen.
By later in the afternoon, the sun was beaming down in all its glory and on stage the Rasta colours and dreadlocks of The Strides arrived. From Sydney and sourced from all corners of the globe, The Strides’ jams seemed endless and feet were caught up in the beats and rhythms pounding through. Of course, there were smiles all around.
If there was a prize on offer for the artist who could get the most performers on stage at one time, there is no doubt that ESKA would win. With a basic band set up and a massive string section crammed onto the stage, it was a bold venture into sounds and abstract arrangements that embraced modern, contemporary composition to accompany beautiful, soulful vocals. Music worthy of more contemplative listening at a later date.
Another stage, and this time funk, dancing and rich vocals were in order courtesy of Ester Rada, delivered with commanding presence, sass and class. Her band was equally impressive, dishing out exceptional funk and jazz fused sounds which seemed to come as easy as breathing to this talented bunch. Enjoyable it was, but time was ticking…so much to see and hear…
A slight schedule change meant that Husky were performing in the shady surrounds of stage 3, a wise move given the number of ears in attendance. A beautiful backdrop, with the crowd lapping up the sounds and those on stage in awe of the sight before them. Older songs and newer songs filled with lush harmonies, lyrical tales and complex layers of sound to hear with loads of hometown inspiration as fuel. As an extra treat, a special performance of two with Husky and Gideon on stage entertaining the people with Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow is A Long Time – bliss.
Nearby, Asha Bhosle graciously greeted the crowd and humbly introduced herself as a Bollywood singer from India after her opening number, before launching into more music. Judging by the crowd, it seemed like there were a few who already knew who she was. A little walk away, Mojo Juju was surrounded by people sharing tunes inspired by post-breakup blues with swagger and attitude.What could have been another world away was just on another stage, Korean duo 숨[suːm] took to the stage to share the intricacy and splendour of traditional Korean instruments – the piri, saenghwang, yanggeum and 25-string gayageum – in compositions that were beautifully simple, colourful and diverse. The arts students are proficient in a number of instruments, performing arrangements to showcase the fascinating sounds and dimensions of the selection on display. Another stage brought to life another continent, thanks to Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigala. Bold, smoky vocals delivered with passion and flair, but credit also needs to go to that incredibly talented band.
Without growing up listening to De La Soul, some of the nostalgia may have been lost, but it’s a name and sound that encapsulates so much. To still be going strong after all these years is a feat in itself, but acknowledging both the fans from way back when, and the younger folk in the crowd was a simple sign of appreciation, as well as the joy of sharing music together. By all accounts, the promise of a new album doing away with samples in favour of live musicians sounds like an amazing listen given the sounds created on stage with a band in tow.
On Sunday, Kev Carmody boldly declared that at 70 years of age, he’d earned the right to be a cheeky fella. But this cheeky one is still an incredible craftsman of song, with every tune having a clear and purposeful existence, accompanied by a story or tale for understanding. He is a wise one, having seen and heard a lot in his time, so having the opportunity to listen to his songs live is nothing short of a privilege. And I think there’s a sense of being forever indebted to Paul Kelly for all the encouragement in getting these songs (and many more) recorded. Being a crowd pleaser, a little encore ensued for From Little Things, Big Things Grow.
It had been a while since seeing those cheery faces of The Once (since they supported Passenger last year, in fact) but nothing much had changed. Still entertaining with a little humour between songs. But some mood lightening was definitely in order, given some of the sombre tunes being shared. The band shared their own tunes, but also covers including a nice little rendition of a Prince cover.
A little walk away were some of the sweetest sounds of the festival – enter Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and their glorious voices midway through set. So good that there was a return visit the next day to hear the full set. Sharing love, peace, harmony and Zulu culture was the intention, and that they did in spades. Sharing music from their 56 years as a singing group, they sing about hope but also tell stories with metaphor and greater meaning, even accompanied by some very impressive dance moves. Amazingly talented bunch, humble and very funny too.
Something closer to home for the afternoon meant seeing Sarah Blasko on stage… and with new tunes loaded with synths and setting a happier mood came singing and dancing to accompany that glorious sunshine. The tech issues were forgivable, simply because the newer synth laden sounds being brought to life on stage with Blasko’s faultless vocals were simply magnificent, and throwing in a few old tracks was a nice little touch. From the older material, All I Want was a marvel and Always Worth It managed to get some very enthusiastic dancing happening according to Blasko’s shared words but the simple joy of Only One was the standout from the new tunes.
Artists sharing their craft always delights, but finding out about the ways in which the power of music has affected people. Enter Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, or APY Choir, made up of members from the Ernabella Choir that formed in the 1940’s, together with children of choir members and children from the mission school. The choir embraces its origins, singing in the traditional Pitjantjatjara language and takes its customs of singing into a four-part choir arrangement. Interwoven with stories, the chorale of voices showed the songs didn’t need to be understood to see the love and profound impact that the choir had for this group.
Nestled under the shady branches of beautiful trees, a crowd steadily grew and overflowed from the area waiting to see Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders on stage. Pure, angelic vocals with melancholy sounds, poignant delivery and old world charm entertained. Songs full of stories and twang were sweet but kept the mood sombre, until the rock sounds started coming through for a change of pace in Dark Child, indulging in some guitar solos and a shadier feel. The sounds were unsurpassed and could have entertained for hours.
The booming, soulful vocals of Radical Son (together with band) were brilliant, but the sounds of 47SOUL were calling elsewhere and had everyone talking. Unique and powerful, this brood combine a passion for Palestinian debka street music and underground with English and Arabic lyrics to something that is raw, energetic and full of zeal. Powerful and captivating stuff that seemed to take a little from Middle Eastern flavoured dance music melded with hip hop influences that combined into something amazing.
St Germain, the mysterious name that seemed to appear on a host of album covers without any actual identity finally had a face, albeit it difficult to see in the way way back. Nevertheless, this was an artist who had collaborated and influenced countless others, and the sounds emanating from the stage were still an incredible listen.
Tulegur was a force in its own right, blending traditional throat singing from Mongolia and cultural sounds to form what could only be described as modern nomad rock, earthy and a touch of garage all while not a single word could be understood. On stage, the focus was drawn to the fury of guitar strumming and intrigue of throat singing. Percussion only helped to make the sounds feel more alive, whether it was an abundance of energy or an expansive wave of warmth.
Not a musical act as such, but more of a cultural and enlightening experience closed off the night when witnessing The Gyuto Monks of Tibet. As well as sharing their time throughout the festival, they shared their scared cyclical chanting that was both hypnotic and challenging to listen to given the distinct sounds. But the incredible focus and thoughtfulness that came with the chanting kept drawing more intrigued ears as weary bodies rested for a listen.
Two days down and there was still one to go…it was difficult to imagine that anything was going to top the experiences and sounds of the festival to date but regardless, it was going to be great. Spiro brought the charm of traditional English folk into their lush soundscapes. By doing so, they managed to bring something current to the old. Everything from violin and mandolin, classical and folk with a bit of accordion made its way into the fold. Some of it felt very cinematic and movie soundtrack like at times, just without the motion picture to watch.
As beautiful as the sounds were, there had to be a party going on somewhere in these festival grounds. Enter Quarter Street, despite being a local act based in Melbourne the sounds would have suggested otherwise. This was all big salsa rhythms that seemed to have more and more people dancing at every turn. Gritty, charismatic and fun with rhythms ablaze.
Ainslie Wills provided chilled tunes for the afternoon. Sure, there were songs that had been inspired by sadness and pain, but shared in a sort of relatable and healing way. It was all dreamy, intricate pop to accompany dominant vocals delivering beautiful tunes and lyrics. Constellations was simply charming, and Drive was a perfect way to end for an uptempo vibe.
The suave and sophisticated sounds of Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro embraced all things funk complete with some seriously dapper outfits. A smart party, oozing cool with displays of mesmerising talent but seemed to come as naturally as breathing to this suave lot. A little retro soul that still seemed very much alive, fuelling the afternoon’s proceedings.
In case there hadn’t been enough to discover, the Edmar Castañeda Trio showed exactly how a harp and jazz can work together. Away from classical sounds that might typically be associated with a harp, this was a chaotic blend of jazz with Latin American sounds, at times with speed and precision and others with lyrical flow.
Fun, cheeky and satirical came in abundance with John Grant. Undeniably the showman, booming vocals and songs in tow delighted and entertained. Turns out that he loves ice cream so much that there’s an entire song about that…and it certainly seems to be a worthy food to be celebrated in music.
Tunes from Songhoy Blues came with stage-led dance instructions, and smiles galore. This had to be one of the happiest and cheeriest performances witnessed filled with endless jams, guitar licks that lingered in ears and sounds that effortlessly mixed American influences with West African origins from Mali.
The mighty presence of Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 arrived on stage, ready to share their politically charged messages in song, embracing all things Afrobeat. Every band member deservingly received an intro from the outset, and together they were a force to be reckoned with in sound and power. The stage attire was pretty impressive too.
Hazmat Modine had something going on that no other act managed – a sousaphone on stage. That alone was worthy of watching. But time was of the essence, trekking over to see the amazing Orange Blossom share a potent dose of Arabic influenced electronic sounds, with the quartet drawing on their cultural roots to accompany those stunning vocals.
By way of festival finales, Asian Dub Foundation was a pretty awesome way to wrap up. Not only did it bring together everything this festival seemed to offer by way of fusing sounds, cultures and people. Who knew that playing the flute could be so cool, let alone incorporating fluteboxing to roars of cheers from the crowd in amongst all the dancing going on in response to the energy bouncing around on stage.
And yes, already thinking about going again in 2017 after having such an amazing time.