WOMADelaide 2018 kicked off with one of the most memorable opening nights in recent memory.
The weather was warm, the skies clear, in fact conditions were perfect for Bixiga 70 to opening this year’s celebration of world music on the Foundation Stage.
Hailing from Sao Paolo in Brazil this nine piece band kicked up a joyous mix of Latin rhythms, funk, and jazzy horns in a well-drilled, energetic performance that had people up and dancing immediately.
They also had a touch of electronic ‘Eno-ssification’ percolating in the background coming from an impressively vintage looking synthesizer.
Positive word of mouth will ensure that they daw a big crowd at the second show on Saturday.
After tossing a coin to see whether to check out more possible funk and jazz from New Orleans collective Tank & The Bangas, or the more calmer possibility of some plaintive Scandinavian folk with the duo, My Bubba, I opted to calm things down a little by choosing the latter in the relatively sedate surrounds of the Moreton Bay Stage.
Friends, Guobjong and My, accompanied at times only by their bodies as percussive instruments, and at other times by the gentle strumming of the guitar, or a timely pluck of the cittra, sang a host of Swedish and Icelandic folk tunes that ached with luxurious melancholy.
From songs about throwing babies over waterfalls to their joy in knitting, their setlist was filled with compellingly beautiful ruminations on life in Scandinavian countries.
Hurrying over to the Foundation Stage to catch the start of Anoushka Shankar’s set, it was amazing to see how the crowd had swelled in size.
The near capacity crowd witnessed a master of her instrument play a set of hypnotic pieces inspired by her reaction to the world’s refugee crisis.
Sitting regally centre stage, Anoushka’s sitar playing rivalled her famous father for complexity and emotion – plus she had the extra impact of having a three piece band to accompany her who infused the traditional Indian sound with a contemporary Western feel – Last Chance from her latest album was a case in point, where the driving beats and the thumping double bass really drove the crowd into an appreciative frenzy.
This electric performance was followed by the more circumspect and moving, Crossing The Rubicon which was as affective as it was technically impressive.
I reluctantly had to leave this mesmerising performance to catch some of Hat Fitz and Cara’s performance on the Zoo Stage.
Hurrying through the now darkened park, I was tempted to investigate the source of the ethereal voices emanating from the Bivouac Stage where I could see, off to my right, the fleeting images of illuminated figures gracefully swinging between the trees. The roaring and hollering of the crowd at the Zoo Stage, however, kept me on my intended path.
Hat Fitz and Cara were astonishing. ‘Fitzy’, with his Akubra, grey beard, jeans and thongs was playing some earthy rudimentary blues tinged electric guitar, whilst his partner Cara Robinson was on the drum kit, drumming up a storm whilst simultaneously singing with an enormous power and clarity. It was like seeing Karen Carpenter taken over by the spirit of Etta James, Carla Thomas or any one of the greatest blues and soul divas of the past.
Their set was infused with an extraordinary level of crowd response who fed off the duo’s enthusiasm for performing and their affection for each other – it was their anniversary evening after all, and Fitzy showered his partner with kisses and hugs to celebrate the occasion.
Back at the Foundation Stage spotlights lit up the sky and the incredible aerial ballet, performed by France’s Gratte Ciel company, had begun.
Strung from wires woven throughout the trees of Botanic Park, intersecting highways of angels arrived to pay their visit to Adelaide, showering those below with duck feathers.
For one magical half an hour or so, the spectacle of Place des Anges had the crowd spellbound and sore-necked, as they stared awestruck at this mesmerising sight.
At the end of the performance, as feather fountains blasted up from the ground, the whole area was looking like it had been engulfed in a blizzard. People were rolling in feathers, sliding through feathers, as if magically granted a momentary reprieve from their inhibitions and adult restraint. Incredible.
On Stage 3, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, out of the United States, revved up the crowd with their intense blend of jazz, funk and hip-hop.
These seven brothers conjured up a hurricane of noise, inciting the crowd to participate, and taking it in turns to keep the energy level high. They crowd surfed, climbed the stage rig, jumped and danced, and funked it up to 11.
It is easy to see why artists such as Prince, Gorillaz and De La Soul have called upon these sensational performers to add their special ingredient to their projects – they are the real deal, and, for some in attendance they will have no problem in accepting the band’s insistent declaration – ‘Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are your new favourite band!’
The first night drew to a close on the Foundation Stage where Mexican guitarists Rodrigo Y Gabriela put on a performance with only their two acoustic guitars that proved the Ed Sheeran anomaly correct – you do not need a band to whip up excitement in a stadium sized arena.
These two virtuoso musicians, for an hour and a half, stormed through a blistering set of instrumentals that never dropped in intensity.
Stalking the stage like Angus Young, Gabriela, was particular eye-catching with her fast hands playing the guitar and keeping up the frenzied percussive beat providing Rodrigo with the space to fire off some rapid note-perfect finger picking.
They said they were not working to any particular set-list and had not played live for some time, which made this performance all the more incredible.
By midnight, day one had drawn to a close and hardly anyone had left early so the walk to the exits was a slow but satisfying one, listening to the excited recounts of the night’s experiences being shared by contented punters all around me.
Roll on Day Two!
WOMADelaide is running from March 9 through to March 12, at Botanic Park, Adelaide.
Tickets are available from: WOMADelaide tickets
Reviewed (with pictures) by Ken Grady
Cover photo by Dave Court