One of the great things about festivals like WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance for those unfamiliar with this unique, eclectic and long-running world music event) is that you never really know what you will find. Unless you are an aficionado of world music in all its myriad forms, there are probably only a handful of bands on the bill every year that will already be familiar to you, which makes the whole experience a glorious musical adventure.

There are some people who, at other festivals at least, like to plan out their journey with military precision, noting times and stages to ensure that they see the festival they have planned in their mind. WOMAD isn’t really that sort of place. Better to wander around, see what music drifts past on the sonic breeze and just explore those strands that take your fancy. It’s what I did, and the results were rewarding, to say the least.

I will mention at this point that WOMAD has a wonderful app that uses some sorcery to ensure that when you get near one stage or another, it immediately pings you the lineup for that location, so that you are never uninformed or out of the loop. What will they think of next?

And if your idea of world music is what upper-middle-class academics play at dinner parties to impress their agents and publishers, Bulgarian folk players with strange shaped, stringed-instruments with names like iconoclast or asparagus, and Tibetan throat singers, then think again. (Although I have seen both at this event in previous years.) WOMAD is eclectic, broad-minded and moves with the times, and, as if to underline this, the first act of the weekend, almost the intro music for the whole event, was The Jungle Brothers. A rap trio with roots going back to the mid-eighties, a band reminiscent of the likes of Run DMC, Public Enemy or The Beastie Boys, a group of performers who haven’t lost any of their youthful exuberance or stagecraft and the perfect way to kick things off.

I have to admit that I didn’t think that Kate Rusby would be my thing, but she won me over as she proceeded down a path of traditional, northern English folk songs. A blend of timeless folk music and polished modern deliveries, it was the best of both worlds, something not lost on the main stage crowd who lapped the set-up. Consider me her newest fan!

Mixing hip-hop, soul and jazz was Bristol’s Dutty Moonshine Big Band, who fused live brass, keyboards, drums, digital hardware and multiple vocalists to recreate the experience of the big band sound of the past via the sound and technology of the present. And as body size to lung capacity goes, vocalist Maria Leveau wins the “How the hell is she making a noise that big” award of the weekend.

Festivals are, as I said, all about musical exploration, and only some things hit the mark. Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys were just such an experience for me. Brilliantly delivered modern folk but a tad too melancholy for my tastes, but all you can do is try a band on for size; they weren’t a fit for me but went down well enough with the assembled crowd. We are all musically different shapes and sizes.

Leenalchi, (pictured) were a strange one, but strange is good right? A blend of Korean traditional vocals over pulsing alt-rock grooves and dance moves. Usually, when you watch a band, you can at least find a few musical references and other artists to compare it to. No, not this time, so all I could do was stand there beguiled by their otherworldly charms and a live show aided and abetted by the shadow puppet show going on behind them. As bizarre as it was brilliant.

Another miss for me was the Ukrainian seven-piece Dakh Daughters. Described as “freak cabaret” but sounding more like an orchestra playing several different tunes simultaneously. Very avant-garde. But Mesoderm, another Bristol band, made up for it with a lovely set of minimalist folk meets alt-pop, a modern take on the beautiful learning curve that Kate Bush took pop music on.

Riot Jazz Brass Band did what it says on the tin, maybe a bit less between-song banter was in order but an act I would catch again if our paths crossed at a festival and Pongo gave us some glorious heavy, yet hi-octane tribal dance music. A tsunami of energy ran through their set to an almost euphoric level; they sang and danced and grooved and moved simultaneously, musically multi-tasking and never showing any sign of flagging throughout. That’s how you present a festival set, folks, short, sharp and shockingly good fun.

The one act that I was already aware of, the only act that I made sure that I was front and centre for, was Chilean singer Ana Tijoux. She is best known in the West for her musical contributions to the Breaking Bad soundtrack but is a purveyor of everything from beatific ballads to deft rap songs, all advocating justice and political freedoms, so much so that for many years she live in exile from her home country on grounds that government backed groups might try to silence her. A gorgeous experience and an artist I most heartily recommend you check out further. It was a personal high point of the weekend that after her set, I bumped into her and thanked her for such a brilliant performance.

Of course, WOMAD is more than just a music festival; throughout the weekend, there is all manner of art and dance, poetry and informative talks, side events and spontaneous happenings. There are also plenty of creative spaces and art installations, including The Museum of the Moon. This massive moon hanging in a forest whilst ethereal music ebbs and flows (including excerpts from founder Peter Gabriel’s latest album) across the landscape is a humbling experience indeed.

There were lots of bigger names playing WOMAD – this year Femi Kuti, Horace Andy, Soul II Soul and The Bombay Bicycle Club all graced the main stages, but, for me at least, it is all about the grassroots, the music from afar, the rising stars, the unexpected and the unusual. And once again, WOMAD fulfilled my every need.

Roll on next year!

Leenalchi photograph courtesy of WOMAD website.

Previous articleThe Underwater Supermarket goes avant gardening with Scott Solter’s reimaginations
Next articleHello, Are You There? – John Consalvo (reviewed by Dave Franklin)
Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.

Leave a Reply