Womadelaide is a four-day feast of cultural music for the soul, where sounds from the world over bask in Adelaide’s glorious Botanical gardens. The beauty is that it’s all up to you, there’s so much going on you can programme your own festival. As you wander amongst the spectacular Morton Bay Figs, relax under the flying foxes, or lie on the hill surrounded by pines, you can be guaranteed that you’ll be transported to new sonic and cultural worlds.
Traditional Mongolian throat singers Anda Union offered a workshop in throat singing first up, tuning the audience’s ears into the overtones in the music hovering above their deep throaty growls. The irony is the best throat singer was wearing a Quicksilver t-shirt, yet that’s a typical Womadelaide moment of cultural exchange. Over the coming days they cooked for us, and performed not only traditional drinking songs, but also a rousing horse fiddle approximation of 10,000 galloping horses.
“Music is beyond entertainment, it’s food for the soul, so close your eyes and leave the rest to me,” offered gentle Santoor composer Shivkumar Sharma, a man with the whitest perm in India. The improvised music of his ensemble was hypnotic, stately and almost divine, as Sharma in the drivers seat proved as good as his word.
Later handicapped Congolese ensemble Staff Benda Bilili took to the main stage. Their homemade fiddle raised their traditional rumba sounds to ecstatic heights, and when the guy in a white suite who looked like a cross between Flavour Flav and Boss Hog threw himself off his wheelchair and started dancing on his knees the crowd went wild.
Two members of Toureg ensemble Tinariwen (including founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib) were trapped by the instability in Mali, so a four piece took to the stage and they were magnetic. The stripped down version highlighted the electric bass and hitherto unheard funkiness buried within the wispy twang of their desert blues. Joined by French outfit Lo Jo for part of the performance, Tinariwen were majestic, true global superstars, offering the most powerful, compelling and evocative music of the festival, transporting listeners to the bleak beauty of their homeland with the mere flick of guitar.
Solomon Islands pan pipe ensemble Narasirato were the life of the festival, their infectious pipe music an energetic mix of tribal soul. They were everywhere, breathing new life into an instrument long since delegated into cliché by Peruvian market bands. With every size bamboo pipe you could imagine, they breathed into giant bass pipes, hitting some too big to blow into with thongs, dancing in unison and creating an infectious upbeat soul revue. This is that rare kind of cultural music that seems to have fallen straight from the sky. “Unfortunately we brought no women,” they suggestively offered.
The Master Drummers of Burundi returned to Womadelide after 20 years, with an ecstatic synchronised percussion onslaught, banging drums on their head, jumping impossibly high, and making a peculiar throat slitting action with their sticks, that we later discovered signals their devotion to their King. Melbourne Bollywood fanatics Bombay Royale theatrically strutted and funked across stage, Korea’s Tori Ensemble created regal court music punctuated by these bizarre moments of freejazz with a piercing female wail that could cut wood, and Palestinian’s Le Trio Joubran’s oud music resonated with centuries of tradition.
Eccentric Finish, mowhaked accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen offered metal machine music from Finland, with surround sound punctuated by avant electronics, where his midi enhanced accordion, with special microphones in its bellows, sounded like an idling motorbike, an electric guitar, or oddly enough a piano accordion.
US roots reggae exponents Groundation played into the piercing heat, seamlessly merging Jamaican beats with jazz solos, funk horns, improvisation and Rastafarian wisdom, whilst Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa was like a wind up doll. Or perhaps a deity. Each movement punctuated by her musical ensemble. It was hard to know who was controlling whom. Performing a traditional Southern Indian dance, everything from her hands, fingers and facial expressions were in tune with the music, and as a result we were in tune with her.
Twenty years of remarkable performances and it feels like we’re only beginning. This festival is a blessing, an opportunity to engage in the global community and break down stereotypes in a joyous and meaningful way.