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festival review: womadelaide 2011

Even when you don’t personally enjoy them, it’s usually quite easy to understand why a particular music festival has become popular. Womadelaide, however, doesn’t have the makings of a festival that should’ve become a mainstream and hugely successful event based on first appearances. Adelaide itself isn’t typically seen as a major drawcard for tourists, and few festival goers would name ‘world music’ as a favourite genre. And yet, the world’s second largest WOMAD event beckons thousands of people, both locals and visitors, through its gates every year to enjoy Botanic Park’s World of Music, Arts and Dance.

More than 500 artists delighted audiences over this year’s four-day event; lip revisits some of our highlights.

Angus and Julia Stone

On the tail end of numerous festival appearances throughout Australia over the summer season, the Stones were showing no signs of fatigue. Unlike many artists who take you through a loyal but predictable foray through their back catalogue, there is something new to be heard with Angus and Julia Stone’s live performances, whether it be Julia’s trombone playing her rapping (!), or their cover of ‘You’re the one that I want’.

Although both have obvious passion for their music, it is Julia that shines during their live sets, chatting to the audience and dancing even during Angus’s songs, and reminding him of chords onstage. The duo have spent a lot of time writing songs that connect with people, including a few that have connected with enough people to send them to the forefront of the Australian music scene, but remain true to the ‘spirit’ of WOMAD.

Afro Celt Sound System
With all the ‘Sound System’ band names around, it can be hard to keep track. Afro Celt Sound System make it markedly easier with theirs, however, aptly naming themselves after their very fusion of sounds; Irish Celtic music and West African music. With my non-visionary ear, it’s difficult to understand how anyone ever thought this would be an appropriate meeting, but it works perfectly, creating a sound and rhythm that had most of WOMAD’s attendees flocking to stage one for the energetic performance.

Ana Moura
Portuguese singer, Ana Moura, made an impression on the Rolling Stones some years ago, and has performed with them and been selected for Tim Ries’s Rolling Stones project, which saw Moura collaborate with the Stones, as well as a number of other musicians, on a tribute recording. She speaks of the experience with both pride and modesty,

Moura is dazzling, quite literally, on Sunday evening in a gold and black dress which shimmers with the setting sun. Her soulful voice was a pleasant and welcome introduction to fado music – Portugal’s answer to the blues – and her songs were interjected with her soothing spoken voice, telling stories and speaking to audience members in both Portuguese and English.

Joanna Newsom
Whether you like her music or not, there is little denying that between her harp and her indie pixie voice, Joanna Newsom is offering something different. And offer it she did at WOMAD, whilst having to contend with the numerous bugs characteristic to warm Australian evenings.

Newsom’s music, whilst impressive, was also more or less what I expected. What I didn’t expect was that she would be so funny, entertaining with quips about her performance coinciding with the apocalypse as a helicopter flew overhead, as well as requesting that someone from side stage come to swat away the insects that were flying into her mouth and hair. But of course, this wasn’t what we were all there to see, and Newsom and her band took the audience through an hour-long set, alternating between the bouncier piano tunes and the more epic and sombre harp songs.

The Necks
Prior to seeing The Necks’ performance on Monday evening, the only direct recount I’d heard from someone about them was from a friend whose mum had had to leave the performance the previous night, having felt panicked by the gradual and lingering build up during the set. Although it doesn’t superficially come across as a positive account, it’s nonetheless a testament to the power of The Necks’ music to move a crowd, even without words.

The project of three jazz musicians who play improvisational pieces, The Necks’ sound defies adequate categorisation, but meanders around experimental minimalism and general intensity. It is far from a conventional music going experience and was something of a severe act to end the WOMAD experience on, but it is because their music is so rattling that it leaves an impression.

As always, the calibre of performance at Womadelaide was incredibly high, but it’s the heart and atmosphere of this very special festival that sees music lovers returning to it year after year.

The next Womadelaide festival will take place March 9th-12th, 2012.

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