Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla, Sun 10 Mar.
No music was scheduled until 2pm but hundreds of early birds took advantage of the free yoga sessions and performed mindful stretching routines in front of two of the small stages. I thought I’d check out the new expanded Planet Talks venue. There was a talk advertised on the Magic of Mushrooms! I was pretty sure it was not going to be about tripping around in the Adelaide Hills but I was curious. It was in fact about a ‘mycelial path to save the planet.’ I now know that there are people working to use fungi as a substitute for plastics in the making of construction materials. Fungi can also apparently eat plastics, absorb radiation, and treat illnesses. Who knew? WOMADelaide is not just about music…
But that is why most of us go there, and down on Stage 3 Sona Jobarteh was about to start playing her kora. The 21-stringed African harp is associated with some of the finest WOMADelaide moments over the years and this performance didn’t disappoint. Perhaps the most photogenic performer that has ever graced a WOMADelaide stage, Jobarteh has a soulful husky voice and soon had the audience singing along with her in a west African language. And in what is always a good sign, her band were clearly having a great time playing together.
Sometimes WOMADelaide challenges you with really hard choices. Back at The Planet Talks The First Dog On The Moon was talking about how to survive the impending apocalypse, and the Silk Road Ensemble were on the main stage at the same time. Decisions, decisions… I chose Silk Road. Silk Road are like a travelling promotion for WOMADelaide festivals. A collective of about 60 musicians from all continents, it was established by cellist Yo Yo Ma. This performance featured about 10 members of the collective. It began with a duel between Galician bagpipes and a traditional Chinese horn called the suona. A curious 3 person hand percussion piece followed, and then an eclectic melange of instruments and styles from everywhere and anywhere. This is truly world music.
Two ethnic communities that have had huge impact on the fabric of Australian life have been strangely absent from WOMADelaide over the years – Greeks and Italians – but happily not this year. The Italians were forcefully present in the form of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino. With no looping or other electronic interference in sight they generated tons of excitement with high energy, high speed playing with accordion, guitar, traditional pipes, bouzouki, and tammorra (like the Irish bodhran). Exhilarating.
Greece was represented by Rembetien, exponents of Rembetika. Rembetika is sometimes referred to as Greek blues. It certainly has a moody feel that one could associate with blues, but the music of Rembetien is more deft and delicate. Nothing too raw here. Lead vocals were shared around, and the impromptu dance group off to the side of the stage grew as the pace got quicker. Soulful and soothing. I started to wander off to the Greek Islands….
Earlier Sharon Shannon (ex-Waterboys) and her band from Ireland entertained a big Foundation stage crowd with largely instrumental music based around the accordion. Her countryman, Alan Kelly, introduced WOMADelaide audiences to this delightful form of Celtic music several WOMADelaides back. But this wasn’t just Celtic music. Some of it was, but much of it had a more modern feel in what the program described as “genre-defying music”. It is hard to place. But strong insistent melodies were a feature in a thoroughly enjoyable set. A cameo performance of Janis Joplin’s Piece Of My Heart from a guest female vocalist was a knockout!
The honour of performing the sundown concert on stage 2 this year went to Morocco’s Maalem Hamid El Kasri. El Kasri’s featured instrument is the guembri, a traditional 3 string bass instrument. Languages spoken by peoples across adjoining borders often sound quite similar. And so it is with music. Tinariwen are another north African group that have played WOMADelaide and their style of ‘desert blues’ sounds very reminiscent of El Kasri and group. Driving bass undercurrents and repetitive rhythms create a hypnotic feel for the chanting vocals to float across. And his percussionists looked wonderful in their robes and dreadlock caps.
It was a shame to leave before the headline act of the day, Angelique Kidjo, but I’d had my fill. In terms of the weather you couldn’t have ordered better for a day at WOMADelaide – just a gentle breeze, overcast, no rain and about mid-twenties. And I found enough of ‘old WOMAD’ to keep me interested all day – ethnic music that stayed close to its roots.
WOMADElaide has changed a great deal – many more Australian acts, and many more amorphous global funk acts save money and attract a different and younger crowd. But as mentioned earlier, it’s not just about music. WOMADelaide is an experience. It’s just as much about ideas – whether in The Planet Talks program, the agitprop stalls that dot the park, or in the informal conversations that take place under the trees and in the bars. There’s the hugely popular Taste The World program and the ever expanding range of food options. It’s about kids playing safely, and enjoying activities just for them; the healing village, the market stalls, and it’s one of the few places where all generations gather to celebrate being alive. It’s still a remarkable event.
(This review also posted on The Clothesline.)