Beautiful Spirit:
WOMAD New Zealand 2013

ARTS, Music

Richie Havens, who opened Woodstock (and appeared in I’m Not There), was charming at WOMAD 2007. As for Havens, Taj Mahal was unannounced this year, complementing both Bassekou Kouyate (and his family), and Viex Farka Toure. Malian solidarity was reason enough to go to New Plymouth.

Salif Keita engagingly opened with Anthology favourites ‘Seydou’, ‘Yamore’ and ‘La Difference’, and closed with his best-of’s ‘Madan’. In between, his set focused on tunes from his new album, Tale, produced by Gotan Project’s Philippe Cohen-Solal. There was a distinctly Solalian edge on ‘Tale’, C’est Bon’ (no Roots Manuva), ‘Samfi’, ‘A Demain’, ‘Natty’ and ‘Yalla’. I was also pleased to hear Keita’s beautiful voice recite ‘Mandjou’ and ‘Yambo’.

Toure blazed the Brooklands on Saturday (and was also the highlight of Friday night, opening the Bowl). ‘Touri’, ‘Fafa’, ‘Souba Souba’, ‘All the Same’, ‘Aina’, ‘Amanaquai’, ‘Lakkai’ and ‘Gido’: A wonderful desert blues performance from a stunningly virtuoso guitarist, singer and showman. He tributed his late, great father Ali Farka Toure (Abouna) with gorgeous, carnal ‘Ai Du’. Vieux Farka Toure is the real deal. You can’t silence Timbuktu, Islamist morons: Mali’s Desert Festival forever!

Goran Bregovic and His Weddings and Funerals Orchestra were really rather good. From Emir Kusturica’s 90s touchstone Underground—representation at WOMAD included ‘Twist’ and ‘Mesecina’—to my Polish nephew’s baptism near Warsaw, I enjoy Brego moving the crowd. The dynamic guitarist/vocalist deftly orchestrated plangent classical bass singers and a rambunctious gypsy brass band. They play the exuberantly celebratory and the poignantly elegiac, the sacred and the profane, the comic and the tragic. “C’est mortelle,” the person next to me put it. Champagne for Gypsies songs such as ‘Balkeneros’, ‘Presidente’ and ‘That Man’ celebrate gypsies, who are still victims of French, Italian, and Hungarian bigotry.

The reformed Aotearoa National Maori Choir (led by Rimini D Paul) was juiced up by The Yoots, led by the irrepressible Joe Lindsay. Waiata from ‘Poi e’ (Boy) to ‘He puru taitama e’ (about a “rough” trip up to Otaki to try and see a wahine) via ‘Nga iwi e’, ‘Hoki Mai’, ‘Pupu ake mai’ and tribute to the 28th Battalion. My favourites were ‘Tutira mai’ (the uplifting message of aroha and togetherness) and ‘E Papa Waiari’. As the choir crescendo went “E hine, hoki mai ra”, a wahine in front of me was so moved she collapsed on a friend, crying joyously.

Antibalas delivered solid Fela Kutian Afrobeat, but, like patchy Hugh Masakela, overdid the sanctimonious environmentalism. I believe in global warming as much as the next barefoot bloke; but the planes-for-me, not-for-thee green brand is irritating. Jimmy Cliff hit a high energy, slick set of standards like ‘The Harder They Come’. AHoriBuzz were going off, but I was committed elsewhere, knowing I could see Aaron Tokona (“the Hendrix of Christchurch”) and co. soon. With plenty on, including unexpected pleasures (the Correspondents’ manic dancer), I didn’t get a chance to see Ayarkhan. Start at a dud (Italian Nidi d’Arac), and you can just go see something else good like sensitive traditional Japanese banjo.

The special closing combined soulful Tibetan Tenzin Choegyal on flute and chanting, monk Jamyang on long horn, Drew James’s words, Wharehoka Wano’s karakia (and some audience members’ impromptu waiata). WOMAD’s beautiful spirit was reemphasised as we left.

This is Alexander Bisley’s sixth WOMAD for The Lumière Reader. Recent WOMAD interviews include Jonathan Crayford and Artistic Director Drew James.
Filed under: ARTS, Music


Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.