A cooler but temperate Monday made for the perfect atmosphere to soak up the last of the WOMAD action for 2019.
Making their comeback to WOMADelaide on the Foundation Stage after half a decade away, Italian ensemble Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino were a little one-dimensional when compared to other acts at this year’s festival. Playing a number of similar traditional folkloric tunes, and the musicians all dressed in black, they relied on the visual focus of their dancer to maintain the audience’s attention, but after two songs of her swirling and twirling, even the novelty value of having such a dancer coiled in ropes and scarves soon wore off. They did snap out of their stupor late in the set with a manic ‘trance dance’ number supposedly devised to cure you of venomous tarantula bites.
On Stage 3, La Dame Blanche, a Cuban hip-hop flautist, could not be accused of lacking dynamism. Her command of her stage was absolute, and she delivered a hot set of contemporary Cuban rhythms that enthralled the crowd. In her cleaning woman’s uniform, she sassily pouted and preened, laughed and sang her heart out for well over an hour. Her songs were laced with her impressive flute playing skills, intertwining classical and middle eastern flute motifs into her music. She was disappointed as the crowd were when the stage manager denied her request to have the crowd come up and join the band on stage to end the show.
Meanwhile over on Stage 2, there was plenty of swagger in the performance from Baloji in a high energy set of funk and Afrobeat. The charismatic Congolese singer has a commanding stage presence, and used this to energise the crowd with plenty of dancing and general interaction. Traversing a number of genres, he was backed by an accomplished band armed with quite a variety of sounds.
Australian funk prodigy Darren Hart, better known as Harts, delivered a searing twilight set of funk inflected tunes on the Novatech Stage. His high energy set was full of Prince-inflected stage moves and vocal mannerisms, but the quality of his music sets him above other Prince impersonators and wannabes. Hart’s guitar mastery is breath-taking and his solos were jaw dropping at times. And his professionalism also showed through when, in mid-solo, he tripped and fell onto his guitar but got straight up and did not miss a beat. His backing band were all top class, but there is some work to be done on their stage image – because their street casual look just won’t cut it when Harts hits the stadium stages in a few short years’ time.
Mojo Juju delivered a killer performance in the Frome Park Pavilion with songs from her excellent 2018 album Native Tongue. It was a pity she wasn’t afforded a larger stage, though, with many unable to fit inside the tent and some issues with the sound. Nevertheless it was an outstanding set that garnered quite a reaction from audience. The highlight was an appearance from Indigenous dance group Djuki Mala at the end, recreating the film clip from the album’s title track. It was one of those wonderful Adelaide festival season moments – with the dancers in town for their Fringe season, coinciding with WOMAD. The strong reaction to set could be seen in the line up for the subsequent signing session – possibly the longest for the whole festival, with Mojo Juju still there meeting her fans more than 90 minutes later.
The Correspondents made a surprise return to Stage 3, after an injury to another performer created a gap in the timetable. No stranger to Adelaide audiences at this time of year, the electro outfit have visited WOMADelaide previously as well at taking centre stage in Strut and Fret’s Fear and Delight Fringe show a few years back. It was a high energy performance of 80s influenced dance music from the duo that was a world away from the seated performance that had been scheduled in that slot. Well done to WOMAD organisers for making this late change work – it was certainly appreciated by the audience.
Melbourne soul band, The Bamboos, claimed the spot for the last Stage 2 set of the weekend and Lance Ferguson’s band proved they have lost none of their power and sophistication. Their set was full of honeydripping soul confections that were tastily topped with the thrillingly emotive vocals of Kylie Auldist. A wonderful lengthy high energy instrumental medley showcased the skill and flair of each individual musician proving there is no room for shirkers in this outfit! As the penultimate act on the main stages for the evening The Bamboos primed the crowd brilliantly for the party finale to follow.
The Original Gypsies, featuring three original members of The Gypsy Kings, brought the party to a glorious finish on the Foundation Stage. There is certainly something very exciting about seeing eight guitarists stretched across the stage playing in frenzied unison, delivering a set of tunes that most people in the crowd were familiar with. With everyone summoning up one last burst of euphoric energy the crowd swayed, clapped waved their arms, and shouted ‘Ole!’ Playing a stack of old favourites like their version of ‘Hotel California’, ‘Bem Bem Maria’ and finally, ‘Bamboleo’, plus their encore of ‘Volare’, ensured that the crowd left WOMADelaide 2019 on a high, and, as people filed out of Botanic Park, the sounds of people still singing and humming these infectious tunes filled the air.
An alternative party was meanwhile being held over at the Zoo Stage where Melbourne’s The Seven Ups delivered a celebratory instrumental set with great percussion and plenty of solos. The drummer working in tandem with the percussionist made for some standout moments, with some great solo work also from the brass, sax and guitar. It proved a perfect way to dance away the final moments of WOMADelaide 2019.
Finally, over in Frome Park there was one last performance of “Amor” from French dance outfit Compagnie Bilbobasso at 10:30 pm. Combining dance, theatre and fire art, this was nothing short of spectacular. The fire tricks (including some hand held fireworks) were quite incredible, engaging viewer of any age in a mesmerising performance. This was a piece of magic and testimony to the variety of experiences that can be found at WOMADelaide.
Reviewed by Ken Grady and Matthew Trainor
Photos by Tessa Manning