It’s been a while since we’ve had a WOMADelaide in heat like this. Temperatures reaching in the high thirties had the crowd searching for any available patch of shade during the daytime, as they listened to the the excellent music on offer.
Mama Kin Spender provided a fantastic start to the day on Stage 3. The two piece was backed by local choir, Gospo Collective, really filling out the outfit’s skilfully constructed songs with some real power. The resulting gospel-meets-roots vibe was a something quite beautiful. With a choir workshop today and another performance on the main stage on Monday, there’s no excuse for missing them.
Playing us through 2016 album Everybody’s Begging on the Foundation Stage, Deborah Conway was wearing her Dylan / Cohen / Cave influences on her sleeve. Performing with partner (both musical and domestic) Willy Zygier and their three daughters, it was very much a family affair, and well suited to the WOMAD experience. The set was reminder that Conway still has one of the best voices in the country, while Zygier if a fine guitarist, particularly when he lets loose on the resonator. Overcoming some sound issues at the start of the set, it was a highly enjoyable performance, finishing off on a pleasingly nostalgic note with ‘Release Me’ from Conway’s seminal 1991 album, String of Pearls.
San Lazaro took to Stage 2 in the middle of the day and gave the crowd a much needed antidote to thinking about coping with the heat. This Australian collective of ex-pat South & Central Americans brought a little bit of Havana to the park, sharing their salsa, son and soul with those who were drawn out of the shade to revel in their spirited musical melange. Infectious stuff.
The unique electro-celtic sounds of Elephant Sessions were a whole lot of fun over on the Moreton Bay Stage. The Scottish five-piece energised the audience, who were on their feet and dancing despite in the heat. The dancing then continued over on the main stage with a party hosted by Chilean outfit, Chico Trujillo, who wrap their various influences up with a punk attitude.
WOMADelaide is about so much more than music, so it was off to Speaker’s Corner to hear New York Times journalist, Jim Robbins, author of the book The Wonder Of Birds, and Flinders University’s Dr. Sonia Kleindorfer, shoot down the myth that ‘birdbrain’ is synonymous with stupid. Some of the facts and scientific findings about birds and their capacity to plan, navigate, engineer, sing and speak in a myriad of languages – and learn all of this by the time they are only a few weeks old – were mindblowing!
Stepping outside of this event just in time to catch the next act on the Novatech Stage, Australian singer-songwriter, Didirri, was a seamless transition as this talented performer sang his gentle and well-crafted songs under a canopy of trees filled with birds and fruit bats singing. Didirri has a wonderful voice, clear and soulful and he has a big future ahead of him – something the large crowd who made the walk from the main park area to see him would all to readily agree with.
Architects of Air return this year to WOMADelaide after a three year absence from the festival, this time with inflated luminarium: Arboria. Part maze, part art installation, Arboria is a beautiful experience where you wander around inside the tree-like structure bathing in coloured sunlight pouring in through the panels. It’s incredibly hot inside, but there are ‘pods’ with air conditioned vents where you can stop for a cool reprieve on your way through. A truly magnificent experience (marred only by the short-tempered staff), Arboria is a must-see at WOMADelaide this year. There is usually a line-up to enter, but it moves fairly quickly and it’s worth the wait.
Back at Stage 2, another extraordinary Australian act was in full swing. YID! are a 22-piece band – members coming on and off stage in various combinations throughout the performance – who play a mixture of Yiddish folk songs (think Hava Nagila on steroids as a possible genre label) interspersed with oddly beautiful impassioned covers of songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer and The Andrew Sisters’ take on the Yiddish classic, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. The deceptively tight, ramshackled performance was a diverse and always entertaining listening experience.
Syrian American songstress, Bedouine, offered a quieter more reflective set of songs in the comparative calm of the Zoo Stage and its surrounds. Her songs were a little mono-paced, but her voice was an instrument of quiet purity and power, and the audience were entranced by Bedouine’s talent and her humour.
Meanwhile, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble enjoyed the move onto the main stage, following up their Friday night performance with another high-energy, completely engaging performance that perfectly worked the large late afternoon crowd.
A lot of performances at WOMADelaide have nomadic audiences – those who come and sample a set and move on until they find the music they are in the mood to hear. At the Moreton Bay Stage, Canadian & Iranian group, Constantinople – joined for this performance by Senegalese kora player Ablaye Cissoko – drew the full attention of the large crowd who gathered to hear their Jardins Migrateurs performance, and the nomads were non-existent. The integration of African, Middle Eastern and Western influences was magical, transporting listeners into a world without borders. This set was one of the highpoints of the day.
One of the most entertaining acts at this year’s festival is Dustyeky, with their “songs of sadness and despair to fill your hearts with joy”. Completely embracing the Russian character, the 28 member choir present soaring harmonies and a sense of the theatrical. And while there is a powerful beauty to the songs, the hilarious banter in between made this a standout set. Catch them again this afternoon on Stage 2.
The Foundation Stage was the next stop because Pat Thomas & The Kwibashu Area Band were about to bring their glorious Ghanian dance beats to the masses. Pat Thomas is a superstar in his native country, having been a major concert draw there for well over forty years, and he brought all of that experience and showmanship to the Adelaide stage. Even to the point of getting the locals to answer in the affirmative – at full volume – that they loved disco! It was just as well that the cooler air of the early evening had descended upon Botanic Park because the energy they generated had everybody jumping, fist pumping and cheering by the end of the hour-long set.
Melbourne’s Jazz Party were a revelation over at the Novatech Stage, throwing a riotous New Orleans style celebration, with an energetic, extended set. Armed with some terrific arrangements that felt both familiar and striking, the outfit is fronted by the dynamic Loretta Miller, who has an incredible, powerful voice. All great fun!
David Bridie’s latest project, a Bit na Ta, (The Sounds Of The Sea), is a collaboration with Papua New Guinean vocalist George Telek – and on stage the two, with the assistance of other members of the Tolai people in full tribal wear, produced an audio visual feast that mesmerised the seated crowd in front of the stage. However, as with last year’s performance by the Phillip Glass Ensemble playing the live soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi, having the screen situated so far back on the stage means that those on the periphery are denied this element of the experience because it cannot be seen at all. Far better to put screens on the sides of the stage where a broader viewing audience can be catered for.
Blick Bassy brought his rare blend of Afro-folk and dixie blues to the late night slot on the Zoo Stage, and was the perfect way to chill at the end of a busy, heat-sapping day. Bassy has a soulful, striking voice and uses unique sound combinations to great effect.
For completely different experience to finish Day Two, the intense and exciting Gogol Bordello, out of New York, thrilled the Foundation Stage crowd with their raucous and rhythmic ‘gypsy punk’. Frontman, Eugene Hutz, proved to be one of those great performers who own the space and command your eyes as he stalks the stage and injects every song with fierce passion. His bandmates are equally intense and the mix of crunching guitar with accordion and electric fiddle added a totally unique colour to their sound. An exhilarating end to WOMADelaide Day Two.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor, Ken Grady and Libby Parker
Photos by Althea Mallee and Libby Parker