It is not a review – if you’d like, here’s a mega one from the erstwhile Adelaide Review that more than covers most of the artists.
Rather this story aims to give you a taste of the WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) experience via videos, podcasts, pix and links, from an event that goes beyond music and dance and can be good for the mind, heart and soul.
Marie McInerney writes (with intern/daughter Ruby Clements)
African superstar Youssou N’Dour was one of the headline acts that year, and an amazing singer and performer. But he’s not the lingering memory for me of that 2004 Womadelaide.
That came as we were heading home, late one night, with tired kids dragging their feet behind us, and we passed the small side stage where artists from around the world conducted workshops to demonstrate their instruments and sounds.
On stage, on this still night, was a female vocal group, Indigenous Ainu women from Japan, whose culture and language were banned just a few decades ago. They were playing the Mukkuri, the bamboo mouth harp that is found in various incarnations across cultures and countries and centuries. (You can watch it played in this video here).
We sat captivated on the grass, transported from place and time, as we had been nearly a decade before, at our first Womadelaide, when we heard Huun-Huur Tu, leading exponents of xöömei, better known as throat-singing and a gutteral ancient revelation.
This year was Womadelaide’s 25th anniversary, and the magic came in much more rowdy moments and mostly from Australian acts. My daughter’s rapt discovery of L-Fresh the Lion, explosive hip hop from Sydney’s Sukhdeep Singh, the oldest son of Sikh immigrants from India’s Punjab region. Then the full musical and political force of Aboriginal rap duo A.B. Original, the huge crowd heaving as they pumped through the Reclaim Australia album and were joined onstage by Dan Sultan and Darwin singer Caiti Baker for their January 26 hit and a reprise of the Paul Kelly hit Dumb Things.
There was much more, of course – see a few standouts below – and then there was also the missed moment.
My sister had recommended Electric Fields, another local act, after listening to this program on Radio National’s AWAYE show last year about their fusion of techno music and the traditional language of singer Zaachariaha Fielding’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara homelands.
But at the last moment I opted instead to sit among a thousand or so others, some cleverly lounging on portable couches, others like me stretched out a bit uncomfortably on the still damp grass after a rainy day, watching Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi.
Thirty five years later, it was still (mostly) living up to its reputation as ‘an apocalyptic vision of the collision of urban life, technology and the environment’, with the original soundtrack played so perfectly, live, by the most accomplished New York-based Philip Glass Ensemble. (See this review of their later performance in Melbourne).
Next day I got a message from my friend Paul, who I was sure would have been enthralled by the film and its score. He said:
Didn’t get to see the Glass Ensemble – was intending to, but heard by chance this new Adelaide group Electric Fields…They were the best thing I have heard and seen in years. I was transported by energy, pain and melody.
(It turned out of course they weren’t my only big miss at Womadelaide – even with a four day pass we missed quite a few of the 60 or so acts – but the benefit of missing something from your own country means you do get another chance. I got to see them back home in Melbourne a couple of weeks later. Paul was right. Here’s a glimpse below. See them if and when you can.)
The place and the space
Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone loves Womadelaide (see this 2016 review from Guardian Australia on ‘generational skirmishes’ and one friend declared after day one this year that there should be an age limit on when you can still wear flowers in your hair). And while it doesn’t charge for (accompanied) kids until they turn 13, not everyone can afford it (a 4 day pass is around $350), and certainly not year after year even if you’re a local.
But if you can afford it, it’s incredible value for your money, and it is an extraordinary event, not least for its location and for the big broader vision it has forged over 25 years, with its strong focus on the environment, health and wellbeing, cultural respect, and social justice. It’s brought some huge world music artists to Adelaide over the years – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita to name just a few – and it’s staged smack bang in the middle of the best time to be in Adelaide, alongside the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe, and Writers Week.
When former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel was first spreading the WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) idea around the world a quarter of a century ago, the plan had been to hold the Australian event in the Belair National Park, in the Adelaide Hills. That is, until the organisers discovered, quite late in the piece, that the park would have to be closed on a fire ban day – pretty likely in an Adelaide summer.
It’s hard to imagine it could have become the same experience if wasn’t held in the Botanic Park, a block or two from Adelaide’s CBD, with the muffled snorting, grunting and cackling wafting over from the nearby Adelaide Zoo during the quieter acts, of being able to lie back under the shade of the magnificent Moreton Bay figs, kids playing on the lizard tail roots.
I’m still amazed it has permission to bring a crowd of 90,000 over four days into the Botanic Park, but Womadelaide takes its environmental credentials seriously. It’s close (98 per cent) to being zero-waste-to-landfill (apparently it is nappies that mostly hold it back), with the fantastic food stalls (I’m still dreaming of the salads from the Yemen van) required to serve 100% compostable cups, plates, crockery, and serviettes. The collected waste is converted to organic mulch and returned to the park, a carbon offset program has grown a forest south of Adelaide and for the first time this year it was officially smoke free (although not so much during headline act The Specials). See this related Guardian article.
You can hear more about the beginnings of Womadelaide and its mission in this Croakey interview with long-term director Ian Scobie, who talks about how the festival pioneered both world music and environmental action. (In the background you can also hear the cacophony from Adelaide’s new colony of grey-headed bats whose migration from the eastern states is now being studied – anyone mention climate change?)
Womadelaide has grown like a Moreton Bay fig over the years, from just three stages in its early days to eight now, and beyond music – with a fantastic art and street theatre program that this year included mechanised dodos on urban safari, Tyrone Sheather’s Giidanyba (Sky Beings) and this year’s major visual statement, Carabosse – Exodus of Forgotten Peoples.
There were packed crowds too (and not just for the chairs and shelter from the rain) for The Planet Talks program, with a sustainability focus which included a panel discussion on ‘Redefining resources and the right to repair’. Led by ABC broadcaster Robyn Williams, it featured Kyle Wiens, the co-founder and CEO of iFixit, the online free repair guide ‘for everything, written by everyone’ that confronts planned obsolescence.
In the interview below, Wiens talks to Croakey about his repair and recycling frustrations with iPhones and iPads and outlines what governments, corporations and consumers can do to limit electronic waste, including through ‘right to repair’ legislation and just not buying so much stuff. “The average household has 28 consumer electronic devices. Maybe that’s enough,” he says.
You can also listen to this Radio National podcast featuring Richard Fidler talking at another Planet Talks session with the feisty and fickle Sir Tim Smit who created The Eden Project, a series of enormous domes housing tropical and Mediterranean biomes, built in the crater of a former clay pit in Cornwall in southern England and inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World,
“There’s no one aged 12 who doesn’t dream of finding a hole and building something beautiful,” Smit says, in this wide-ranging interview that discusses:
- what he hates about the media
- how the term political leadership is now an oxymoron
- how “some open minds should be closed for repair”, and
- how most of us are at our happiest around the kitchen table, “when we hunt in packs, talk to each other, and catch each other when we fall”.
Taste the world
Chilean rap artist Ana Tijoux and her fabulous band were among the 15 Womadelaide acts to share their food and food stories in the Taste the World tent, another relatively recent addition to the program.
In the video below they sing a song of mourning as they cook up Pastel de Chochlo, a beef and corn casserole that is a traditional and popular dish in Chile – comfort food reminiscent of Shepherd’s Pie.
And here’s the recipe if you’d like to give it a try.
Womadelaide gives out a great little booklet with all the recipes from Taste the World, but it doesn’t seem to be available online. Handily, the Womad NZ ones are here. One of my favourites is Chicken in the Pan, from Jamaica’s Brushy One String, another Womadelaide crowd favourite this year, who shot to international fame with Chicken in the Corn, plucked gloriously on just one (E) string, after a cameo role in Luciano Blotta’s cult reggae documentary RiseUp. Watch the official video below.
The Saturday morning recording of Radio National’s Music Show (one of the few music shows to survive recent ABC cuts), hosted by Andrew Ford, has become its own tradition at Womadelaide, with some people turning up early to hear the interviews and previews.
From this year’s broadcasts, you can hear an interview with the Oki Dub Ainu Band, which went on to be a big crowd favourite at the event, with its modern and traditional take on the music of the Indigenous Ainu people of Japan, led by Oki Dub and his wife Rekpo.
And don’t miss the segment on the Hanoi Masters, whose music is steeped in the threat to traditional culture and musicians from ongoing conflicts leading up to the Vietnam War, with some instruments made from B-52 bomb parts. They demonstrate the ancient K’ni single stringed ‘mouth violin’, which this great backgrounder from The Guardian explains was believed to have mystical qualities of such power that it could not be played privately.
Some other moments
Toni Childs, back from a self-imposed exile from music and now living, as a yoga teacher, in Byron Bay got up close and personal with the audience as she dedicated ‘Because You’re Beautiful’ to women who survive violence and self-harm.
Ntsika Fana Ngxanga from South African a capella band The Soil, who taught beatbox and boogie to the masses in their workshop, talks to Croakey about the origins of the band’s Kasi Soul, after being mobbed by schoolkids at the preWomadelaide media event. Womadelaide also did a great little series inspired by James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke – see below for one featuring The Soil performing as they drive around Adelaide
The spectacular New Orleans’ Hot 8 Brass Band applied their ‘roof-raising, jazz-infused, hip hop-fired marching band music’ to a cover of The Specials’ Ghost Town (though don’t miss their version of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing).
The 14 piece Piyut Ensemble from Israel whose unique choral style draws inspiration from the North African and Middle Eastern traditions of Jewish liturgical poetry, synagogue melodies and a wider world, playing at the media call ahead of opening night.
See also a workshop on percussion and precision movement from South Korea’s TAGO (which means ‘lighting up the world by beating drums’).
Virtuosity from Indian devotional Carnatic singer Sudha Ragunathan.
And this review from The Specials’ Melbourne show pretty much wraps up their final night Womadelaide performance, especially:
“We’re all on our feet dancing, doing pale, half remembered skanking and any other steps we can.”
Some tips for a future Womadelaide visit
- Make sure you download the official app, it’s fabulous and sends you reminders – hopefully they will have fixed the little glitch that makes it go back up to the top of the day whenever you’ve stopped to read details of a performer.
- Don’t wear new sandals (I know, I know #blisters).
- Don’t forget about the Adelaide Festival, Fringe and Writers’ Week – the latter being free, outdoors, and one of Australia’s best literary events.
- Book flights and accommodation early – they get very expensive as the events near (and there’s no onsite camping, EXCEPT if you get lucky and can afford it the Wild Nights at the Zoo package).
- Wifi access is surprisingly good and they provide phone recharging for a gold coin donation.
- There’s heaps of fun for kids.
- Umm, you might want to wait till the last day to buy your official merch #bigdiscounts.
- Take a cushion or a portable lounge, and establish a base camp if you want – see info here and re accessibility.
- Drinking alcohol can be a palaver for all the right reasons: you have to pay a $10 deposit on a bottle of wine that can then only be returned to the stall where you bought it. Don’t think I saw a single empty one lying around.
- Early bird ticket sales for next year’s event (9-12 March 2018) opened this week.
And from the 15 year old intern: go see L-Fresh the Lion, get up close – and jump (including while filming)!