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WOMAD 2016, Charlton Park | reviews, news & interviews

WOMAD 2016, Charlton Park

WOMAD 2016, Charlton Park

The celebrated world music festival returns in an almost vintage year for global sounds

Anouska Shankar: Indie Indian heroine

Nestling amid the area in the woods where they have the gong baths and the kora-makers and back massages was an art installation by Graeme Miller - basically, you lay back on a trolley while an intern/elf pushed you through the woods while you ponder the underside of leaves and the sky. WOMAD does give you a different perspective anyway - a welcome respite from post-Brexit, pre-Trump xenophobia - and as a live celebration of global musical treasures it remains unmatched.

There was a sense, though, of things you had taken for granted, having added relevance. When the virtuoso Vishwa Moham Bhatt (best known for his 1993 recording Meeting by the River with Ry Cooder) whose Desert Slide band’s Hindu-Muslim mix went down a storm started singing songs about unity and love - it didn't sound like hippy claptrap but more a question of survival.

There is a huge spectrum of global music at WOMAD, with over 90 acts from the head-banging Balkan ska-punk of Dubioza Kollectiv and thoughtful Indian fusion from Anouska Shankar to indie singer John Grant and the electronica of the likes of A Guy Called Gerald at the Bowers and Wilkins sound stage.  

The headliners this year were solid rather than spectacular, including veteran Sengalese singer Baaba Maal and George Clinton’s Funkadelic. George himself is getting on more than a bit, but his band still pump out the funk convincingly enough. Actually, the most fascinating spectacle of his show was the out-of-place sign-language woman at the side of the stage, who looked like a librarian, swaying to the beat and signing lyrics of “One Nation under a Groove”.  While the funk mostly worked, what did seem old-fashioned was the lumpen hip-hop which was scattered throughout the set. Another headliner, Toumani Diabaté, arrived late and seemed to be slightly dialling in his performance.

The rich Sardinian singing of Concordu E Tenore De Orosei was male choral singing at its tender, melancholic best

In fact, it felt like the more traditional folk groups seemed more fresh and contemporary, even if some of them are singing music that hasn't changed that much for ages. The rich Sardinian singing of Concordu E Tenore De Orosei was male choral singing at its tender, melancholic best and was a great way to start Sunday, while the Polish folk group described as a “supergroup” Musykanci singing dark fables accompanied by fiddles, accordion and hurdy-gurdy sounded wonderfully timeless.

There were quite a few moans about the new site layout, which made it less easy to navigate (but perhaps better for security?). Several people mentioned that this wasn’t a year for amazing discoveries, but more for a lot of good quality if not wildly new music. Take Lura, for example - she hasn’t the astonishing voice of her late compatriot Cesaria Evora or the musical adventurousness of fellow Cape Verdean Mayra Andrade. But she is very good anyway - and provided unchallenging, impeccably enjoyable music to enjoy in the sun.  Konono No 1's thumb piano and fabulously distorted grooves were more bracing - and possibily more suited to a very late night in Kinshasa than a genteel afternoon in Wiltshire.  

Two outstanding artists, both with great newish albums (played more than once on theartsdesk radio) were the real highlights - Sidestepper’s new look band who have dialled back the electronica in favour of a satisfying Colombian rootsy but dynamic and fresh sound, and Blick Bassy, a Cameroonian based in Paris whose trio of banjo, trumpet and bass kept us guessing in an intriguing, charming set that veered from Skip James blues, to countryish hoe-down to Congolese guitar work-outs.

A welcome, respite from post-Brexit, pre-Trump xenophobia, as a live celebration of global musical treasures WOMAD remains unmatched


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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I agree - Blick Bassy was my highlight of the festival!

Nice, I am definitely going to visit it 

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