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The Magic of WOMADelaide 2009

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Peter James Dawson

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The Magic of WOMADelaide 2009

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Peter Dawson

The Kaurna cultural custodians of the South Australia's Adelaide plains were represented by a trio of women elders, who warmly welcomed the festival-goers to the three-day event over the first weekend in March. Wrapped in dark furred cloaks Joan Lamont, Josie Agius and May Turner spoke in both Kaurna and English to welcome locals and visitors alike and explained aspects of the Red Kangaroo Dreaming of the area known as Tarndanyungga.

Led by Karl Winda Telfer the ochre-painted Paitya dance group came onstage, carrying shields and clacking spear-like sticks to traditional song in a warlike but welcoming manner. Then the mood changed to a contemporary vibe as the graceful girls of the Port Adelaide based Kurruru Youth Performing Arts Company simulated the soaring of a flock of birds. One young dancer, Jessica Gray said that her nerves soon disappeared with the excitement of performing for such a huge crowd.

First up on the main stage the Bedouin Jerry Can Band sat before a ‘desert shelter’ and sang, played flutes, hand drums, plus an ammunition case and jerry can (salvaged from the 1967 Sinai War). In tune with our own wide, dry land the band’s desert-wandering lifestyle, came through strongly in its music, echoing much of the cultural life of central Australian communities. As the turbaned musicians created such a good groove it was impossible for those in the crowd to sit still, the rhythms and haunting melodies positive and totally invigorating.

Dan Sultan and his band were in full-tilt boogie mode at the Zoo stage, his fiery delivery backed by the ample force of a tight horn section, while guitarist Scott Wilson played some very tasteful licks, and I loved his version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Happy’.

Arte Kanela showed immense passion, as the Tedesco brothers led their Flamenco dancers and musicians through routines so full of precision, yet dripping with ardour.

Natasha Atlas is an Egyptian-English diva who has collaborated with Transglobal Underground and Jah Wobble, and her grasp of fusion is marvellous, with Middle-Eastern intonation spicing up a cover of soul classic ‘I Put a Spell on You’, along with her exotic compositions.

Sa Ding Ding thrilled the rapt audience with her well choreographed show, featuring a combination of Hong Kong film costumes, acrobatic male dancers and the lady’s operatic voice; all held together by the fusion of folksong and techno beats.

Day two dawned sunny with the sky painted with clouds of all shapes and textures, and firing up stage one Nigeria’s grand master of drumkit Tony Allen had the early punters in the mood for some spicy African rhythms with his youthful vibrant band.

Mikidache had been a guest artist at The Dreaming 2008, and this time he had brought a small ensemble, including two vivacious singers from Madagascar and a Guinean percussionist. His songs were soulful and his intricate and delicate guitar picking style was most impressive; from Mayotte in the Indian Ocean Mikidache was a dynamic entertainer at the All-Star Jam and in his own vibrant sets.

At the Zoo end of the site Seckou Keita SKQ was in exceptional form as the bandleader tickled the 22-string kora with furious fire; his gorgeous singer Binta Susso warbling angelically through the melodious cadences from the violin of Samy Bishai; Italian bassist Davide Mantovani laying down a solid foundation with percussionist Surahata Susso.

Heading for a late lunch I was totally sidetracked when I caught the northern English accent of Rachael Unthank & The Winterset, from Tyneside, UK performing traditional ditties, comic scenarios, a clog dance and an often dark and moody dirge.

The star of the festival was undoubtedly Elcho Island legend Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, having won ARIA and Deadly awards last year, plus being the subject of the winner of the Archibald Prize for Portraiture, who attracted a massive crowd mesmerised by his soaring voice. The Arnhemland saltwater songman is so special his spirituality goes straight to the heart like a spear of love and compassion. His humble delivery and sincerity had the audience spellbound, some with tears in their eyes! Later I sat with Gurrumul and some of his band to hear the equally superb voice of Sa Ding Ding, and he was obviously as entranced by the Chinese diva’s exquisite delivery as we all were!

Aotearoa (New Zealand) diva Mihirangi was strong in her performance, her voice carried clearly through the cool evening from the cosy Zoo stage with the combination of techno layers and loops adding new dimensions to the traditional aspects of her songs.

Quite a hot one Sunday and somewhat dusty; my nose feeling like sandpaper on the inside and a chilli for skin! But the music was equally hot, with the Papua New Guinea Tatana Village Choir backed by Melbourne progressive jazz combo VADA. The combination did not appeal to some, however under the direction of virtuoso pianist Aaron Choulai the villagers joyously sang with great gusto and verve; their modal harmonies floated freely juxtaposed with the avant-garde backing.

Ska Cubano, those suave gents were a big crowd favourite with their reggae flavoured salsa beats, while at the other end of the site Kaki King amazed all with her guitar dexterity and showy finesse.

Egos Lemos from East Timor is the first international artist to record for Darwin’s indigenous label SkinnyFish, and his is another strong voice for reconciliation, considering the trauma his people underwent in the savage Indonesian colonisation period from 1975 to 1999. His songs are about land, love and life, and as an advocate for permaculture to revitalise the degraded environment and grow sustenance for all, his music reflects his positivity. He also joined Gurrumul onstage to sing an anthemic number with the rousing refrain of ‘Timor Lorosae’, where the two voices intertwined in perfect harmony.

Internationally renowned Yamitji didjeridu master Mark Atkins has played with Phillip Glass, Sinead O’Connor, London Philharmonic, Jimmy Page and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Looking to re-connect with his own country he has been touring with The Black Arm Band. At WOMADelaide he wowed everyone with his professional virtuosity and solid stamina, cooking up an earthy beat. He was also invited to join the customary All-Star Jam on stage 2 on Sunday where performers from West Africa, England, Papua New Guinea, Europe and the Sahara poured their sounds into a multi-cultural mix.

WOMADelaide has developed into one of the finest festivals on the planet and is a fabulous showcase for our own Australian musicians, our Australasian neighbours as well as others from all over our world.

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