Baker Boy has been such an unstoppable creative force over the past few years, it’s hard to believe that last year’s Gela was just his debut album (it was also one of our best albums of 2021). It is also fitting that he was one of this year’s opening night feature event on the Foundation Stage, having first created quite a stir on one of the smaller stages here back in 2018. In between, of course, he has done everything from Laneway Festival to the AFL Grand Final entertainment, so he certainly knows how to wow an audience on the big stage.

Friday night at WOMADelaide was no exception. As terrific as last year’s concert series was, it just felt right being back at Botanic Park for the 30 year anniversary program and Baker Boy delivered a real celebration with his multi-faceted performance incorporating music, hip-hop and dance. And on the eve of South Australian restrictions being lifted (and with WOMAD given special dispensation to dance), the sizeable crowd that gathered were in the mood for a party.

The upbeat tone was set from the opening beats of his breakthrough single ‘Meditjin’ and continued right through the performance that showcased the strength of his LP.

With an engaging on-stage persona, Baker Boy interacted charismatically with the crowd, particularly in songs like ‘Funk Wit Us’. And the moments when he played the yidaki were pure joy. Other set highlights included ‘Cool as Hell’ and ‘My Mind’.

Supported by an ensemble of three multi-instrumentalists, two dancers and another singer, it was a very polished set, albeit one that flew by too fast. Baker Boy is a unique talent and proved the perfect way to get us back into WOMAD spirit.

Those who ventured to Stage 3 earlier in the evening had a real treat with Springtime, a collective of three groundbreaking Australian musicians. At various times beautiful, dissonant and anarchic, the experimental art-rock was powerful, invigorating stuff. And as fantastic as their 2021 album was, the performance proved that Springtime is best appreciated in a live setting, where you are often left wondering what is planned and was is improvised.

Stage 3 was also home to a late night highlight, with Adelaide institution, the Shaolin Afronauts, continuing the party that Baker Boy had started. Having first played WOMADelaide in 2011, the eleven-piece were reveling in this return, now with a few more albums under their belts. With a pandemic-induced focus on Australian music this festival, it is great to see the programmers give this act a feature set on the opening night. Ans the crowd was very receptive to the funk afrobeat sounds – all performed in the outfit’s signature hoods.

All in all, an excellent night of music. It feels so good to back!

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor

Photos by Tessa Manning