Wednesday, August 01, 2007

WOMAD 2007

1 August 2007

The WOMAD world music festival prides itself on remaining largely sponsor-free but this year you could have been forgiven for thinking a deal had been done with Dunlop - at least in terms of product placement: if there was anyone present not wearing wellingtons it was impossible to tell what, if anything, they did have on their feet, such was the amount of deep, liquid, mud covering the festival site! The unfortunate coincidence of the wettest summer on record combined with WOMAD's move to a new home at Charlton Park near Malmesbury in Wiltshire (after many years in Reading) made for a frustratingly difficult festival experience. First there were horrendous traffic problems on the small country roads around the park: it took me two and a half hours to travel the few miles from the motorway junction when I arrived on Friday afternoon. Then there was the mud: wellingtons were a necessity and walking was very difficult - though standing still had its problems too as you soon found yourself sinking! And just when you decided to give up and call it day there was chaos in the car park: on Saturday evening it took me two hours to get out as tractors towed cars one-by-one up an increasingly muddy slope to the road. By Saturday night I had had enough and opted to head home rather than struggle through Sunday. And I was fortunate not to have been camping: it was a great relief to get back to a comfortable hotel bed each night. I know many people went home before the festival even began and there has been much anger and vitriol on the message boards at - though it was good to see Viscount Andover (whose father owns the Charlton Park estate) going online to respond to comments. Nevertheless, as always, there was some great music. An obvious highlight was the first festival appearance for many years of WOMAD founder Peter Gabriel who played a great set on Friday evening with a host of guest stars. I also enjoyed the desert bagpipes of exuberant Algerian band Marzoug, the beautiful, other-worldly vocals of Norwegian Sami singer Mari Boine and the amazing virtuosity of Malian ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate. It is always nice to see the artists appreciating each other's work: it was lovely to see the mature gentlemen of El Tanbura (Egypt's answer to the Buena Vista Social Club) dancing in front of the stage during a performance by the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani. The Warsaw Village Band were late - a year and 45 minutes late: I had been looking forward to seeing them play at last year's festival when they didn't make it at all - and on Saturday (like many other bands this year) they got stuck in the traffic and the mud and arrived on stage three quarters of an hour later than scheduled. But I did enjoy their 'hardcore Polish folk' - particularly the strident three-part female vocal harmonies which emphasise their musical and geographic positioning somewhere between Bulgaria and Finland. As the rain started to fall on Saturday evening we were cheered up by an upbeat session from English folk star Seth Lakeman and the most energetic performance of the weekend from Asian Dub Foundation. I finished by watching the launch of Simon Emmerson's new project 'The Imagined Village' - a re-imagining of the English folk tradition for the 21st century featuring an all star cast including Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg, Benjamin Zephaniah, Johny Kalsi of the Dhol Foundation, Sheema Mukherjee of Transglobal Underground and British Asian singer Sheila Chandra. Fascinating to hear Billy Bragg talking about how it took two Jewish guys from Queens to make him feel English - when hearing Simon & Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair' for the first time - and then to realise he was telling us this while standing next to Martin Carthy - the man who taught Paul Simon the tune. There were some great performances at Charlton Park but it was hard work getting from one stage to another and it will be difficult not to remember this year's WOMAD festival primarily for the mud.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home