WOMAD – Sunday
By NICHOLAS PIPE
Traditionally all about rest and relaxation, Sunday is perhaps the day best suited to WOMADelaide’s atmosphere.
It’s an atmosphere you can’t accurately describe on paper though, except for its parts, and ideally set within the Botanic Gardens.
Festival-goers arrive with carefree attitudes, but certainly not when it comes to being environmentally and politically aware.
There are stalls carrying arts and crafts you may not have seen before in your life, let alone at a music festival – which are of course owned by people genuinely passionate about what they do. And there are musicians who make you feel like family, even though you might be several continents and cultures apart. ‘Melting pot’ is often a vague and clichéd term, but here it begins to make a lot of sense.
It took a while for the crowds to build up on Sunday but the festival hit full swing just after noon and that probably had something to do with an excellent band from California, called ‘Groundation’.
They fused their jazz-trained musical upbringings with reggae and slow-grooving funk, to provide the perfect soundtrack for hundreds of people lounging in the midday sun. In one hour-long set they captured the spirit of WOMAD perfectly and proved to be a band worth keeping an eye on in their own right.
Anyone watching ‘Groundation’ from the trees behind the main crowd area may have witnessed a moment which, in a microcosm, summed up the friendly camaraderie unique to WOMAD.
Two twenty-something males were playing with a hacky-sack, until one wayward kick sent it sailing into the path of a lady walking by. Normally you would expect to see at least an exchange of dirty looks or choice words. However, the lady walked over to the sack, smiled as she tentatively extended a leg, flicked the ball up towards the men, and the game continued.
As soon as ‘Groundation’ finished on the central stage, another special performance started on the much smaller Moreton Bay stage.
‘Tété’ might not have had a crowded stage of musicians to impress the audience with, but he captivated them all by himself with what must be one of the finest solo sets in the world. The Senegalese-born Frenchman (who incidentally spoke excellent English between songs) could be compared to an early Delta bluesman; he sings passionately and plays rootsy acoustic guitar without any techno-trickery. But what sets him apart is the way he brilliantly combines that philosophy with pop songwriting, to make his music accessible to everyone.
As the day reached mid-afternoon and the humidity reached its peak, the main stage was taken over by a flamboyant Diego Guerrero and his band ‘El Solar de Artistas’.
Whether by design or not, WOMAD has a habit of scheduling bands at times when the natural conditions are perfect for them, and the Madrid collective were no exception. It was amazing to have the sun beating right down on the band’s flamenco rhythms, to the point where you almost felt like you were in Spain. A solid percussion section and mind-boggling guitar playing from José “Petete” Fernandez were backed up by the wonderful voices of Diego and Naike Ponce.
After that magnificent set wound to a close, the sounds of the ‘Melbourne Ska Orchestra’ could be heard from some distance away. The 26-piece collective pumped out a series of spectacular jams, a great cover of The Specials’ A Message to you Rudy, a riotous blast through Madness’ Night Boat To Cairo, and even a version of John Barry’s original James Bond theme, to a wildly appreciative audience.
One of the great things about WOMAD are the festivities that take place away from the stages. There might be the usual kind of high-turnover catering that you expect from a festival, but at least here it’s culturally diverse. African, Mediterranean, Asian, Indian and South American cuisines are all contained in one of the more popular food courts.
A standout venue to relax in is a giant purple chai tent, complete with low wooden tables, cushions and backrests, and of course a variety of herbal drinks. It’s situated perfectly near an array of craft shops and environmental activist booths and within distant earshot of Stage Two. It’s also very close to the excellent base of local independent record store Mr V Music, which visits WOMAD every year with records from all the performing artists.
One other great thing about the event is that while it’s certainly bustling with patrons, it has been organised so that there’s breathing space. You never have to spend a long time lining up for anything, you can roam around the festival grounds very easily, and there’s always somewhere to sit (or lay) down. Chairs and tables might have been at a premium during the dinner rush, but that’s about the only blemish on an excellently run event.
The night schedule began on the main stage with popular Melbourne-based band ‘Blue King Brown’.
Recent songs sat next to old favourites like Come And Check Your Head in the set, while Groundation’s Marcus Urani also made an appearance, to duel with Sam Cope on keyboards during a hectic improvised jam.
The show soon became just as much about the activism as the music. A couple of West Papuan dancers entered the stage and displayed their skills, before the band stopped.
Banners were unfurled, and heartfelt speeches were delivered, to call for the protection of West Papuans from human rights abuses. The band then took a photo of the crowd raising their fists to the skies in support of the cause. It was a powerful sight to behold, and frontwoman Natalie Pa’apa’a struck her own note with the audience: describing WOMAD as “a snapshot of how the world should be”.
By now a pitch-black night had set in, and lanterns and stage lights transformed the atmosphere of Botanic Park into a rival for the Garden of Unearthly Delights. The parklands around Stage 2 became a giant lounge for people to down warm drinks and donuts, and the sounds of Ivorian singer ‘Dobet Gnahoré’ were some of the most soothing of the whole day.
Although soothing isn’t how you would describe what was about to erupt on the Zoo Stage.
The eruption in question was ‘The Barons of Tang’, a seven-piece “gypsy deathcore” band from Melbourne.
As the band walked out, frontman and double-bass player Julian Cue felt the need to make it clear that he didn’t condone crowd surfing, which made sense once the band started playing. Think of the Barons as Johnny Depp’s Chocolat gypsy band if they’d grown up listening to Slayer.
Gloriously chaotic in both musical composition and stage presence, the band had everyone grooving, grinding and all-out head-banging for the entire hour they were on stage. It wouldn’t be possible to pull off such a style if the band weren’t masters of their instruments, and it was good to see the crowd appreciate that too. Julian Cue meanwhile was appreciative of the whole weekend, congratulating WOMAD organisers for “not only putting on a festival I want to play at, but one I actually want to go to”.
It was now left to ‘The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’ to close the night on the main stage with a collection of wonderfully executed covers. “Some of my best friends are guitarists”, dryly remarks George Hinchliffe, before the Orchestra launches into songs like Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and even an encore performance of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Such a light-hearted approach to music made for a wonderful end to the evening.
And just like the Ukulele Orchestra, Sunday’s instalment of WOMAD 2012 had been cheerful, delightfully unusual, relaxed, captivating – and great fun.