Highlights and images from Taranaki’s 10th annual WOMAD festival. Photography by Ambrose Hickman.
An impending tropical cyclone could not deter punters from this year’s WOMAD, where more than 30 musicians from across the globe played their own part in a festival that strings music, culture, and identity into a melting pot of celebration. It rained sporadically, winds blew and the humidity lingered, but sprits were never dampened as there was far too much to keep us occupied.
Arriving on Friday just in time for Zimbabwe’s afrosound troupe Mokoomba on the main stage, I watched as the rhythmic sounds, driven by passion and positivity, took hold over the TSB Bowl crowd. Snippets of jazz and funk are embroiled in their native Zimbabwe tongue, and each member danced with an infectious energy. It’s a fun set that saw the bassist in particular playing an outstanding groove, and nearing the end vocalist Mathias Muzaza could be seen with sweat dripping from his chin; 75 minutes of this music has that affect.
“Can we just take a moment and talk about how amazing this festival is?” With a tutu fashioned from a rag-tag pastiche of pastel smeared colours and white hot heels, Kimbra’s following performance showcased her incredible voice and stage presence, as she blitzed through popular tunes ‘Two Way Street’, ‘Open Up Your Heart’ and ‘Settle Down’. She twirls across stage in glee introducing the funky Prince-inspired ‘Nobody But You’ from her upcoming second album, and while sonically she lost a little steam with the repetition of ideas, this by no means detracted from the frazzle and dazzle the young New Zealander brought to the opening night.
Norway experimental folk artist Ane Brun kicked off day number two for us as at the Todd Energy Brooklands Stage. The delicacy of her voice was a perfect fit for the showers pouring, and accompanied with only a Cello, her performance of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ trumped the original. As the sun peaked through the clouds it seemed all too perfect a finale; in many ways, the (exaggerated) cyclone worked with the festival, not against.
Spanish songstress Buika played an unplugged afternoon set that delivered her blend of flamenco, jazz, and soul in a gracefully stripped-back manner. Joined onstage by a single guitarist and percussionist, her set flowed through the smoky sensuality of her voice. Some songs, including the emotional version of ‘Throw It Away’, featured English language, but for the most part Spanish took prominence. For the best, mind you, as her tender countenance and gentle hand gestures broke any barrier. “I feel your direction, I feel you talking to me,” she smiles. It’s a comment that pinpoints one of WOMAD’s key beliefs: the emotion of music outshines language barriers.
Over on the main stage seven piece French roots-reggae revivalists Dub Inc begin with a sample from Charlie Chaplin’s classic The Great Dictator speech and launch into a set combining hip-hop, dub, and ska. Their hits ‘Paradise’, ‘Murderer’, and ‘Rude Boy’ are lapped up by the (younger) crowd as the slope of the hill bounces to the lively music, but the combined vocal tone of the two MC’s leave an abrasive impression on the ears.
Pokey LaFarge and his band relish in the sounds of early jazz, country blues, swing, and doo-wop, sitting at a crossroads of a mixture dubbed “midwestern dustbowl.” A definite highlight, Pokey’s performance at the small Chimney Stage is made all the more authentic by their commitment to an aesthetic of early American roots music. The sharp clothing, banter with the crowd, and band relationship declares their influences, but the music is as relevant as his contemporaries. ‘La La Blues’, ‘Good God Giveth’, ‘Central Time’ and ‘Hard Times Come and Go’ get the dense crowd shuffling and toe-tapping in the moonlight. Later, he pays homage to Bob Willis covering ‘My Window Faces the South’ and debuts new songs ‘When Did You Fall from Heaven’ and the waltzy ‘Barcelona’. A must-see animated entertainer.
Roberto Fonseca wowed audiences for the second time on day three with his brand of Latin jazz and Cuban rhythms on the Shell Gables Stage. The set was comprised mostly of songs from 2012’s Grammy nominated album Yo, and allowed the band to explore intense instrumental passages with touches of funk and electronica laced throughout. It’s a performance demonstrating the bond of musicianship as Roberto retreats to side stage on multiple occasions to let his band take center stage and jam together. Standing in admiration, the Buena Vista wonder-kid returns and brings each track home in hammering force on the piano. The crowd’s participation on the closing melodic ‘Bibisa’ left many thrilled and hungry for more.
Spanish instrumental surf band Los Coronas are Fonzie-cool. Clad in black suits, sunglasses, and cowboy hats, the quintet strut across WOMAD like something out of a Robert Rodriguez film; the music maneuvers with a cinematic quality due to the sheer weight of combined reverb, guitar, and brass. We clap the proper Spanish way by request of the band, and when the ringleader asserts “this is Tarantino music” before the iconic Miserlou blares through the Shell Gables stage in the rain, it’s a sight of spaghetti western proportions. Brilliant fun.
By Sunday nightfall, the main stage had seen a variety of world musicians sharing their native cultures and ideologies, so it was appropriate that Arrested Development’s lead MC Speech closed their headline set with a cover of Bob Marely’s ‘Redemption Song’. Dedicated to the freedom fighters, he tells us, as we shine our own lights (cellphones) and applaud the positive 90s hip-hop group. Over 90 minutes WOMAD partied to early tunes ‘Tennessee’, ‘Mr. Wendel’, and ‘Everyday People’, still just as strong 20 years later. A flurry of bright lighting and bold sounds fill the TSB Bowl as the hip hop group debut fresh songs from the forthcoming release this April. But these guys are 90s pure-breeds and won’t let us forget, and the medley of Kriss Kross’ ‘Jump’ and House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, send the crowd, well, to the air.
We leave afterwards with the hundreds of festivalgoers on the long slog out. We leave the culture, the arts, the dance, the food and the music in the forests of the ‘naki, exhausted but pleasantly enthused for the mixture awaiting next year.