WOMAD 2015 – Live Review
aaamusic | On 02, Aug 2015
Thursday 23rd – Saturday 26th July, Wiltshire
Who cares about cold weather, rain, wind and mud when you’re taking part in one of the most stimulating events of 2015? This year’s edition of the World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival, better known as WOMAD, was both the wettest and the most exciting it’s been in its 33-year life. Despite the weather being merciless with festivalgoers and campers throughout the weekend, the musicians tried their best to deal with the dampness, thrilling WOMAD’s audience from the last lights of Thursday afternoon until late on Sunday night.
The 2015 edition did indeed enjoy one of the most attractive and heterogeneous line-ups WOMAD can recall. Next to traditional folk musicians like the inspired Bolivian cantor and charango player Luzmila Carpio and the Egyptian percussion master Hossam Ramzy, many other unorthodox, offbeat and innovative performers jumped on the eight stages of the event. Among them, Andy Votel’s refined musical taste, the atmospheric compositions of the South Korean duo Jambinai and the Cairo-inspired harmonies of the Egyptian Project and their mix of French touch and Egyptian tradition.
That’s why WOMAD is still one of the most surprising events of the UK’s festival season: year after year, it can confound, shock and astonish its audiences, but it is always able to end up amazing them with eclecticism and the quality of its acts.
Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar raised the curtain of the festival with their exhilarating Balkan drive singing letting people dance to striking tunes like ‘Disko Partizani’ and ‘Disko Boy’.
On Friday, the rain had the run of Charlton Park and was a constant companion to the audience. The day started off gloriously with the legendary South African trio Mahotella Queens. The Queens, who debuted singing next to the Zulu icon Mahlathini in 1964, brought WOMAD their unmistakable mbaqanga music with energy to spare, despite the fact that they are no longer teenage girls. A few hours later, Tal National proved that Sahara desert sounds could also be rhythmic and wild. Try listening to their recent singles ‘Claire’ or ‘Farida’ if you need proof.
Then it was the turn of the captivating twins Ibeyi and their scented musical elixir of Cuban aromas, French fragrances and West African Yoruba spices to enchant the audience.
The spell continued until the Long Island old-school hip-hop trio De La Soul started to rhyme on the Open Air Stage. During their 90-minute set, nobody cared about the heavy downpour, because they were so engaged in recalling and singing celebrated tunes like ‘Me, Myself and I’ and ‘Stakes Is High’. De La Soul, weren’t the only ones to revive those 1980’s and ‘90s feelings, as Friday night faded away with an electro-dub atmosphere created by Mad Professor, who showed how relevant the style still is.
On Saturday the rain decided to give Wiltshire’s countryside a break and the glorious sun, which had warmed WOMAD’s audience during its previous editions, was finally back. Showing a great sense of timing, the third day offered some of the most exciting acts of the event, starting with the Brazilian MC Criolo. Thanks to his stage presence, expressivity, inspired tunes mixing hip-hop and traditional paulista sounds, and some marvelous musicians, the São Paulo born and bred artist lightened up the early afternoon with a flawless set, during which he unraveled his latest album Convoque Seu Buda.
Mbongwana Star continued the mood, unleashing an electro-punk attitude built on the ashes of Staff Benda Bilili and Congolese multi-coloured roots. The band hooked their fans to their insistent bass lines and incessant cadenced rhythms in the infective tune ‘Mulukayi’.
Minutes later, The Very Best moved the attention from Congo to Malawi, still enticing people to dance. The trio, formed by two London DJs and a Malawi singer, had a more poppish approach to traditional music than Mbongwana Star, but the results were equally catching and fetching.
And the dance mood wasn’t over, even after The Very Best’s performance, because a tribute to the incendiary funky and futurist sound of the mysterious Nigerian legend William Onyeabor stepped out on the main Open Air Stage. Despite Onyeabor disappearing from the music scene years ago, his legacy is livelier than ever and his works have influenced and are still influencing the sound of many musicians all over the world. Atomic Bomb!, which is the project formed to revive Onyeabor’s opera, exhilarated the audience thanks to its vintage ‘70s spirit, but also the music skills of its members which could count on the eclectic talent of Sinkane and the outstanding musicianship of the saxophonist Charles Lloyd.
Only at WOMAD can you move from Nigerian afrofuturism to traditional Garifuna music in the space of few minutes, and once Aurelio, the most inspired representative of the Central American tradition, started to play his rhythmic and mellow tunes no one could resist his musical attraction. The Honduras born songwriter and guitarist with his soothing voice and skillful musicians, brought some exotic flavours to the festival, so much so that it was impossible not to follow those suave notes wiggling your hips and wobbling your legs.
The enchantment carried on through the last act of the day too. 30 minutes after Aurelio, the Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan dimmed the lights down playing an imaginative and dreamy set hanging on the balance between improvisation, Armenian folk and more contemporary jazz and prog influences.
The last day of WOMAD 2015 contained two exciting music extremes: on one side it hosted the performances and artistry of some inspired female singers/songwriters, while on the other it presented the impressive drive of some energetic big bands.
Noura Mint Seymali was the first act to wake up the late morning. The Mauritanian artist and her desert-rock/blues, adorned by some psych references, had to confront some heavy rain, but easily seduced and won over the audience. Later, the untamable Gipsy vehemence of Kočani Orkestar and their brass knocked out everyone who flocked into the Red Tent. Their overwhelming and cohesive sound wiped out all resistance and forced people to let loose their emotions.
Ghostpoet decided to change the mood of the day, presenting his urban brew of metropolitan sound architectures, post-rock rarefaction, electro ambience and spoken word ruptures. Thanks to the London artist’s band and its distinctive moody sonority, the many city guys who gathered under the stage during the performance found something to sink their teeth into.
After London, it was time for New York and its unique Brooklyn-bhangra style to monopolise the scene on the Open Air Stage. Red Baraat were one of the most anticipated acts of the festival and they didn’t let people down. The octet literally conquered the stage and the audience thanks to the stunning vigour of their dhol and tenacious rhythm. Meanwhile, the set played by Laura Mvula was the other side of the coin. The sophistication and grace of the soulful tunes sung by the Birmingham-born musician lulled her fans during one of the most entrancing performances of the festival.
Finally, it was the turn of afro-vintage selection Analog Africa Sound System to end the four-day-long event with a bang. During their two-hour set, the German duo introduced WOMAD and its audience to some of the most catchy, dancy and obscure chapters of 1970s and ‘80s African music. This proved to be one of the most brilliant and intriguing ways to end another glorious edition of the festival.
Photos: Rhythm Passport