Friday, August 05, 2016

WOMAD 2016

5 August 2016

I had a lovely weekend at the WOMAD Festival at Charlton Park near Malmesbury in Wiltshire. After the rain and mud of 2015, this year’s festival was blessed with almost perfect weather. Although it rained just before I arrived at the festival site on Friday it then stayed dry until I left on Sunday, with a mixture of extremely hot sunshine and some welcome cloud cover. I saw 22 performances from almost every corner of the world. It was great finally to see the Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans (who I wrote about here in January 2013) live on stage: from the moment they opened their set with a high tempo version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Sir Duke’ I knew we were in for a treat. I also enjoyed seeing the charming young Brazilian singer-songwriter/cellist Dom La Nena (“the bossa nova Joanna Newson”), Scottish fiddle and harp duo Twelfth Day with their mixture of traditional and contemporary folk and classical, and Hollie Stephenson – an 18-year-old soul singer from North London with a powerful Amy Winehouse voice.

Long-time readers with good memories may recall my trip to the mountain village of Bitti in Sardinia in 2007, home to the famous singing shepherds, Tenores de Bitti. As I wrote here in June 2007: “the Sardinian canto a tenore tradition is an amazing sound. For centuries shepherds have gathered in mountain huts at the end of the working day to sing to each other (and drink!) through the night. Standing in a circle facing each other, this is very much participatory music – not designed for an audience. The four-part unaccompanied close-harmony singing imitates natural sounds: the bass (‘bassu’) is the sound of a cow, the ‘contra’ is the sound of a sheep and the ‘mesu ‘oche’ is the sound of the wind. Above these the soloist (‘voche’ – the human voice) leads the song and carries the text. The result is harmonically scrunchy, with a very low growlly bass – hypnotically repetitive and remarkably catchy.” It was a great pleasure, therefore, to get my first opportunity to see the tenore tradition live at the WOMAD Festival on Sunday. Cuncordu e Tenore de Orosei is a group that performs both secular tenore songs and the cuncordu religious vocal tradition.   The five male singers make a spectacular deep polyphonic sound. They were also just about the least audience-friendly act I have ever seen at WOMAD! True to the traditional Sardinian style they stood in a close circle facing each other, around a single microphone, some way back from the front of the stage. At the end of each song they came out of their circle and stood briefly facing the audience to acknowledge the applause – but with very little attempt to engage the crowd, mostly staring straight ahead with hands in pockets or arms folded. This kind of behaviour only tends to provoke a WOMAD audience into even more vociferously enthusiastic reaction – enjoying the challenge of winning over such seriously unresponsive performers. Sure enough, as the performance progressed, the whooping and cheering of a huge crowd packed in between the trees of the arboretum at Charlton Park, began to elicit a few smiles and bows from the Sardinian singers.

It is hard to pick out a single highlight from a long weekend of live music but I especially liked the remarkable Indo-Scottish MC, Soom T, who really seemed to be enjoying herself on the stage of the Big Red Tent. And I loved the acoustic Canadian folk trio from Prince Edward Island, The East Pointers, whose music was slick, fast, catchy and extremely danceable and reminded me a lot of another Canadian group, The Bills (reviewed here in May 2006).

You can see a selection of my photos from the WOMAD Festival at:

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