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July 30, 2008
Writing about web page http://womad.org/festivals/charlton-park/
This is my 6th year going to WOMAD which happened over the weekend just gone. It originally started off just my Uncle, then I started going with him, and for the last 3 years, inclusively, Dad has come along as well. I’ve always meant to write notes on the festival, both because every year people ask me what its like and I go “oh quite good – I enjoyed whatshisface’s set”, well no longer! This year I actually wrote some notes whilst I was there and on the way home in the car, so I thought I’d publish them on my blog.
The lineup this year wasn’t as good as the past festivals I’ve been to – I appreciate that last year was a 25th anniversary, so had a very strong lineup, but this didn’t even really compete with previous years before that. I still enjoyed it, and will probably go again, but it give me pause for thought.
The weather was very hot – despite the Met Office predicting a small amount of rain. Last year the weather had a really negative impact on the festival – there was huge amounts of mud all over the place, and since the soil in the local area is clay it began so stick to boots like glue. Just walking between tents had become a difficulty. This year – the heat was quite draining, energy wise, but much preferred to the rain.
WOMAD has a vaguely interesting history, since essentially it began as a way of Peter Gabriel marketing so called ‘world music’ to a UK audience. Fortunately that audience managed to attract a boatload of hippies who succeeded in bringing a rather nice atmosphere to the festival. This leaves it in an interesting position of both being one of the most commercial festivals around (everyone who plays has some relationship with Real World Studios) and simultaneously one of the most leftwing.
There follows a listing of most of the sets I heard during the festival (though some I left early to ensure good positioning for preferred sets). The rating is a rough guide (out of 100) as to how much I enjoyed the event. Please note its hard not to enjoy a gig so < 60 is basically epic failure. The description is my notes from the day and may be incredibly inaccurate/complete rubbish.
Tashi Lhumpo Monks
Tedious + Repetitive religious ceremony, establishes some atmosphere, but fails to provide any real drive or interest.
Rumberos de Cuba
Traditionalist rumba outfit parading african influence bequeathed to Cuba. Basic evidence of griot techniques include narrative driven lyrics and expositional dancing.
Kenge Kenge Orutu Systems
Upbeat Kenyan group mix traditional instrucments with a more modern structure. Probably more interesting for dancier folks. Excellent audience involvement.
Billy Cobham + Asere
Veteran percussionist Cobham teams with a cuban outfit to produce a jazz and Son Cubana influenced fusion. Cobham provides surprising subtlety to his performance (at past gigs I’ve noted a tendance to dominate the proceedings). Strong soloing added a touch of class to the performance.
Diabate started this performance with two quite intimate Kora solos, showcasing his ability to communicate emotion through his instrument. The remainder of the set he was backed by his talented band, including his Kora playing son. Strong solos all round.
Bedouin Jerry Can Band
Several instruments consist of reused equipment from the 6 day war. Song structure involves more traditional arabic folky work. Simple rhythms, fat men dancing, plenty of facial. Good fun, but not the most sophisticated outfit.
Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee
Combined flutist/beatbox is as shit as it sounds, but the kind of collab that womad organisers seem to have a hankering for. I am perenially unimpressed by beatboxers. It seems like an incredibly easy to learn skill, something I really need to sit down for a week and learn purely to point out how shit they are. My main problem is their replication of very simple dance tunes and distortion. When someone has a beatboxer who can perform Mahler’s 5th symphony please come and talk to me.
Flute playing had merit but showmanship overode musical talent – The guy spent as much time shouting ‘give it up for x’ where x is an accompanying musician as he did playing his instrument.
Excellent mandolute + sax soloing raised this set from mediocrity to quite an enjoyable event. strong ambience to music and good showmanship from Mr. Taha carried through. Basic rhythms and simplistic song structure.
Electric Oud playing offered something a little different. DJ backing gave atmosphere (think Leafcutter John in Polar Bear) whilst shredding on an oud sounded really good. Strong rock sensibilities to composition gave a different setting to the oud and darabouka (which was also accompanying) which I haven’t heard through a more traditional setting.
Even band has an achilles heal – here it is their friendship with MC Spex, ex asian dub foundation, who came in one song and basically destroyed my enjoyment of this set. In my opinion promoting your latest outfit’s absence of talent by invading someone else’s gig is incredibly rude, no matter whether they asked you to perform or not. If it hadn’t been for this, I would have given an enjoyment rating of 8.
Malam Mamane Barka
Only living Biram master brought an african blues sound to the evening. Harplike sound of his unique instrument offers the soul of a nomadic existence to the audience. This is the cure to that tit Spex.
Admittedly I was tired by this stage of the evening, but this was an incredibly boring set. The whole Etran Finatawa & Tinariwen sound seems really staid to me at the moment. No real cockups, but really repetitive.
La Cor de La Plana
Occitan singing + drumming, quite simple – but really rhythmic performance.
Lively + Upbeat samba collective failed to impress me. Uninteresting instrumentals and several Covers. Filler
Last minute booking, for a slot TBC’d on the programme. Uninventive trio, but solid set. Main focus of the songs seemed to be lyrics, which might have been more appreciated by someone with a better understanding of the French language.
Interesting 6 piece, strong sax + guitar soloing, clearly charasmatic cambodian lead singer. Awesome beard on lead guitarist.
Eddy Grant & the frontline Orchestra
I really enjoyed this, when on paper it should be something I’d hate. Pop twist on classic calypso and saco song structure. Not the kind of thing I’d normally listen to. Superb showmanship and crowd interaction.
Sufi Evening (Sheik Taha/Monajat Yulchieva)
Asif Ali Khan (highlight of this mini-lineup) was cancelled. Focus on Qawwali, a kind of sufi religious song driven music. Bit disappointed that with all the ouds and daraboukas around there was little in the way of instrumental interest.
Eclectic country outfit offer interesting fusion with strong jazz and funk influences. Interesting solos, cool set. Its a shame their original band leader has been dead 30 years.
Siam tent was packed, so didn’t really see him properly. This sounded like a really good set, but the heat reduced my enjoyment and sapped my energy. A lot of instrumentals and soloing livened up the reggae.
Bassekou Kouyote + Ngoni Ba
Good set, griot storytelling, but subtler and more focus on the ngoni rather than the raucus riot of dance driven effort that seems to be used by many other groups.
Good set, very old school senegalese music group. Nice horns section.
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
I really enjoyed this set – certainly a lot more than I had originally expected. Having heard recordings of his father’s gigs with this group, I was interested in hearing Seun Kuti’s work. Certainly a good performer, though a lot of compositions seem to be from his father’s day – so its hard to give credit for them. Even though the band lead has passed from generation to generation, the commentary on african politics seems as relevant as ever. I recall Femi-Kuti’s enjoyable gig from a couple of years ago and this has a very similar, afrobeat sound.
A food stand calling itself ‘Pie Minister’
Little Feat, when trying to encourage audience participation stated, “Just try to sing like Bob Dylan. Hold your nose and talk.”
The moto of the Workers Beer Co, “Thirst Amoung Equals”