day three

WOMAD 2006 reviews

published: Thu 3rd Aug 2006

Friday 28th to Sunday 30th July 2006
Richfield Avenue, Rivermead, Reading, Berkshire, England MAP
£110 incl. camping (early bird £100); Day tickets Friday £35, Saturday £55, Sunday £45
daily capacity: 22500
last updated: Wed 21st Jun 2006

The last day of music and for once we’d booked Monday off so there was no hurry to take the tent down as the sun rapidly dried any remaining puddles from the night before.

We’d considered doing the Yoga workshop that started early but despite being up, the first can of beer of the morning put a stop to that plan. The campsite was clearing rapidly around us as people dismantled their tents and stowed them in cars for an exodus at the end of the night.

Once in the arena it was clear that the rain had put a few off and the crowds would be much less packed than they were on the Saturday. Etran Finatawa opened the Village Stage in place of Djaaka and hearing good things about the Nomadic Saharan band’s performance the day before in the Siam Tent so we opted for this rather than Dona Rosa and her fado singing. The recommendation was a good one their hypnotic rhythms and chanting was a joy to listen to and was even a surprise highlight of our daughter’s weekend. She preferred to continue listening to them instead of going to sign in for workshops at the kids’ tents.

The programme said Ivo Papasov and his Wedding Orchestra were favourites of Frank Zappa no less, so on that counsel we had to see them. Once again we’d made a terrific choice although I pity the guests of any couples hiring them. The clarinet work rate is stunning and by the end of the first song most of the guests would have collapsed in exhaustion. Ivo doesn’t let up playing the clarinet as Hendrix did his guitar it’s just amazing to listen to such a talented musician. The music is Belgian and Balkan folk but brought right up to date, it’s tiring stuff but once again music to get the body moving is the order of the day for the first band on the main stage.

Now I’ve said previously that I don’t much care for Cuban music, well Salsa in the main, WOMAD seems chock full of it this year, however Pedro Luis Ferrer shattered my illusions of Cuban music on the Village Stage. Tres music done at it’s best and a virtuoso guitar player to boot, sat flanked by a singer and a bongo drummer, his fingers play what’s known as Cuban Changui and it’s beautiful. This bearded Cuban from the Buena Vista Social Club plays music that is sparse and full of deep feeling not packed with pace like much of the Cuban music we hear. It has an otherworldly pace to it and sets off some internal resonance amongst the crowd. Clearly Sunday is for music of great emotion and spiritual depth and Ferrer fits the bill perfectly.

What a culture shock then when I see Pascals on the main stage. Playing tunes so warped it hurts my head to work out what they are playing and performing with a bunch of weird instruments, they’re more visual than auditory. We get treated (?) to a Japanese cross-dressing strip show! We witness an angle grinder used as an instrument and destroyer of cellos! And hear a god-awful racket, which only occasionally sounds musical, played on a variety of strange instruments. Visually fun but musically horrendous, ah well it sure was different.

I take a breather before the next act and sample an organic beer down at the Tri-Span which has instant change overs on its double stage, a clever idea but I’m not keen on getting into workshop mode so swing past Water Aid, Oxfam and others to sign a few more petitions but this area seems to have less political causes on offer this year and I have to offer my support rather than have people trying to get me to support these crucial causes.

I return to the main arena as Konono No.1 are setting up and notice the two loudhailers either side of the stage. The stage is also bursting with musicians making a huge beat driven cacophony that spills from these loudhailers only to be picked up by the microphones in front of them and blasted out over the gathered crowd. This creates a wholly original sound, that despite its description works very well, sounding more like an African street band played at half time over a dusty football pitch in the heart of the Congo. Instruments fashioned from anything they can get hold of and a serious degree of musical talent, they make a wonderful racket straight off the arid streets that is hard not to dance to. Replete with whistles, chants and driving rhythms, very different, very African and very enjoyable. Another classic WOMAD act in the making.

As is traditional the Children Procession was the next programmed event and once again a huge number of kids have created a wealth of colourful food based constructions and costumes. With a serious message about food distribution globally – ‘politics and kids’ mutters my hippy friend next to me. Many of the acts that played over the weekend add more music to the procession than usual – it’s just a shame that the main arena is less full than it’s been in previous years, as it was a great spectacle to witness and many children must have spent long hours creating it all.

I even stay to hear the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and their salsa. Which isn’t my thing but the front of the stage is wall to wall salsa lesson women who are delighted to show off their skills they’ve learnt in class, while their husbands look on bemused and I consider joining the rest of my party who have headed off for the cabaret but decide instead to sample a bit of soul at the Siam tent.

The Dap Kings are The Blues Brother re-born a soul review with much groovin’ bass licks and guitar jams. Half the set showcases them with no sign of Sharon Jones and fuelling the rumour they’ve not been able to drag her out of backstage make up. But it seems she’s the new wearer of James Brown’s crown and so it’s no surprise like him she hits the stage late with a blown out over the top introduction. All sass, she says we’re here for a Funky Dance Party and then mentions Tina Turner, saying that she’s about to launch into one of the singer’s numbers. Thankfully it’s not Beyond The Thunderdome but Steamy Windows instead. What follows is a collection of ‘I’ve got a good man’ songs for the feel-good sisters in the tent. It’s a little too right on sista for me but it sounds delicious and we have some serious groovers in the house around us, including Rolf Harris!

Rejoining the cabaret goers who are raving about freehand juggling, straightjacket escapes and ironing boards of death and saying they’ve had a terrific time I’m rather envious. But minutes after Angelique Kidjo hits the stage I rather wish she had gone to see it. She seems very un-amused and although it’s a good professional performance on the night it’s not a patch on previous times I’ve seen her. But eventually she gets a huge crowd on stage for the finale and it really kicks into gear. Her performance is professional but not glittering, which is a bit of a shame.

Remember how I said earlier Sunday is for music to move us well in headliner Guo Yue it surely does. As usual a festival highlight, the plain speaking Chinese flute player talks to us of his love of food of his life in China and of his dreams of the West. Accompanied by readings from his memoirs and two percussionists and a huge pair of drums, his music is graceful and moving beneath the lit flags and a respectful seated audience hang on his every word. Most moving is the song about his mother and most beautiful the sound of an ancient white jade flute. At the end he receives a standing ovation and it’s the perfect end to this year’s festival. Just wish I’d seen his cookery demonstration now.

And that was it! The curtain fell on another fantastic WOMAD with better music programming over all the stages than any I’ve attended previously. Thank you WOMAD for a wonderful long weekend! We were really treated to a feast of music and food! Can’t wait for 2007 and the 25th celebrations of WOMAD just hope they don’t make the crowds any bigger, it felt very full at times. Apart from the thieves it seems WOMAD has solved every gripe people have had in previous years! Well done on listening to us.
review by: Scott Williams

Friday 28th to Sunday 30th July 2006
Richfield Avenue, Rivermead, Reading, Berkshire, England MAP
£110 incl. camping (early bird £100); Day tickets Friday £35, Saturday £55, Sunday £45
daily capacity: 22500
last updated: Wed 21st Jun 2006


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