Monday, August 01, 2011

WOMAD 2011

1 August 2011

Everybody's WOMAD is different: like any big festival there are so many bands to see on so many stages that each individual curates their own personal festival. This year my WOMAD seemed to be dominated by the violin: a surprising number of the groups I chose to watch featured one or more fiddles - from the sublime Scottish folk fiddling of Rua MacMillan to the unbelievably fast playing of Romanian legends Taraf de Haidouks; from the klezmer violin of Oi Va Voi to the eclectic mix of styles of the Barrunto Bellota Band from Caceres in Spain; from the uncategorisable fascination of Arthur Jeffes' Penguin Cafe to the brilliant Norwegian folk fiddle quintet Majorstuen. I saw 30 different bands over the WOMAD weekend at Charlton Park in Wiltshire including 20 complete sessions. I particularly enjoyed the AfroCubism super-group - it was amazing to see so many African stars, including Bassekou Kouyate (reviewed here in December 2007), Toumani Diabate (reviewed here in May 2008) and Djelimady Tounkara, sharing the stage with members of Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club. And it was wonderful to see the veterans of traditional Egyptian band El Tanbura, triumphant from their performances earlier this year in Tahrir Square. The WOMAD crowd (Womadders? or Womadians?) is a generous and sympathetic audience: if a roadie was to accidentally drop a guitar on the stage someone would start dancing to it! It's always lovely to see bands from completely different cultures, such as the Korean Tori Ensemble this year, start their set with serious frowns of concentration only gradually to realise how enthusiastically their music is being appreciated by a passionate, massed crowd in front of the stage. As the performers begin to look at each other and smile and (this year much more than I remember previously) take out their mobile phones and take photos of their audience, you begin to feel optimistic again about the prospects for intercultural dialogue and understanding. I think my favourite performances of WOMAD 2011 were those by: the young virtuoso of the South Indian veena (an earlier version of the more familiar sitar) Hari Sivanesan with the Cuban violinist (another violinist!) Omar Puente; the 10-strong Chinese acoustic group from Inner Mongolia, AnDa Union; the laid-back acoustic pop mixed with Scottish folk and Maori vocals from female trio Pacific Curls; and the stunning set by London-based five-piece female vocal group The Boxettes, led by world champion beatboxer Bellatrix. Oh, and I forgot to mention Appalachian clawhammer banjo maestro Abigail Washburn who was wonderful. All this and the weather was brilliant!

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