sat 20/07/2024

WOMAD 2, Charlton Park review - rainbows and rumba | reviews, news & interviews

WOMAD 2, Charlton Park review - rainbows and rumba

WOMAD 2, Charlton Park review - rainbows and rumba

Globalism still rules in a field in Wiltshire

The mighty BCUC

In the days around WOMAD there have been plenty of media about how the “hostile environment” towards migrants has created all sorts of problems for artists attempting to get here from around the world.

Certainly, we are being denied some of the hottest new acts - like the wild blue-haired Moonchild Sanelly from South Africa or the hottest new act from Nigeria, Chicoco Sounds. 

WOMAD have just signed a new 12-year deal at Charlton Park, however - and if you wanted to find the spiritual centre for the liberal, tolerant, positive globalism currently under threat, WOMAD would be a perfect candidate.  

Even if in 12 years, the malign forces of nativism and authoritarianism have won, when President-for-Life (Ivanka?) Trump has abolished democracy and Chairman Boris or Jeremy have established themselves in Windsor Castle (with harem or massive allotment accordingly), there will be a usually rainy place in Wiltshire, that will hopefully, if illegally, be celebrating other cultures and still dancing.

Seeing a whole load of music over four days brings up all kinds of questions, one important one being how does an act that has been going for decades keep the magic going? Some, like the glorious Orchestra de Magapela, were frankly a revelation. The Congolese-style music band based in Nairobi have survived by some miracle (their last album on Strut is called Last Band Standing) and are as hot as any Congolese act from the 1970s or '80s. The lean and mean rumba guitar managed somehow to be ecstatic but earthy and pulled the whole band together. They really should develop an audience like Orchestra Baobab’s in the UK, who also reformed after decades and now sell out the Barbican and are hipster favourites.

Amadou and Mariam, the much-loved blind couple from Mali, didn't quite have the firepower of a decade ago, but were enjoyably rocking and warm anyway. The African group that did get the strongest reaction and were many people's band of the festival were BCUC from South Africa whose sheer passion for performance was compelling, even if some people found it oppressive in its punkish relentlessness.

Another question - when does polished become slick and a bit soulless? Thievery Corporation came from the golden age of sampling in the 1990s but here had a full band, and apart from an ill-judged sitar number, were flawless - a bit more dirt would have been welcome. A couple of hyped acts seemed a little over-contrived, like the Irish-Indian crossover band Jiggy, and the Gypsy Kings spin-off Original Gypsies from Camargue, with crushing four-on-the-floor rhythms overwhelming the Gypsy elements.

In the more DJ-oriented d&b Soundscape tent the sound was immaculate, hosted by music writer Jane Cornwell wearing a sparkly dress. There were several adventurous sets, notably from the South African Muzi, whose delirious mix of Angolan kaduro and kwaito had rhythms in combinations you never heard before. In the words of Roxy Music, it was a danceable solution to teenage revolution. Mitú, a duo from Colombia, smashed up assorted traditional rhythms and techno with real drums and analogue synth that some people derided as “unprofessional”; actually its wobbly amateurism was refreshing.

La Dame Blanche was a modern blast from Cuba that was so eclectic, including elements of cumbia, dancehall and hip-hop, that it shouldn't have worked but really did. Other highlights were the modern jazz with scuttling Afrobeat drums Ezra Collective and Vishten, an Arcadian folkish trio from Canada where the electric pianist looked like a librarian but funked out like a mofo. Amparanoia, squatter types from Barcelona, 20 years on surprisingly retained their joyful verve while Electric Fields from Australia seemed a modern take on 1980s electropop. Think Erasure but with a better singer and better songs - if they end up having worldwide hits it would be no surprise.

The off-stage activities were packed as ever, such as a workshop on how to dance bhangra: “you screw the light bulb and pat the dog - not the other way around” (think on that - and lock up your canines).

But it’s often the random moments, like the fierce rainbow that appeared after the rain, that linger in the mind. Or a guy in his sixties at nearly midnight on the public piano in the woods performing a strange mix of minimal, spiritual piano with the odd New Orleans roll. Anyone who knows his name get in touch - it was one of most memorable pieces of music heard all weekend. 

There will be a usually rainy place in Wiltshire that will be celebrating other cultures and still dancing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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