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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Charlton Park

Baaba Mal on the Open Air Stage - July 30, 2011
Photo by Rosie Hallam

Malmesbury, Wiltshire


Thursday 28 - Sunday 31 July 2011


WOMAD means the world to those involved with it, be they performers or audience members. There is simply no other way one could enjoy the crème de la crème of Music, Dance and Art from around the globe, all in the course of one weekend, among such an amiable and diverse crowd of appreciative fans.

It’s always a learning curve attending a WOMAD Festival, as there is so much to discover and explore. This year’s Charlton Park event featured artists from every continent of the world, except Antarctica, and no doubt that region would have been represented too, if possible. What was possible, was to have your eyes opened to the endless diversity inherent to the making of music, and if you weren’t able to catch any of the dance or acrobatic troupes, you were sure to have discovered some new moves of your own while traversing the globe via this event’s ever shifting kaleidoscope of beats, rhythms, singing and above all, multi-cultural appeals for unity, compassion, joy and love, aimed at breaking common ground.

As ever, WOMAD’s highlights were far too numerous to mention within the space a few pages. But, I’ll touch on some of the pivotal moments I was fortunate enough to have experienced firsthand.

The Art of WOMAD was represented by a selection of animations by ‘six leading artists’ entitled ‘Giving Soul’ which is apt, as that is exactly what animators do with their drawings. Among the short films, displayed inside of disused containers, my personal favourite, Tide Table by South African artist William Kentridge depicted figures and objects which were seemingly, being sketched in charcoal as they fluidly moved, frame by frame, through their black and white landscape. We visited the exhibition a few times over the weekend, in order to view all of the animations.


WOMAD sign - perfect for climbing on!
Photo by John Couzens

The music of this year’s Charlton Park festival opened with Sounds and Moves from the Punjab Thursday evening, July 28th as children from Malmesbury School performed with Dhol Foundation (UK). Having youngsters aged ten to teens perform alongside a World Music group is the traditional, non-traditional way of opening WOMAD in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. It was nice to see how some of the children we’d seen last year had grown and progressed with their chosen art, be it singing, playing an instrument or dancing Indian or break-dancing style, the latter of which was favoured by adolescent boys. Jamaica and the USA’s Easy Star All Stars got people going in the Big Red Tent on the opposite end of the grounds afterwards, followed by a well received set from multi-award winning UK folk practitioners Bellowhead who were given a Songlines award at the end of the night.

On Friday afternoon, the crowd was stirred into dancing and cheers by Egypt’s El Tanbura, reenacting the songs, emotions and celebrations they’d lived through in Tahrir Square during their people’s fight for freedom earlier this year. Later on, a special appearance of the ever dynamic collective, AfroCubism featuring top musicians from both countries, whose obvious pleasure at playing together is almost as infectious as their music, spread joyous rhythms. This ensemble was preceded by another favourite, Aurelio from Honduras, whose passionate, upbeat set featuring his fine singing and guitar playing spread more smiles than the emerging sunshine.



Courtesy of Real World Records

U.K’s US inspired Alabama 3 with their vocally opposed male and female singers performed in the Siam Tent next, up-beating the crowd with political statements guised in glibness, making pop/rock infused points. The Afro-politico reggae of Alpha Blondy lit up the crowd, inspiring non-stop dancing and empathy through powerful lyrics and performance. Inimitable, fiery Mahala Rai Banda (took us to the witching hour on the BBC Radio 3 Stage as we joined the mass of writhing bodies engaged in impromptu maneuvers on the dark and grassy grounds among the trees leading up to their performance space. What better way to cap off the night than with a spot of good ole 1930’s style yodeling and blues from C.W. Stoneking - Australia’s answer to New Orleans enigma Leon Redbone, but with all original material. The crowd laughed, sang and yelled ‘CW’ in a southern drawl to Stoneking as he performed his comically deadpan set, bow tie teamed with white shirt, slacks and shoes, slicked back hair, and 1931 steel guitar – definitely worth staying up till 2am for!

Saturday’s musical bill began with Malian diva Khaira Arby wowing on the Open Air Stage, who teamed up with Vieux Farka Toure (Mali) for a few numbers during his vibrant set there later on. Baaba Mal (Senegal) did the Open Air Stage proud that evening via a very evocative set, with support from his animated band, and a number of unbelievably agile dancers. The day drew to a close with the extremely rhythmic, cult in our neck of the woods, famous in France and the island whose musical culture he so enthusiastically preserves – Danyel Waro (Reunion Island) in the Siam Tent. Waro’s wild shock of long, white hair and glasses made him seem an unlikely propagator of infectiousness, but his rhythms were irresistible to the crowd, who responded with smiles and continuous dancing. In between we’d been entertained by Brassroots (Greece, UK, USA) who’d boomed out covers and original tunes, Nawlins’ style on the Charlie Gillett Stage and Las Balkanieros (Bosnia, Croatia, Russia) in the Big Red Tent, who cheerily lampooned every girl band sound and posture imaginable, while poking fun at stereotypes of Eastern European women via apron-fronted costumes and exaggerated accents. Roland Tchakounte (Cameroon), rounded off Saturday’s extraordinary line up, igniting the crowd with a mighty blues guitar and growly vocal driven set on the Charlie Gillett Stage, which inspired cheers, claps and cries for more! 



Baaba Mal performing at WOMAD Charlton Park
Photo by Rosie Hallam



More is just what we got at camp WOMAD’s Molly’s Bar round midnight, where Brassroots performed a fast and furious set before a whooping crowd of adults and teens who egged one another on to dance faster and yell louder. It was an amazing experience being in the midst of this huge, mixed age crowd singing en masse to Eurythmics’ 80’s hit, ‘Sweet Dreams’ as tuba and brasses wailed their way through it, leaving no one standing – still. After pausing to rest on a bale of hay we headed back to our tent, past throngs of happy campers heading in both directions.

One of Sunday’s premiere events was, of course, WOMAD’s breaking of Guinness Book of Records’ record number of simultaneously playing air guitarists, which, if memory serves, had been established at 1,883. That said, over 2,000 of us rocked out to Jimi Hendrix’s classic ‘Purple Haze’ after some tutelage from rock guitarist Justin Adams, who claimed he’d been playing air guitar from the age of four, a volunteer and a UK champ, who lead practice runs to The Kink’s classic ‘You Really Got Me,’ and The Troggs’ gold nugget, ‘Wild Thing.’ Most of us laughed as much as we ‘played’ and a fine time was had by all in the process of raising some much needed funds for WOMAD’s selected hearing related charity – Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID)

Among Sunday’s listening delights was The Savoy Family Cajun Band (USA), which started the day in the Siam Tent with rousing fiddle, accordion and guitar lead two steps and waltzes designed to keep feet moving. To top off their spirited set, they invited us to  their Taste the World Session that evening where they’d not only be playing toe-tapping songs, but also cooking up spicy Cajun specialties, among them, ‘vegetarian’ slaw, with a pound of seasoned bacon fat as dressing! Former Fela Kuti collaborator Ebo Taylor (Ghana), in green, yellow and red tunic and trousers performed a highly charged, Afro-Beat inflected set on the Open Air Stage before a steadily gyrating crowd he’d fired up, despite the relentless heat. Following a comparatively quiet picnic in the delightful glen near then dormant BBC Radio 3 Stage, I found myself before the fabulous Creole Choir of Cuba, who I’d also enjoyed in concert at Theatre Royal, Stratford East last year. In African patterned robes, the choir swayed in time as their soaring voices uplifted one and all and their inter-lopping percussions inspired fervent dance. The legendary Booker T. Jones (USA) of MGs and ‘Green Onions’ fame took to the stage of the Siam Tent next, setting the mixed age crowd to rocking, as he and his funky band churned out hits old and new, and covers of R n B favourites like Sam and Dave’s ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’. The sight of hundreds of enthusiastic OAPs dancing at a vigorous pace alongside youngsters who were into their music just as much as they were, was just one of the (many) defining moments of this year’s WOMAD Festival. American gypsy band Gorgol Bordello roused the Open Air crowd into frenzied overdrive afterwards, with their raucously performed set prepping us for anything but rest, apt, in light of the group to follow.



Gorgol Bordello's front man on the Open Air Stage - July 31, 2011
Photo by Joel Ryan


After hearing, and dancing along with their brief but relentlessly rhythmic taster set in the World Rhythm tent earlier that evening, hosted by UK guitarist supreme Justin Adams, I longed to hear more of Bombino’s music, and learn what I could about the Tuaregs’ plight. The nomadic Tuareg, once proud rulers of their desert homeland have over time become oppressed, though conflicts pressed upon them.

The concluding set of the day and, of the festival itself was excitingly performed by relative newcomers to the World Music scene – Bombino who kept mojos steadily working in the Siam Tent. Their name might conjure images of Italy, but they are Tuareg people, from the southern Sahara desert region of Niger. Their Festival closing set in the Siam Tent was one of its’ most satisfying, as to hear the crowd cheering their efforts and see the smiles it brought to their young faces was very moving to say the least.

If you’re a fan, I’d advise you to get your tickets now for their upcoming concert, at which Bombino will be opening for guitarist Adams and his equally dynamic musical partner, Juldeh Camara – Griot/riti master/singer/ song-writer and their great band JuJu at London’s Barbican on Sept. 23rd.

Adding to the atmosphere in the Siam Tent this year were the bright and beautiful designs of the late Temple Tim in living, black lit colours, forming a canopy across the ceiling over our heads, with their stars, stripes and abstract shapes and patterns, utilized one last time, in his memory. Psychedelic?  Definitely, for those who remember that era, though they heightened the magic for everyone there.

Over and out until next year, which will mark the 30th Anniversary of this esteemed, energizing and enlightening festival of festivals – WOMAD.



Temple Tim's designs on the ceiling of the Siam Tent - WOMAD Charlton Park 2011
Photo courtesy of WOMAD
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