Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WOMAD 2010

27 July 2010

I had a great time at the WOMAD Festival at Charlton Park in Wiltshire last weekend. It was near-perfect festival weather – dry all weekend but not too hot. I saw 28 bands in total, ranging from the Cuban son of Sierra Maestra to the West African funk of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou from Benin, to the Pakistani devotional singing of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali. There was a distinctly humorous flavour to this year’s festival which included lounge versions of ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ and ‘Blue Monday’ by the French group Nouvelle Vague, the politest singalong version you will ever hear of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ led by the excellent Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the surreal experience of being part of a massive crowd singing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with octogenarian world music original Rolf Harris! Rolf was on fine form, entering into a conversation with every heckler and signing ‘thank you’ to the sign language interpreter at the side of the stage who was struggling to translate the nonsense words and farmyard noises of one of his songs. I particularly enjoyed hearing the young Iraqui oud player Khyam Allami, accompanied by the amazing Italian master percussionist Andrea Piccioni who could make a tambourine (well actually a tambourella) sound like an entire drum kit. And I would have liked to have heard more of Kormac’s Big Band – the live hip-hop orchestra from Dublin who include a barbershop quartet alongside the eponymous DJ. I loved watching Takht Al Emarat – a group of seven very serious, straight-faced young men from the United Arab Emirates who played some lovely traditional classical music. I don’t think any of the musicians could speak English so the gaps between pieces were just a brief embarrassed silence but as the enthusiasm of the crowd grew, you could start to see a few smiles creeping onto the faces of the players and by the final rapturous reception they were beaming from ear to ear. It was also great to see the Bavarian group LaBrassBanda really working a huge festival crowd with their unique take on fast-pumping techno dance music played on trumpet, trombone and tuba. The incredible Staff Benda Bilili (reviewed here in November 2009) were on excellent form and it was good to see the late great Charlie Gillett remembered by having a stage named in his honour. But I think my two favourite performances were by Lepistö & Lehti and Chumbawamba. Accordionist Markku Lepistö and double bass player Pekka Lehti are former members of the Finnish band Värttinä and have created a lovely album (called ‘Helsinki’) of contemporary tunes drawing on the Finnish folk tradition. They are gently engaging performers and played a wonderful set on the BBC Radio 3 stage in the arboretum on Saturday afternoon. I had never seen Chumbawamba before but was completely bowled over by their appearance on Friday evening. Their ‘Tubthumping’ days are now a historical footnote (and they resolutely resisted many calls to perform their solitary hit) but they are still articulate, witty and strongly political. Incorporating traditional English folk songs, acapella voices, catchy tunes, radical messages and fascinating stories, they were excellent and I strongly recommend their 17th album ‘abcdefg’ – “a concept album about music”.

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