There was an air of expectation amongst the people streaming into Botanic Park ready to savour the delights on offer on day one of WOMADelaide 2019.
Much of the talk was centred around the impatient anticipation of seeing French sensation, Christine & The Queens, but it says a lot about Adelaide’s knowledgeable music fans that there were also others just as excitedly talking about the broader array of international musical talent that beckoned from every stage.
The evening began gently on the Foundation Stage with a seated show.
Amjad Ali Khan, the revered Indian sarod master, sitting proudly in between his two equally gifted sons, Ayaan and Amaan, performed Samaagam, his concerto for sarod and orchestra with stunning support from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
The three accomplished sarod players drew us into a moving musical fantasia where Eastern and Western cultures came together and swept us into a world of unified vision and shared wonder.
The interplay between the three sarod players throughout the piece was stunning, and created a powerful listening experience. The speed of their playing was at times almost beyond belief.
The closing sections of the concerto were particularly impressive, with the ASO adding fervent accompaniment to the trio as the piece built to its crescendo.
Amjad Ali Khan will be playing more from his repertoire – sans orchestra – later in the festival and people should add him to their lists of artists to investigate if they have never had the chance to hear him before.
A brisk walk to the Novatech Stage – situated in downtown fruit bat city – paid immediate dividends as American rancheros band Las Cafeteras hit the stage and gifted Adelaide a generous serving of their best Mexican folk, rock and hip-hop repertoire.
There was no room for lethargy here. Las Cafeteras believe life is made to dance and that the world is to share with everybody.
Whilst their songs are often political, their politics centre on an ideology that all sane people would agree with anyway – it is underpinned by love, kindness and respect – and is totally consistent with the energy and joie de vivre of the music.
The enraptured crowd cheered and danced and sang along for the entire performance – apart from one brief moment after a string broke on one of their instruments and the band instructed us, while the errant string was being replaced, to introduce ourselves to strangers and give the details of our dates, times and places of birth to each other.
Full service soon resumed and, amongst classics such as This Land Is Your Land and La Bamba, the band served up some of their own unique brand of rap, urging us to say ‘thank you’ to our parents and to all the people in our lives who have provided us with strength, knowledge and the power to express ourselves freely.
Whilst racing back to the Foundation Stage, I was temporarily distracted by the sounds coming from the Zoo Stage where local act, Timberwolf, had drawn a large crowd. Whilst the evocative electronic intro to his opening number was alluring – and it was a one off appearancec- I had to resist and head off to see Mali’s sensational, Fatoumata Diawara instead.
Diawara was simply astonishing. Her resume lists her as being singer, guitarist, actress and activist, and she proved to be all of these during her WOMADelaide performance.
Fronting a magnificent band who played an infectious melange of blues, funk and soul all played through an Afrobeat filter, she dazzled the crowd with her electric guitar virtuosity on some pieces, and, in others, she moved around the stage, a totally free spirit, shaking and twirling and laughing in joy singing in her unique soulful mix of growls, whoops and scats.
Few will be able to forget her tribute to Nina Simone as she deconstructed the song Sinner Man and rebuilt it as a monstrous sonic beast performed in full abandon.
An astonishing, crowd-pleasing performance.
On Stage 3, American psychedelic trio, Khruangbin, served up a set that was largely moodily instrumental.
The band looked the part, sleazily chic and expressionless, the epitome of indie chic.
Their sonic palette was potentially cool too. Their tunes sounded like the love-children of a myriad of sixties B-grade movie soundtracks – the kind that were usually scheduled after hours – but, whilst the sound teased the audience with promises of greatness to come, too many pieces did not come good on these promises, encouraging a disproportionate amount of annoying crowd chat which broke the hypnotic effect the band were looking to achieve.
Back at the Foundation Stage, the crowd were already in place, rippling with expectation, in readiness for the night’s main attraction, Christine & The Queens.
Christine hit the stage to a huge roar and she used the energy of the audience to fuel a high energy performance which heavily featured her interactions with her finely drilled dance troupe.
Whilst she has admitted being conflicted by the recent revelations about Michael Jackson’s criminal behaviours, there is no doubt his influence has been strong in her development of choreography for this stage act, with many of Jacko’s signature moves stolen and subverted to fit into the narrative.
The show was well paced and covered songs from both of her albums and songs were sung in both French and English throughout the set.
Chris did take time out to urge us all to reconsider the constricting labels we put on people, and to look beyond these in order to make the world a safer and, ultimately, happier place.
At times she seemed genuinely shocked at the level of love and adoration she was receiving from the local crowd, and when she went out amongst the people during her encore the crowd became a sea of movement as people, as if in some sort of religious fervour, hurried to try and get close to her.
As a performer there is no doubt Christine has skill and charisma, her songs are addictive and her whole show was mesmerising in its energy and movement – but a lot of the music was provided by backing tapes and the musicians on stage were given very little space in which to shine.
That’s a minor quibble though, because the huge crowd would have certainly been unanimous in declaring Christine & The Queens‘ show as one of the best gigs they have seen in recent times.
So, day one was all wrapped up and it was time to start looking forward to the long list of acts who are on the bill for day two!
Photo: Tessa Manning
WOMADelaide 2019 is at Botanic Park, 8 – 11 March. Tickets are available at the gate or can be pre-purchased HERE.