After a second night of gangs targeting our area for robberies and another visit to the temporary police station to report more thefts, the whole robbery thing is getting me seriously down. Its worrying not just for us adults but scaring the kids too. Having to yell at strangers to get out of the tent isnt fun.
Its hot and breezy as we enter the arena, and theres little grass on the site now, its mainly dust and golf balls. The litter crews are just finishing, but the site has been much less covered in litter than previous years, which Im glad about.
Midday and with a pint of Bath Ales Gem in hand, we watch Think Of One who get off to a stuttering start. They have to stop to fix a problem with the thudding bass drum. Once fixed though their sound really thumps out. Before long theyve gone a bit too heavy and Im wondering if theyve got confused with the other reading festival. At one point they say they are playing the theme tune to TV show Bonanza good job they said or Id have never recognised it. The programme suggested they were Boundary Busting Belgians well they sure were different. Before long along came the Latin Salsa rhythms, which perked the crowd up. Definitely bizarre, a little sprawling but again a good band to get everyone up and dancing to in the morning. These active starts are a great idea.
Theres a big crowd at the Black Flag be-decked Village Stage for Batucada Sound Machine playing a wicked groove with a horn section in full effect and hip hop scrawling over the whole thing! The compere makes a faux pas calling them a soundsystem before being corrected and then its blast off! The Kiwis sound excellent, its Brazilian Latin Im told but it doesnt have so much Salsa more Samba with jazz noodlings, fast virile percussion and its heavily skad to make you lift those knees. Really glad Id gone to see them and a highlight of the weekend. Hope to see more of them, they really impressed.
Keeping with the Antipodean theme we head over to the Tri-Span for a bit of Aussie reggae as Bomba with Derub are on. Derub it turns out is an Ethiopian singer and masinko player and his East coast Middle Eastern flavoured songs mix really well with the reggae beats and Pringle-tin shaking of the band. One of the guitarists is even playing a gun! Another really good band that impress, so much so we hang around for the dance master class afterwards before realising the Japanese drummers are on the Village Stage.
Crowd density moving between stages has reached critical mass, and its very packed by 3pm. It takes a long time to get to the Village Stage due to crowd congestion and once we do, we can merely listen from the back to Joji Hirota, Kenny Endo and John Kaizan Neptune and we can hardly hear the nuances of the sound they are creating. In fact all we can hear is the occasional drum beat from this percussive trio and cant hear the flutes at all. To be honest it sounds rubbish where we are, and we presume its conclusive proof crowds will watch and listen to anything. I later hear from someone at the front that the musicians created something delicate, but we were too far back to hear it!
So we went around to the main stage, getting there early and before the crowds. Its actually amazing how quickly the tide of festival goers fill the place. Kanda Bongo Man has replaced Thomas Mapfumo who could leave his homeland to play but wasnt guaranteed hed be allowed back home. Such a shame but at least Kanda Bongo Man is another pure WOMAD delight. His music and rhythms are what make you think, This is WOMAD music and its a delight of guitar based dance tunes developed from Soukous, or the pop sound of Africa. A mix of Cuban rhumba, Congolese rhythms and stripped down disco. We even get to try the 'Kwassa Kwassa' a hip-grinding dance that Kanda Bongo Man invented. It may be a bit Latin but its shot through with Africa and very danceable.
We were in for a treat next with Tounami Diabate and his Symmetric Orchestra, the Siam Tent is rammed and we have to stand outside it to hear him, and thats pleasant enough as the sky is clouding over and its hotter in the tent than outside. This was a fantastic performance from the Mali musician and the Symmetric Orchestra who are a collective of musicians from all over Africa. There are loads of them on stage and sometimes the music is traditional, old songs with new arrangements, and sometimes new songs with traditional arrangements. But it all has that steady upbeat African throb to it, a steady pulse accompanied by singers in different languages of Africa and its so lyrical. Possibly they are the best thing I heard all weekend stunningly good and a different class!
We circle back to the main stage for The Sunshiners. Now I have to be honest I used to live in this part of the world, on the islands where this band originate to be exact. The band is actually a supergroup consisting of four singers from different bands on different islands of Vanuatu. So I might be little biased but I thought giving pop hits like She Drives Me Crazy, Such a Shame, Dont Dream Its Over, Modern Love and the highlight The Cures Inbetween Days the sunshine treatment is a brilliant idea. Their voices are terrific and it was like a reggae version of The Ukulele Orchestra or Hatseed Dixie. Perfect for festivals and a novelty band that were on form on the day. Even the sun came out at one point as the crowd steadily grew drawn in by their island reggae, lovely stuff!
So good I was happy to let time fly by for a while and sit and take in WOMAD for a while as the clouds overhead gathered and everyone was having a great time. Kids were playing and pirates were chasing someone with a Union flag. Pirates and fairies seemed to be everywhere as I took an hour out from the music to do a bit of shopping and try to decide which delectable meal Id try for tea.
We relaxed to much, which was our folly as during Ska Cubano one of our partys bag was stolen from under our noses while we danced about oblivious to Ska Cubano, who started off more Cuban but eventually had us skanking to their ska. Another great choice of act by the WOMAD programmers, they really got WOMAD in a party mood. They were great but our situation was not, we headed for the temporary police station to report the theft and while there the heavens cracked open and it began to rain.
Statement taking and credit card cancelling took time as the rain continued and we watched a steady stream of festival goers leave the site, going to get waterproofs or deciding to retire early for the night. By the time I got back for the wonderful Femi Kuti and the Positive Force the crowd had greatly diminished but the party hadnt! Despite the rain it was still a warm night and we tried our best to dance about to the African fusion as much as the girls on stage were, blimey they sure were shaking their thangs! But once again thieves had spoilt our festival and we headed back to the tent and cancelled going to watch the film Grease at the Tri-Span.
A terrific day of music had come to an end with the rain. Which I was actually quite pleased of, as it was getting too hot in the packed crowds. As I fell asleep I hoped the rain would keep falling to give us an opportunity for a lie in.
review by: Scott Williams
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