WOMAD delivers a weekend with global appeal
5:30am Monday 28th July 2014 in By Barry Leighton
“WE are Hungarian, of Serbian and Croatian descent, we are going to play a Macedonian song in a Turkish style on Chinese instruments….this could be world music.” It certainly ticks a lot of boxes.
Eastern European maestros SoNDoRGO are addressing several thousand people crammed into the Siam Tent who watch in open mouthed wonder as the quintet perform a mesmerising set of frenetic, Slavic folk.
With lightning speed that almost defies logic – can humans really move their fingers as quickly as this? – they deploy an instrument called the tamburitza, a sort of mini-mandolin, to dazzling effect.
Their dexterity leaves us spellbound… which turns out to be a recurring theme at the four-day WOMAD Festival, at Charlton Park near Malmesbury A couple of hours later a story to warm the heart emerges on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage. Smiling nervously, three survivors from the Rwandan genocide of the Nineties, The Good Ones, perform an evocative set of crisp harmonies and strummed acoustic guitars in an engagingly uncluttered style.
They seem genuinely surprised at their spirited, enthusiastic reception. Until a couple of days ago the trio had never stepped out of Rwanda, let alone stepped onto an aircraft.
A band led by Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate, the world’s leading practitioner of the ngoni, a deceptively flimsy looking guitar/lute, create a rousing Thursday night finale On Friday, the world’s coolest octogenarian, Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, 81, turns up the heat – as if it wasn’t hot enough already – with a stirring, trademark concoction of Afro soul jazz.
For sheer intensity it would be almost impossible to match Trombone Shorty’s ferocious update of New Orleans street jazz and funk. It’s a rollercoaster ride all the way from the Crescent City delivered with passion and power. No band, no dancers, no roadies running around plugging things into things… for his 90 minute set, all folk-rock colossus Richard Thompson required was an acoustic guitar. But then, when you have a selection of songs rivalled only by a handful or so other living artists then you really can’t go wrong (and he didn’t). Wall of Death, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Beeswing and 1953 Vincent Black Lightning have long been personal favourites.
Talking of contemporary greats, Youssou N’Dour energetically lived up to his much vaunted reputation as one of Africa’s greatest singers of the past two of three decades.
WOMAD invariably delivers surprises…and a rather delicious one greets us as we lounge beneath the welcoming shade of a sycamore tree in the Ecotricity in the Arboretum arena on a blistering Saturday afternoon. We are enchanted and hypnotised by Tunisian percussionist Imed Alibi’s exotic, spacey and multi textured take on traditional Arabic rhythms.
Meanwhile, eons-old blues and folk songs – or just plain “old stuff” as they like to refer to it – are reinterpreted with humour, banjo, acoustic guitars, harmonica and bones by English folkie Martin Simpson and the USA’s Dom Flemons, of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. A duo specifically tailored for WOMAD they explore common themes and overlapping genres with good time feel and outstanding musicianship. Lordy Me, Lordy Mi.