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festival review: WOMADelaide

Photo by @lachiebirrell

The Colour of Time – photo by @lachiebirrell

WOMADelaide is not your usual music festival.

Sure, there are the teens strutting in groups, with festival-appropriate attire and the right-shaped sunglasses, but there are also toddlers running around the thick grass and, later, small children asleep on their parents’ ponchos spread across the ground. There are picnics and tents for napping and a sense of communal goodwill. And, God, there are no cans littering the ground.

If the countless bare feet didn’t confirm it, WOMAD appeals to hippies and the environmentally conscious: there is an unspoken collective agreement to love the earth and each other.

Of course, there is the music. WOMAD is a place for discovery, for bumping into a surprise, for kicking up dust in an irrepressible response. But here, Lip reviews what’s on offer besides the beats.

Artonik – The Colour of Time

White t-shirted dancers follow a troupe of musicians playing a hypnotic rhythm, parading through the park in a progressive dance. They shoot up spurts of coloured powder, violet, crimson, gold, which float away like a magical dust cloud, and spot observers with violently colourful patches.

The dancers reach a platform and climb atop, and induct the now huge, ecstatic crowd into their repetitive dance. The music is still loud and hypnotic. Colour is still thrown up into the air. A blonde volunteer veers through the crowd, handing out packets of powder, pushing one of orange and one of pink into my hands. ‘For the finale,’ she says. Minutes later, the dancing reaches a fever pitch, and there is an explosion as every rapturous WOMAD-er flings their powder into the sky. It is a chaotic rainbow. It is a visual cacophony. Clouds of tangled colours rise above the tight-packed audience, and we are stained for the rest of the night.

Grey-headed flying foxes

Upside down, they natter. Upside down, they stretch their wings in the daytime. Upside down, they watch.

Planet Talks

These panel events provide a chance to discuss humanity’s impact on the earth. The first session features local chef Simon Bryant cooking a meal from sustainable ingredients, while Dr Evangeline Mantzioris and Louisa Rosa talk  sustainable food and wine.

I learn about the two levels of food sustainability (1. its quantity and 2. its impact on the environment), but really, this is a chance to watch one half of The Cook and the Chef lobbing information at the audience in his restless, ragamuffin way, debunking food myths and throwing olive oil around like he just don’t care.

Hammocktime in the Pines

Under the yawning trunks of tall pines, four hammocks are stretched between poles. I climb into one, unsure of how it will take my weight, and my meditation guide, Manal, sits next to me. She offers me a blanket and a pillow. I feel safe. Like the other meditation guides (one to each meditator), Manal is a spoken word poet and her voice is round and calm as I relax my body into the hammock’s gentle swing.

A high energy brass band explodes on the nearest stage. ‘Look up into the pines,’ Manal coos in a low tone. ‘What can you hear beyond the instruments? Can you hear the future? Can you hear the past?’

Between each question, she leaves space. Space for me to breathe, space to search the eternal pines, space to listen to the truth beyond the noise.

After ten minutes of cool whispers, I am left to my own thoughts, and I feel my body in the hammock, cool air sweeping my skin through the thin material. I breathe in unison with the trees around me.

I am centred. After, I walk the grounds of WOMAD with a quiet heart and an inside smile.


Two Spanish artists in bizarre, ethereal garments create strange masterpieces out of audience members’ hair. To the soundtrack of epic, cinematic music, they transform the limp locks of participants who sit in ornate barber chairs. Hair is coaxed into gravity-defying loops and spikes, and these hairdressers are not afraid to use unexpected props like plastic toys, coloured paint, and shiny ribbons. Later, I see some recipients (victims?) in a crowd as they watch a band on stage. You can spot them by the sculptures on their heads and the most ostentatious makeup you’ve ever seen.


‘Can I do anything I want in here?’ I’ve borrowed a nephew, a fragile, blonde five-year-old, to explore Kidzone, Womad’s circle of activities for children. His eyes are wide. His voice is high. There are Carclew art workshops, two bouncy castles, a tent for ‘bottling dreams’, a museum discovery centre, and a giant blow-up panda, two metres tall and six metres long.

‘Yeah,’ I reply, hesitant. ‘As long as the line isn’t too long.’

We line up outside the giant blow-up panda, where the kids can choose a dress-up costume to go on a parade. A tall man dressed as a rainbow lets us in. ‘Are there any Pacman costumes?’ my nephew asks, peering up at Tall Rainbow.

‘No, there aren’t any Pacman costumes! How about a parrot suit?’

Nephew dons a green parrot suit, and makes his Pacman noise (‘Umma-umma-umma, umma-umma-umma’). A parade of small kangaroos, birds, and rainbows exits the Kidzone and edges through the thick WOMAD crowd. They make a circle. ‘Can all the parrots fly in the middle and give some squawks?’ calls Tall Rainbow.

‘C’mon!’ I nudge my nephew.

‘I don’t want to.’ He looks at the ground, his wings dragging on the grass.

The menagerie hops, flies and (in my nephew’s case) trudges back into Kidzone, shedding their costumes before entering the giant blow up panda for story time. Curiously, the zip to enter the panda is underneath its bob of a tail, exactly where its giant blow-up bumhole would be. After all the children have piled in, and a story about a solar-powered bi-plane and a fox and a wolf begins, a latecomer kid unzips the top of the panda’s bumhole door, and pokes his head in to watch. He is putting his head into the giant blow up panda’s anus. Am I allowed to laugh at this?

After my nephew emerges out of the panda’s mouth, we line up for a bouncy castle, and then get an orange juice. Before I can ask for a small size, he orders for himself. Clearly he is unfazed by passing backwards through a giant panda’s digestive system.

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