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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





30th Anniversary Special Edition

Featuring 30 Outstanding Artists from 30

Years of WOMAD


Real World at WOMAD



Out Now on Real World Records


WOMAD, (world of music, art and dance) turned thirtythis year, and I was at Charlton Park, Malmesbury in Wiltshire over the last weekend in July amid a multitude of similarly happy individuals, celebrating their diversity and multi-culturalism. With this double CD celebration, Real World Records, founded in 1989, back-tracks, taking us on an audio journey through three glorious decades of WOMAD festivals, revisiting some of the many artists who've made the experience so memorable. Thirty tracks for thirty years – I don't envy whoever had the daunting task of choosing from the myriad of worthy possibilities!

This vital collection gets off to a sunny start with Congalese rumba-rock don Papa Wemba's 'Bakwetu'. I've never seen Wemba perform live, but I could picture getting down to his heady music on Womad's dance friendly fields. There's a rich clarity and buoyancy to this track's guitar playing, drumming and singing – an optimism, which makes it a very fitting place to start, as WOMAD is all about dissolving differences as we're celebrating them.

Having seen Ethiopia meets Jamican Dub Colossus perform a few times live, I looked forward to hearing what promised to be an upbeat track from them here. I wasn't disappointed, as curving dub reggae grooves paired with Sintayehu Zenebe's striking vocals and, harmonies with fellow singer Teremage Woretaw, are trademark, well-rounded Colossus. Horns and percussion destined to tease movement out of listeners stir the mix, heightening the track's lure. Dub Colossus fans will be very pleased – this is one of the best showcases for the band's shimmering blend I've heard.

Raw, unhomoginised soul 'thank the Lord,' as the song, 'People Get Ready' says - shades of the Isley Brothers, '50's acapella groups and '40's rocking blues are evident, given The Blind Boys of Alabama's original way of blending all of those iconic influences and more. Apt, as this stunning vocal group, originating in gospel, started performing in 1944. Great harmony, soaring vocals from ever shifting soloists…this is a track to sigh for – in bliss.

Shelia Chandra of Asian Indian descent, from South London's 'Ever So Lonely Eyes/Ocean' Celtic influenced voice reverberates with, well, reverb as she sings, 'an ocean refuses no river.' Admittedly, I have something of an aversion to this particular style of singing, however much I admire the impressive range of its singer. That said, this song and Chandra's artistically competent performance of it definitely adds to the rich variety of WOMAD.

On 'Obiero', Kenya's Ayub Ognand, a master of the nyatiti (Kenyan lyre) and explorer of cross-culturalism, lends this light track a cheery balance uniquely his own. The song wafts in and out of consciousness like a summer breeze through cross ventilated, wispy curtained windows…A holiday for the ears that will grow on me, I know.

Durgey, tinkley, beaty, harmonic, (outsized double bass balalaika) with a sense of drama, epic even, that's 'The Legend of the Old Mountain Man' by The Terem Quartet. We hear these layers individually then our senses are tickled by all of these folk and classical nuances together! Music to accompany jugglers, magicians, silent films, it takes a cinematic turn, then dwindles onto more personal turf, suddenly shifting into accordion overdrive with hand driven drums beating in. Expect the unexpected with this Quartet.

Track seven, 'Spinner', by the UK's Portico Quartet is polished, sophisticated and confidently trip-hopped, yet somehow, wandering and uncommited. Seemingly ripe for cinematic accompaniment, this is a striking sample of what this group can do. Elements of marching band, wailing trumpet, escalating but organized cacophony…Cloud through sun bursts and distant, but moving closer sounds simultaneously. An exploratory group….

Samuel Yirga's 'Abel, Abel (punt mix)' features brightly blazing horns, a seemingly, narrative one in the foreground, with Yirga's intensive key-board adding definition and what sounds like riti (one string African violin) capping it all off. A decidedly Ethiopia meets Hancock (as in Herbie) flavour with a bit of magical realism for intriguing enhancement…Ethio-jazz to chill to, dream on or bob to, as I found myself doing when trailing trumpet blew in.

JUJU, aka Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara, were having their sound check at WOMAD Charlton Park on the Open Air Stage in 2010 when we put our tent up in driving rain. They made the process not only bearable but faster, as we wanted to see them! Either musician would be an asset to any band, together they're dynamite. Camara's Griot gritty vocals and rocking riti and Adams' rolling rock guitar…There's no way you could resist dancing through their sets, no matter what they play. This dynamic duo formed an integral part of Robert Plant's Sensational Shape Shifters at WOMAD's 30th Anniversary festival at Charlton Park this year, individually and, together.

Ozomotli's shfting sand, clearly defined non-English vocals feature backup akin to pop on 'Believe'. What's going on here? Plenty, given this track's danceable, Middle Eastern strains urging swaying. Out of the blue, a rapper has his say – 'Things are expensive,' true 'Shootin' the breeze, they're killin' our trees.' True, but what does that mean in this context? Further investigation's reveals this duplicitious sounding band of activists hails from Los Angeles, USA.

Remy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila's fluid drum playing and soul based singing make for more than pleasant listening on 'Nasikitika'. This Zaïrean-style soukous track with its lilting East African style guitar and Tanzanian rhythms will grow more on you every time you hear it, as the pace quickens with Caribbean steel drum sounds - a real stand out track!

Afro Celt Sound System's intriguing, groove filled rap-jig, 'Shadowman' busily interweaves sounds, emerging as one infectious throw, infectiously cloaking the couch of apathy. Simultaneously heavy and bustling, light and interlocking – a multi-faceted cacophony in which voices pepper, rather than atypically lead. Faster funk than I'm used to but funk just the same. A track seemingly, representative of what WOMAD is all about – diversity!

Dengue Fever of Cambodia/USA, whom I first saw and reviewed in concert at Meltdown 2011 at Southbank Centre wowed me then, with this definitive duet, 'Tiger Phone Card', a cross between 60's style pop/country, featuring lead singer par excellence, Chhom Nimol with great response and call, courtesy of bearded Californian band fellow, Ethan Holzman, who together with brother/band-mate Zac, discovered song-bird Nimol. Having seen this track performed live, I can re-savour it here. Viva la WOMAD! I dig Dengue!

Joi's seminal track 'Fingers' starts with horns soaring upwards, percussion, topped by hard driving beats and a woman's voice over-riding it all like a wave. A multi-world mix with drum and bass, voice and sky riding riffs, from Farook and Haroon Shamsher, two young Bengalis raised in London's East End, whose music, a 'fusion of western dance and hip hop with traditional Asian forms' ignited dance floors in the mid to late '90's. Sadly, Haroon passed away last year, but the brothers' inventive legacy continues.

The Drummers of Burindi (extract) – a sentimental favourite, having played at the first ever WOMAD festival in 1982…I've seen them perform live too, and once seen, they are never forgotten. Varying intensities of beats establish their own rhythms as the drummers chant.

Disc Two

'Happiness is', seemingly, according to Tibet's first and only World Music star, Yungchen Lhamo, a translucence suggestive of rain on the surface of a lake. Llamo's plaintive voice almost seems to meld with the music as it layers itself over, under and between the melody line, allowing the music to take precedence at the break, before wavering in again, rippling. Her name, bestowed on her as a baby by a holy man, fittingly, translates to 'Goddess of Song'.

Zawose and Brook's 'Chilumi Kigumu' oozes atmosphere, reminiscent of jungle ( real jungle) deep forest tracks popular in the '80's, only with voices not as smoothed out as in their more produced counterparts. A beautifully silvery sound, like that of a marimba in a rain forest peeps through the leafy fronds in the interval, before the voices return, seemingly speaking of life on the green carpet. Late Hukwe Ubi Zawose (1940-2003), father and leading figure of Tanzania's acclaimed Wagogo championing Zawose Family, created this engrossing track along with Canadian guitarist Michael Brook.

'Tracery' as offered by Nusrat Fater Ali Khan (1948 - 1997) who perfomed the Qwwali music of Pakistan akin to his ancestors during the 600 years preceeding him, is something of a prayer with contemporary overtones, graced by his ardent singing and a layer of ambient music filling in the openings left by his nomadically lilting voice. The tone is measured, as though it is being considered as the track is laid down and what almost sounds like a form of impromptu scat singing from a distant culture over-lays Khan's warbling tones as the steadiness of the musical background, which you could meditate to, carries on as before.

Geoffrey Oryema's 'Makambo' allows his earnest voice to speak to us as it were, as the competent and expressive musicians accompanying him step back, enabling his wonderfully evocative singing to shine forth. Warmly rhythmic harmonies and whistling lend atmosphere when Oryema momentarily rests between verses. Voices with the warmth of a whisper echo and re-echo, leading the singer and his song to its satisfyingly peaceful conclusion. Ugandian Oryema is one artist whose canon I'll be exploring further.

Having seen Aurelio from Hondorus at both WOMAD 2010 in Charlton Park and in concert at Union Chapel last year, I looked forward to hearing his dulcet tones on this sultry and uplifting track, 'Lubara Wamwa' which he performs in his native language, Garifuna and English. In addition to featuring Aurelio's inimitable voice, this song, and his album, also offers marvelously warming guitar playing and drumming. Check it out, you won't regret it!

I've never seen legendary Orquesta Reve live, but hearing this track 'Runidera', made me wish I had, especially at WOMAD, as there's something about seeing a band there that is mutually beneficial to musicians and audience. The percussions here are fiery enough to get your feet moving, your hips swaying and you, longing for Cuba, even if, like me, you've never been lucky enough to have gone there! Expressively evocative piano playing and singing, lead and backup, and clopping Cuban rhythm slyly coaxing cha-cha and, rumba for those in the know, is simply irresistible! More please – muchas gracias!

What's better for the blues than the blues, I ask you? USA's Skip 'Little Axe' McDonald is better than good for whatever's getting you down, as his guitar growls round before his growly voice sings, 'Hard times, here...wherever you go.' His band is funky to boot, with its big stepping drums and bass, but here they're taking the low down route. What a way to go!

'Redemption's Son' as performed by USA's Joseph Arthur lends a modern note, with its blend of folk and pop, with rocky roots. This track is not traditional, as it features more studio tricks than vintage folk might, such as intentionally distant/foggy sounding production, that in my opinion muddles the mix, but the song's got intriguing lyrics which convey the problems inherent to a son not following in his father's footsteps – timeless.

Sevara Nazarkhan of Uzbekistan's 'Erkalab' has the tantalizing qualities of a secret, with its sighed vocals and pattering accompaniment, inching from electronica inherent to the mix, before guitar and blended beats wind themselves in. It's a bit like an increasingly intricate corkscrew, its singer a satellite of sorts, spiraling out from the musical centre, before becoming prominent (in her own quiet way) once again, and sounds of either a cello or an instrument reminiscent of one rounding this off, metallic tinged strings and hollowed drums concluding.

'El Pescador' as shaken and vibrantly thrust at us by renowned Columbian singer, Toto La Momposina Y (and) Sus Tambores is instantly involving, with its luring mentions of 'la playa' (the beach), presumably, at carnival time, and red hot hand drum lead percussives, conjuring up images of swaying palms and, hips. Jump to your feet when this comes on, you'll appreciate its tropical nuances even more if you're moving. Join in the clapping too!

I can't tell you just how amazing the Creole Choir of Cuba is. I was in awe of them during their super performance on the Open Air Stage at WOMAD last year! Similarly, the first time I saw them, at Theatre Royal Stratford East, their harmonic voices fairly carried me away and the audience was equally ecstatic, many quickly responding to the choir's request to join them in an onstage dance! There are shades of Africa here, as well as immeasurable exuberance and unwavering soul. This Choir is not to be missed, anywhere, and their CDs are ultra essentials! 'Edem Chante' with its calling male voice and responding females is a defining track.

'Dragonfly' as played by master musician Guo Yue (People's Republic of China), on bamboo flute, is lovely, even though its orchestration, is at times, a tad overlaid. The song's melody line is fragile but wonderfully sensuous as played by Yue, and in moments when his accompanying musicians refrain from overpowering its essence, wistful and achingly beautiful.

Iarla O Lionaird, from Cork, Ireland, at times, featured vocalist for Afro-Celt Sound System, sings 'Eleanor Plunkett' in traditional language with contemporary inflections. Though somehow, the touching essence of the song still comes across. The guitar and light pipes playing along are thankfully restrained, so the evocative mood of the track is retained. Powerful stuff, presumably about long distance, possibly unrequited love...

UK's ambient/contemporary classical and traditionally influenced Spiro who graced WOMAD 's Anniversary year festival at Charlton Park, though I didn't see them there live, are well worthy of re-visiting via 'The City and the Stars.' I loved this soaring instrumental from the first for its seeming simplicity, then, for its intricateness which I know has been born of a combination of inspiration and hard work. It works – I found it inspirational.

Who better to close this compilation than WOMAD's founder, Peter Gabriel?

Having seen Gabriel perform live in 1980, at the height of his 'Sledgehammer' fame, I enjoyed his set at WOMAD Charlton Park a couple of years ago, especially as, though I profess to love rock, I could count the number of large scale rock shows I've seen over the years on one hand. Gabriel's show featured all the accoutrements of such large scale concerts/shows: projections, back-up singers, intriguing lighting, etc. and I enjoyed all of that, and his set immensely.

This song, 'The Rhythm of the Heat' seems to speak of consumerism, but maybe I'm projecting onto it. Still, it's understood Gabriel is nothing if not a fair and decent individual, who's been laboring all these years to bring the music of the few to the many. It's a mission we should all be grateful to him for undertaking. As this song concludes, with drumming, seemingly reverberating to beats from around the world, I can only surmise that Gabriel's work is by now, fully integrated into his very being.

If this sampler's any indication, and based on experience, I believe it is, than Real World Records has always hovered between traditional and modern, simplistic and bombastic, indigenous and indicative, ever timely, by being out of time, and off the radar, in terms of commercialism. It's a compelling, essential, life affirming combination I hope they never lose sight of.


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