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5-7th March 2004 .Botanic Park. Adelaide.

A subjective Review

    Every year I get a little on tenterhooks before the Womadelaide lineup is announced. Why? Because its probably the only chance to that Adelaide gets to see some of the worlds top acts who would not otherwise tour this part of the world. Richie Havens, Loudon Wainwright, John Prine, Nusrat Fateh Ali khan, Trilok Gurtu ,Salif Keita and a host of others. Womadelaide has made it possible for a number of acts to introduce themselves to Australian audiences who would never have gotten the chance otherwise, amongst these have been Richard Thompson , Shooglenifty and Bob Brozman.

   Almost every year, there has been at least one act that has made attendance essential, 1997, Salif Keita and Richard Thompson, in 2001 it was RT again , in 2005 Richie Havens and 2008 Mavis Staples. 2004 's essential act was Eliza Carthy. Not exactly a household name , but I was well aware of her through her involvement in Waterson Carthy who had toured Australia in 1999 and who had allowed select recording of nearly all their concerts on the tour . Eliza had also performed with Saul Rose in the basement at Big star records and she had deleivered a superb concert to barely 40 souls.

   Since then she had gone on to relative fame and fortune in the UK folk scene with her albums Red Rice and Anglicana . This was a prime chance to see her in action with her own band , which comprised of three crack players. The all important weather forecast revealed that the festival temperatures were going to be fairly civilised this year, instead of being sodding hot as hades ( as was all too regular as the festival moved into the 21st century ).

Friday

    Ian and I arrived fairly late and consequently missed the first act , but after wandering around, grokking at the stalls and seeing what was new on the site ( as well as getting an all important couple of Coopers beers to whet our whistles ) , we scuttled off to the front of stage two to gain a prime position to see the other more mainstream act of the weekend, Mary Coughlan who,unlike most of the other acts on the bill, was only performing once.

   She was greeted enthusiastically by the audience and proceeded to impress all with a number of laid back blues numbers such as "The Laziest girl in town", her smokey vocals, framed by piano, bass, and jazzy guitar provided by her excellent trio of backing musicians , was an unusual choice for Womadelaide , which doesn’t often feature overseas jazz/blues acts . I enjoyed the set, but it might have been more at home on the smaller stage three, which is more intimate a venue . However, Mary managed to create a really nice feel and her set went down well, especially on numbers such as 'The Thrill Is Gone' which featured some nice old timey piano,which would not have been out of place in a cinema from the 20s. 'Heartbreak Hotel'delivered in standard blues mode ,gave both the guitarist and pianist the chance to show their Chicago blues chops and had the crowd clapping along in time . The next number was dedicated to all the girls who were abused and exploited at the infamous Magdelaine Laundries . An excellent blues set , the like of which I had never witnessed at Womadlaide before 'The blues got the world by the balls' was fun as Mary stated wryly that she would like to get George Bush by the balls to some applause, obviously , she's no fan ......

   After the end of this show, we had to race to get over to stage One in time to see the start of Youssou N'Dour's opening set of the weekend. We missed the start of the set, but infiltrated down towards the front to get a good position . I wasn't at the 1992 festival so this was the first time I had caught his Youssou n'ess onstage, he is a powerful performer. Not quite in the class of Salif Keita, in terms of composition , but he has great stage presence and a wonderfully active band, his talking drum player was particularly good .Unfortunately some audience members were pretty talkative during his quiter numbers, but once the whole band pulled in and got cranking, they were largely inaudible anyway. By the end of the set he had most of the audience either singing along or waving thier hands in time to his infectious grooves. Youssou played a wide range of numbers ranging from Kora based more traditional songs to the well known , "Seven Seconds Away ". The final number , the heartfelt paen to "the new Africa " was truly moving .We made a mental promise to try to to catch all of his set on Sunday , as we had to leave early to see the start of our main interest of the evening , Ms Eliza Carthy on stage two.

   Eliza began her set with a lovely acappella number "Claudy Banks," before progressing to a lively set of jigs that were played by her complete band The Rat Catchers (made up of John Bowden, John Spiers and Ben Ivitisky , none of whom were any mean slouches on their respective violin, button accordion and guitars.) Apart from being a tad heftier then she had been in 1999, she still displayed the same cheerful, irreverent stage presence that she had displayed five years before. The nice thing about Eliza is that she plays both traditional English folk and also composes her own tunes, this first set was mostly comprised of traditional songs such as Turpin Hero - which extols the virtues of the well known English highwayman. As Elza remarked , it was all a bit dismal ,about maids pining for sailors lost at sea and men killed before their time but she didn't let that get her down,or the fact that she had travlled 10, 956 miles to get to the festival. In fact she was in fine humour. asking us if we liked her stripy jumper which she had bought in Adelaide and declaring that perhaps the song "The Pretty Plowboy" would now be called the "pretty agricultural technologist " in these politically correct times .

   However enjoyable a set (and this was a VERY enjoyable one, of great purity and technical skill shown by all onstage ) it has to come to an end, At least we had the prospect of two more Eliza sets to look forward to on Saturday, so it we dragged ourselves away from the stage to see Oumou Sangare on stage one , This lady proved to be most enjoyable. The Diva of Mali , she has a huge voice and she and her dancers had us all mesmerised by the energy and quality of her both her music and stage show. We did however , arrive late as we had stopped to replenish the stomach a little at Buddha's Bowl with a cup of refreshing chai and a curry, so we missed some of the set.

   The reason we did this was that we were not prepared to miss one instant of the famed Zakir Hussian's set. How could we , the chance to see a man who had played with John McLaughlin in Shakti and the Grateful Dead's Micky Hart in The Diga Rhythm Band was all too rare and we intended to stay until the finish , no matter how late or how cold it might be !

   By the time that the Indian contingent came onstage , it was late , but there were still a large number of diehards waiting to be entranced. Zakir began by thanking us for staying so late and that he hoped the band could keep us awake for a bit longer, He then introduced the band , composed of some of the best Indian musicians of the day, Sultan Khan, clay pot player Vikku Vinayakram , (also from Shakti )and virtuosos Polani Shankar and VJ Chowhan. The whole performance was improvised and Zakir told us that we would also be part of the performance as we would witness it and perhaps influence where the musicians went as they worked with each other. An exciting prospect.!

   This was a performance of gigantic stature, with huge changes in the dynamics of the music , at times hugely loud as the tabla worked around the higher notes of the clay pot, intensely intricate as the players fingers blurred on the skin and clay, then almost in an instant , sparse and evocative as the high sweet notes of the Sarangi cut through the drums , clean ,pure - stark - and the percussion dropped to a whisper. The entire audience was still and intent as the masters weaved their work , some sitting with their eyes closed as they drifted off into the ether, others mesmerised by the musicians and many just lying flat on their backs as they looked up at the Southern Cross above their heads. I have seen many late night sessions by Indian musicians at Womadelaide, but this was definitely one of the best ever . After 30 or so mniutes the first improvisation came to a close and then the great Ustad Sultan Khan sang a Rhajistani folk song , which was magical, this ended with a percussive section where the audience took part , calling along and repeating the phrases given to us by the drummers, great fun ! .Overall the set went on for 80 odd minutes and was never less than electrifying , even though at times it was very simple.

   When this set finished it was way past one AM, most of the diehards were still there and the applause was loud and long . I think it was this year that we came across a possum on the way back to the car which very nearly walked across my foot, I think we were so high from the music that it didn't register that we were there, we must have been spectral as far as it was concerned ......

Saturday.
    Well, Friday was going to be hard to beat, it usually is the best of the days at Womadelaide as its the most concentrated session and everyone is fresh and its all over in one big hit, whereas Saturday and Sunday are more protracted, and the music is diffused somewhat. Also, I like the darkness as the whole park becomes otherworldly ,especially when one has La Compagnie Carabosse to light up the arena ! More on these paragons of La Belle France later .

    One thing though, usually Saturday introduces us to some new musical chums we have never heard before and 2004 was no exception. Our horizons were broadened by the likes of Hamid Baroudi , Tinariwen , Gilberto Gill , The Cat Empire, Leo and Abdullah Ibrahim. This Womadelaide offered a veritable feast of good acts and whats more we had a chance to see almost all of them twice !

    No memories of anything before Eliza Carthy's workshop session at the Zoo stage . Eliza gave us a very different set of tunes ( repeating only Turpin Hero and the Willow Tree from Friday nights set )and she happily answered questions about her music and folk music in general. She rejected authenticity, reasoning that the music would loose its energy and simply be a museum piece if that was the case , She played one of her own songs , called try before you buy, which was a warning to young men to get to know her before declaring their undying love, because , as she states ' I drink a lot ..............There were also a few up tempo numbers , the best being "the Drunken maidens" who drank away their maidenheads in the pub . We all had a great time and there was still one more show to look forward to in the early evening .

    Dunno what I did for the next two hours , I may have had a listen to Kila to see if they had improved with age, I quite liked them at Womadlaide 1999 but they are no match for Shooglenifty or the Afro Celts, vague memroeis of watching them for a while and not changing my opinion . I must have caught something else , eaten some grub or had a good wander round the site, but the next show that is stored in the memory banks is the stage two appearance of Hamid Baroudi, the Algerian musician who was one of the finds of the weekend, a very lively performer, who creates North African music that is much jazzier and funkier than Rachid Taha, who was the Algerian star at Womadelaide 2003 . Hamid is beloved of the dance scene and many of his songs have been remixed for the dance floor - with mixed results in my opinion . A guitar player, he blew our collective socks off with a energetic , slick and at times emotional set . He gave us a version of his best known song " Caravan To Baghdad" which he ended with a plea for " no more war, no more violence, no more fundamentalism" . Other ighlights in this supercharged set was a heartfelt song dedicated to his grandmother who he used to live with . She had predicted he would be a success, so when he cut his first record, the song " Fatima ' was named after her. There was a buzz after this set and we and many others decided he was well worth a second visit as part of Sundays program.

    We then had to make a difficult choice, see Zakir Hussain's workshop or catch Eliza Carthy's last show, Eliza won as she's cuter, but it was a hard call. This set was a mix of the two other shows , three different songs, Worcester City, Just As The Tide Was Flowing and Growing (The Trees They Do Grow High), . Another exquisite set. Hard to say goodbye to Eliza, who is great fun , and she hasn't returned since, so it was worth seeing her as as many times as possible while she was in Adelaide.

     I think I popped over the see Xavier Rudd and wasn't particularly impressed on this occasion ( although he has improved with age ) and I probably lost Ianto ( as usual ) for the rest of the night. As the festival crowds have increased it seems harder to find people , especially at the bigger stages and Ianto has a knack of being invisible when he wants to be . Anyway I did see the wonderful Tinariwen, a loose collective of nomadic tribesmen from Mali, who wear great line in robes and who have created a bloody marvellous mix of rock music ( some of it quite Bo Diddley like ) and their traditional chants and rhythms . Very mesmeric and infectious , had a great time swaying in time to their strange beats. Decided a repeat performance was in order.

    I am pretty sure I went along to see Abdullah Ibrahim next, but have no recollection of doing so . Its entirely likely that I was sidetracked by the magnificent fire installations of La Compagnie Carabosse - which dominated the area in front of stage one and up the hill towards stage three.This was their first appearance at the festival and they have been asked back in 2005 and 2008- they are becoming some thing of an institution and no one is complaining , as they are spectacular to say the least. The firepots fill the park with a mystic light and they are probably the most successful installation to be at the festival, matched only by the projected faces that are very cool, but on a much smaller scale .

   I was certainly in time to catch the only show by Gilberto Gill, the Brazilian minister of culture and a formidable musical performer in his own right . A few people criticised Gill for playing some Bob Marley numbers, well as far as I am concerned the more the merrier, Bob's not around to play them anymore and if people like Gill and Pato Banton play the songs really well its carrying the torch for Bob and his message, so more power to their collective elbows.This was a great set full of strong music that uplifted the heart , its was a pity it was his only set of the weekend.

   Sultan Khan was next on stage two and we once again let the mood of this timeless music take us away into the stratosphere as his ethereal vocals and superb violin playing transported several thousand souls for an hour or more. Tired but happy we staggered back to the car and some rest before we were due back at midday yet again, Womadelaide junkies ? You bet !

Sunday.

    Featured the best weather of the weekend, mild and sunny , with not a hint of rain. In fact , it was so nice ,when Felix of the Cat Empire kicked things off on stage one at around two pm, he was moved to say "we're the Cat Empire ,what a bloody nice day " ! A large crowd had gathered to see the Cat's as they had gone down really well on Friday, we'd missed them as they had played at the same time as Eliza. Ianto promptly decided he didn't like their vocalists and buggered off somewhere but I was really taken by their funky and versatile instrumentation and vocals. They have the ability to engage the audience almost immediately, and their first number ' The Sun' had people up and dancing within minutes and the first solo by their keyboard player received a big cheer, so when Harry Angus the trumpet player stepped up to deliver a very strong and almost raucous solo, we knew that this was going to be one of the best sets of the weekend. As the lyrics of their second number "How To Explain" stare "music is the language of us all " and the Cats certainly proved this in spades. The band have gone on to be a major band over here and this set certainly helped to cement their reputation as a great live band , running through numbers from their first album, they were given a rapturous reception .

    The next act on stage two, Abdullah Ibrahim, was completely different to that of the Cat empire, where the Cats were in the main energetic and up tempo, the erstwhile " Dollar Brand ' was restrained and meditative. No call and response, no hand claps, yet this set was equally enjoyable. This was one long song, no vocals, no breaks , it flowed along , an amalgam of melodies, improvisations and revisitations to the original theme, which would then disappear for another ten minutes or so . The jazz three piece of piano , bass and drums produced a more than memorable set, when they finally finished after 50 minutes the applause was long and loud , going on for four or five minutes . A majestic set .

 

Hamid sunday, " that is the power of world music , you don't have to understand any language, but your heart speaks for you "

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