Paula Henderson exclusive interview
WOMAD's festival programmer
published: Tue 19th Jul 2011
daily capacity: 22,500 people
last updated: Mon 25th Jul 2011
Paula Henderson the festival programmer for WOMAD - World of Music, Arts and Dance, spoke to eFestivals exclusively ahead of next weekend's festival which takes place for a 29th year at Charlton Park, near Malmesbury, in Wiltshire from Friday 29th to Sunday 31st July 2011.
I'm the programme manager for WOMAD, so I get the privilege of finding the bands that go on the stages, and making sure that they will work for the festival, and it's a lot of fun, as you can imagine.
How did you start out in the business?
Ironically I started out as the office junior at the WOMAD office. I've done nearly every job that exists in this office. Working, helping with production, then going on to sort out visas and administration. Then I worked with Thomas Brooman who was the artistic director for about 26 years, and I learnt everything that I could from him. Then when he left I was asked to take over and do the programming for the festival. It is a case of learning on the job.
How long have you done it for?
I did a lot of the programming with Thomas, but on my own it has probably been about three years. This is my third year of working on the programme.
It's a good mix of acts, how do you go about picking who plays?
It's a long job, I literally start again just a few weeks after the festival starts, and I have in my head bands that I really want to work. I have an idea for who I want my main bands to be already for next year. It's a case of trying again and again, and sometimes it can take you five or six years to get a band to come and play. Gogol Bordello is a good example, it took me three years to finally get him at WOMAD.
You always have an idea to start from, it is a case of going to conferences, and other shows and it's like a jigsaw puzzle almost. Even though you like a band an awful lot, if they're not going to fit within the programme and where the slot works, then you have to wait and try to get them on next year.
The good thing about WOMAD is, with the next year being thirty years, you always assume there's going to be another year. We've got no intention of going anywhere.
How easy is it to bring acts into the country with visas etc, do you have problems with that?
We can have problems with that. For visas it's not actually too bad. It's mainly to do with when people don't leave enough time in order to get their visas. Sometimes, we have problems because people have never had a passport before. We're dealing with very different situations to many other bookers at other events. If acts may be from a country that doesn't even have an Embassy, then you have to find an Embasssy that will therefore kind of issue them a visa, that's more one of our main difficulties. We can get through, but we ask people to get their paperwork in place earlier rather than later, so that we can deal with issues if they come up.
The acts that you approach, are all of them aware of WOMAD? Do they know what the festival is all about?
I imagine that some do and some don't. I'm trying to think of one that might not have, but I think because we are an international festival company working all around the world, in Australia, New Zealand, Abu Dhabi, Spain, we're probably more well known than some of the more established festivals in the UK, like the Big Chill where it's just a UK event. Generally the artists that are based around the world and are looking for World Musics then we come high up on that list.
When we first started there were very few festivals and people weren't overly familiar with artists that weren't from America or the UK. It was difficult back then to explain what we were trying to do. Where as now we're an international brand, and artists can see that we're not just featuring traditional world mus, we're covering music from everywhere. It is easier in terms of getting artists here and there are more flights too.
Was there anyone you were hoping to book this year that fell through?
Not fell through, but I will always be trying to get Manu Chao, and I'll keep trying. He will be on my list again for next year, and hopefully one year he will come. Others that I'd really love to see come back to WOMAD are Burning Spear, and Jimmy Cliff, they're both fantastic it would be great to get them. It's those kind of things that I'm hoping for year on year. I did see a fantastic show at The Barbican which was Congotronics vs Rockers, and I would definitely love to see them come.
I was hoping you'd have them booked for this year.
I tried but they were already doing Fuji Rock.
You had Geoffrey 'Gurrumul' Yunupingu booked to play last year, and then he had to pull out, is there any chance he'll be back for a future WOMAD?
Yes, absolutely. Last year he was ill and wasn't able to come, and this year he wasn't touring around this period. That's why he isn't returning this year, but I'd definitely like to see him at a future WOMAD event, and we'd love to invite him to come and play. He will be on my list to invite to come and play in 2012.
What unknown acts do you recommend WOMAD attendees check out next weekend?
There's so many different ones. People like Khaira Arby from Mali, Aurelio from Honduras, and always remember to check out the BBC Radio 3 stage they put on some fantastic smaller groups. Samuel Yirga from Ethiopia, he's part of Dub Colossus but he's doing solo piano and he's a very, very talented artist. Danyel Waro from the Reunion Islands he will be wonderful. Gosh, there are so many that I would tell you to come and see. It's tohat we have a line-up where you think I don't want to be in the office I want to go and see what's happening on the stages.
Has the programme been worked out to try and avoid clashes?
You always to try and programme it so that there aren't too many clashes, but at the end of the day you never know who people are going to want to watch. There was a comment on our forum where they wanted to see two acts. I always say well maybe you can watch half of one act and then half of someone else. It depends how much you want to see them, but I always like to do a little bit of a wander around, and just catch things as they're happening, and I've got the festival march down to a tee now.
What's been your most memorable WOMAD performance over the years?
Gosh I'm trying to think, actually it was this year, but not in the UK. It was our event we did in Abu Dhabi. We had this Indian group play and they were all in boxes, with lights that had them lit up as they were playing. The Manganiyar Seduction, it was very theatrical.
If you can ever catch that show it would be worth going to see, I would love for them to come and do WOMAD but that would be quite difficult because of all the equipment etc that they need, but it was stunning. People that I've never seen stand and watch a WOMAD show from our crew, hardened music people that they are, stayed for whole show, and just watched it for an hour and a half, it was just stunning. Held on a beach in Abu Dhabi, you can probably catch them on YouTube I would imagine. Worth having a look at that's for sure, and if you can ever see it live, it's definitely worth seeing.
Lastly, what advise would you give to someone coming to WOMAD for the first time?
Pack your wellies, and your suncream, and just come and enjoy yourself and try not to plan too much, and just come and have a good time.
WOMAD's line-up includes Afrocubism, Gogol bordello, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Baaba Maal, Aurelio & The Garifuna Soul Band, I Am Kloot, Lau, Alpha Blondy, Alabama 3, Easy Star All Stars, Bellowhead, Jamie Smith's Mabon, Dub Colossus, Dub Pistols, Hassan Erraji, Bajah & The Dry Eye Crew, Submotion Orchestra, Axel Krygier, CW Stoneking, Dhol Foundation, Dhols of Jaipur, Nathalie Natiembe, Mungos Hi fi, The Boxettes, Alejandro Toledo and The Magic Tombolinos, Brassroots, Shunsuke Kimura & Etsuro Ono, Ebo Taylor, Samuel Yirga, Booker T. Jones, Donso, Khaira Arby, Le Trio Joubran, Ballake Cissokho & Vincent Segal, Nomfusi & The Lucky Charms, Danyel Waro, Nidi D'Arac, Pacific Curls, Susheela Raman, The Gotipuas, Taraf de Haidouks, Mahala Rai Banda, Majorstuen, 9 Bach, Bomba Estereo, and many more.
For the line-up details, stage and day splits, as available please click here.
The full line-up features over 100 artists from 40 countries performing over the festival weekend. There's also a full programme of adult and childrens workshops (limited spaces available - turn up early!), a cabaret tent, fun fair, comedy, DJ sessions, as well the normal festie fodder, and a huge market of world crafts.
On Thursday for 'early bird' ticket holders The Open Air Stage is expected to once again offer live music from 7-11pm.
The weekend tickets - which are valid from the Friday until Sunday are priced at £135 (Thursday arrivals will also need a Thursday camping ticket costing £25).
Children 13 and under can come free with each adult ticket holder, but need a free child ticket. All children must hold their own ticket and must be accompanied by an adult. Thursday tickets do not need to be purchased for children aged 13 and under.
Other ticket prices & options:-
Teenage Weekend Ticket (aged 14-17) - £70
Disabled Weekend Ticket - £135
Thursday Ticket (for those arriving on Thursday) - £25
SN16 Resident Ticket - £85
Campervan Ticket - £40
WOMAD Park and Camp - £50 - SOLD OUT
Weekend ticket for children age 13 and under are free. They must hold their own ticket and be accompanied by a ticket holding parent or guardian over the age of 21. One ticket holding parent or guardian can only accompany up to 4 people under the age of 18.
To buy tickets, click here.
interview by: Scott Williams
daily capacity: 22,500 people
last updated: Mon 25th Jul 2011
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