WOMAD is synonymous with world music

WHEN Robert E Brown coined the term ‘world music’ in the 1960s there was no WOMAD.

But now, WOMAD is synonymous with world music – the festival even has its own entry in Wikipedia’s world music section.

This year, WOMAD’s crowd throws itself into world music festivities with 110 per cent. No better is this summed up than in the relentless banging of bongos and congas (played by over enthusiastic punters in various stalls). It’s a sound that underpins the festival – audible from the minute you unpack your car to the minute you drive home. Forget the designer wellies and Kate Moss appearances of fellow - former hippie - Glastonbury – WOMAD’s about tie-die skirts and organic-diet complexions. For most of the crowd, it seems, a WOMAD ticket is a manifestation of a lifestyle choice, not merely three days in the Wiltshire countryside.

WOMAD’S line up this year attracted controversy – with ‘mainstream’ acts such as Chic and Martha Wainwright on the bill. But despite this, the festival upholds its ethnic principals - with dozens of workshops ranging from Modou Diouf classes to a lesson on the Egyptian Darabuka from Hossam Ramzy – the instrument’s most famous exponent. While acts such as Martha Wainwright seem incongruous with the world music genre, there are plenty of class world music acts to satisfy those with more exotic taste.

FRIDAY

STRAIGHT over from the Sinai Peninsula, Beduoia Jerry Can Band combine desert flute, rabab fiddle and – as the name says on the tin, deserted jerry cans. The first half of the set starts off slowly – with two musicians playing an atmospheric number to introduce the group.

But as the set progresses, the line up expands and, accordingly, the set becomes faster and more rhythmic. The haunting song introducing the set is replaced by a beat-led collage of pounding drums, Eastern singing and flute. Songs are indistinguishable and tend to blend into a whole but, fortunately, that whole is well-woven and deeply rhythmic.

Later it’s Sharon Shannon Big Band featuring Shane MacGowan. There’s a huge cheer from the crowd as Pogues’ singer Shane MacGowen walks on stage, transforming the set from a well-knit homage to Irish folk to a lively céilidh. As the band starts to play The Irish Rover the audience erupts – hundreds start to jig about throughout the thousands-strong crowd. MacGowen’s vocals are barely audible as he slurs the lyrics. But that doesn’t matter – it merely adds to the song.

Headlining Friday night is Algerian/French guitarist/songwriter Rahid Taha, whose East/West aesthetic (rock with Eastern flavours) wins the crowd tonight. Taha just about holds it together throughout the set, stumbling across the stage and almost tripping over his band mates’ microphone stands – an entertaining spectacle. At one point, Taha swings the microphone lead around him only for the lead to get tangled up around his neck. With a fag in one hand and rounded belly, there is something of the late Jim Morrison about Taha – consumed by rock and roll in every possible way.

At one point a man in a suit walks Taha off-stage. It’s the end of the set, it seems, until the WOMAD compare joins the stage asking the crowd to beg for an encore. Taha returns, but as he flings his jacket over the stage the suited man checks his pockets. Closing with Garab, Taha goes down a storm. He’s just played a dynamic, rocking set with some of the oddest behaviour displayed at WOMAD thus far.

SATURDAY

THE APTLY-named Babylon Circus opens the day’s festivities with – as the band proclaims ‘French gypsy dancehall punk.’ The group’s set is marked by horn-led stompers and ska-rhythms – to which the crowd’s response is raucous. Clad in straw hats and leaping about the stage, Babylon Circus is the Madness of world music.

Later, in the Siam tent, Martha Wainwright is on stage with her backing band – bassist and drummer. Playing numbers mainly from her self-titled album, Wainwright plays a disappointing set. The otherwise touching Factory Girl loses its magic amidst exaggerated wailing and hastily-played guitar. Far Away likewise loses its touch – again, Wainwright adds layers of affectation to lyrics, which detracts from the song’s blissful melody. There is relief – however – When the Day is Short is stripped of such superfluous vocal parts and rescues the crowd, albeit temporarily.

But stealing the show on Saturday is Kora – New Zealand’s dub, reggae, rock outfit. The band is one of self-proclaimed ‘big party boys,’ according to Dan McGruer (keys/bass) – a fact whole heartedly put across in their one-hour set. This is Kora’s first trip to the UK – and one the band will no doubt forget. During the steady build up during Skankenstein the Red Arrows zoom over the crowd, leaving the audience in awe. What better way to spend a hot, sunny afternoon?

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