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festival review: WOMADelaide 2013


Bamboos singer

A fiery Spanish mama called Amparo Sanchez cooks albóndigas for you (and the rest of the crowd in the open tent), speaking in the rhythmic, lisping tongue of a Catalan native. Her stories of Spanish food, a family cooking together, and gender inequality are translated while four screens around the tent show the view from above, her hands deftly rolling spiced meatballs. You feel like you’ve been invited to dinner at Amparo’s place.

WOMADelaide is an arena of discovery. Sounds, ideas and accents you never knew existed live side by side for 4 days amongst the greenery of Adelaide’s Botanic Park. It’s a perfect opportunity to familiarise yourself with an expanse of varying cultures, far beyond the music and art available in mainstream culture.

There are hundreds of bike parks at both entrances, so you ride your vintage bicycle, embracing the green heart of WOMAD. The festival offsets all carbon emissions and uses renewable energy for power, promoting environmental sustainability. You visit a panel discussion on activism, featuring hip hop artist Urthboy, Anna Rose (co-founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition), and Miranda Gibson, who lived in the canopies of a Tasmanian forest for a year to protest logging. You feel a little greener by idea osmosis.

Between acts, you explore the site, with the intangible sense that an exciting possibility is awaiting beyond the next tree. You aren’t wearing any shoes, because most people don’t here, and the grass underneath your feet is gentle. On different stages, you experience an optimistic Malian beat, the gallumphing of a tuba, Indian devotional Carnatic singing, and the twang of a string instrument that you’ve never seen before (apparently it’s called a tsugaru-shamisen, a Japanese banjo).

You catch Antibalas, an Afrobeat 12-piece, on the main stage. The horn and rhythm sections sway to the beat behind a wild singer who leaps about in an African print suit. ‘This song is called Goldrush,’ the sax player declares, ‘And it’s about the pickpocketing of the earth and how it makes people go crazy.’

In the dying sunlight, a dragonfly zigzags over the bopping heads of the crowd. There’s a camaraderie between punters, who give each other a respectful amount of dancing room, and you keep seeing someone you vaguely know; the man you salsa-ed with at Casablabla, that grandpa with incredible dreads who looks like a guru, and the gorgeous Amparo Sanchez, tattoos on her ankles and wrists. Children wearing cardboard armour weave between shifting bodies, playing chasey between dancers’ legs.

The next day is scorching and the grass so hot it stings the soles of your feet. Lines of yoga devotees stretch on mats under generous foliage, sweat trickling down foreheads as they hold moves, awaiting the teacher’s instruction. Festival-goers set up blankets and picnic chairs under the shade of the Moreton Bay Fig trees to escape the sun’s glare. Teenage girls in floral fisherman’s pants and tight midriff tops splay on the grass, drinking green smoothies. Men with ponytails and beards fall asleep with their forearms crossed over their eyes. Mothers hold red-faced, subdued toddlers in their laps, rocking to a rumba beat. The middle-aged in visors and sensible clothes settle down for the afternoon on beach chairs, sipping from a fresh coconut. Brightly coloured parasols dot the crowds, as people stroll through a rippling forest of vast flags.

The Kidzone is a wonderland, and you wish you were small enough to enjoy the workshops that make Greek shadow puppets, Colombina half-masks and teach Balinese soap-carving . This music festival belongs to children too; pre-teens roam in packs, seven-year-olds beg their parents to let them get henna, and at all hours of the night little figures climb over block letters that spell ‘WOMAD’.

It’s time to eat. The semi-circle of stalls offer Hungarian goulash, a Mediterranean BBQ, Mexican, Thai, six varieties of Indian, Moroccan tagines, organic donuts, Cajun gumbo and Loukoumades – fried dough dripping in honey and cinnamon. You get a recyclable plate piled high with transnational goodies and watch a trio from Serbia play an intimate set, tucking your legs beneath you. As the vocal group begins, bats hanging from branches high up in the pine trees begin their twilight awakening song, nattering and flapping wings. You tingle with pleasure at the bizarre sound.

You borrow someone’s spray bottle to refresh yourself, and wander through the park. Behind a tent selling strange hats, you meet a roaming art installation – three dapper gentlemen are attached to a lead held by their upright mistress. She promises doggy treats and is answered with convincing cadences of ‘Ruff!’ It is slightly disturbing.

Standing at the edge of a huge audience, you can see Tim Rogers and the Bamboos performing a delicious blend of funk, rock and roll, and soul. The leading man is every bit the rockstar you’d hoped for; with jolting dance moves and several costume changes, he sounds like Curtis Mayfield and Jamiroquai’s lovechild.  There is not a hip in the park that can resist responding to the horn section’s groove. Bantering with the audience, Tim Rogers weighs in on the sex debate: ‘When a girl says no, she fucking means no!’ The crowd cheers.

Womad is at once vivacious and calm, full of strangers that are your friends. It advocates a spirit of sustainable living, and is a doorway to magical music that you’ve never dreamt of. You arrive home with dirty feet and a new song in your heart.

The Boy Explorer

Tim Rogers

Artists to check out:

Zoe Keating

This fascinating woman left a career in computer programming to become a cellist with a difference. She uses a computer to record and loop live, delivering a rich and complex set of layers filled with emotion and power.

Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes

A simpering sex bomb and her dancing back up singers play an infectious brand of soul doo-wop mash up with their tight backing section. Part stage performance, part homage to the era and its famous musicians, these babes and their band will induce a boogie, no doubt.

Christine Salem

A songwriter from 12-years-old, Salem represents her native Réunion (an island near Madagascar) and the melting pot of cultures within. Her music has a mix of Swahili, Malagasy and Creole influences, with a heavy African rhythm.

The Volatinsky Trio

Combining Balkan instruments cimbalon and domra with the cello and guitar, the group evokes a soft sweetness with shadows lurking in the background.

By Louise Heinrich


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