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7-9th March 2003 .Botanic Park. Adelaide.

My Womad -a subjective review


   Friday night is nearly always my favourite time at Womad.The park is fresh and clean , the crowds have the maximum energy level as they haven’t been worn down by six or more hours of sitting in the sun and consuming too much of everything.The number of hard core weekenders is probably at its highest, those die hard's who don’t want to miss a single minute and who have been attending for years. So everyone is anticipating a great weekend , the high is palpable and also the array of performers is usually the best on offer . This was certainly the case in 2003 as there was non stop top quality music from 6:40 onwards till the end of the night sometime near 1:00 am , in fact, it was a rush to get from one stage to another and it was necessary to miss a good act in order to fit in refueling with food and drink .

   I have no particular recollection of seeing the opening acts on Friday, we probably attended the Kaurna opening ceremony and then shot off to get a good position for one of our favourite bands ever , Shooglenifty, over at stage two. They were on great form and young Angus , their heavily bearded violinist, was full of his usual pithy humour, he mentioned what a lovely setting the park was and warned us not to sit down on any hippies near us ! This was one of the best of many sets I have seen this band play and the audience loved them. Their virtuoso like Tasmanian mandolin player gave a new feel to their sound , punctuating the top end and weaving deftly in and out of the violin and banjo lines. The stage announcements were few, as the band were only allotted 60 minutes for their set.We were asked to count in "The Radical Road " by saying" one " after Angus said " two three four" and did so loudly . He also commented on the positive affects of events like Womad with "its better than bombing the shit out of each other " which received cheers of approval.

   Angus announced that they were selling a CD at the festival that was only available in Australia so at the end of the set we just HAD to shoot over to buy copies, thus missing the beginning the esteemed Rizwan Muazzam Qawwali with Temple of Sound’s set . A partnership made in heaven, the Qawwalli singers have energy enough for a dozen bands, they delivered their full on vocal offerings at blistering intensity and speed and the funky sometimes psychedelic backing from Temple of Sound perfectly complimented their impassioned odes to the prophet .

   But there's no peace for the wicked so its off to stage three to catch ( and miss ) the start of Cara Dillon's set, which proved to be astronomically good. No one could guess that such a waif like figure could contain so much talent ! My companion instantly fell in love and attended all her shows the entire weekend, I had to agree she was pretty fetching myself. Her great jazzy band, featuring superb piano and bass , gave a new spin on traditional Celtic music. Cara apologised for the dismal content of her songs, saying she was a pretty happy person herself but all her songs were about jilted lovers and people dying ! She also remarked on how nice the park was and how lucky we are to have such a nice site for a festival and of course, we all agreed!

   No sooner had the final strains of Cara Dillon's set finished than we were off to see Los De Abajo at stage one, I wasn't smitten too much by them although they were great musicians, so I checked out Buddha's Bowl for a well deserved chai and a bite to eat and after wandering around the village for a while, we both chilled out in front of stage two to await the mandatory dose of sub continental delight, this time courtesy of one of the greats. Amjad Ali Khan, who was accompanied by his sons. The master Sarod player dedicated his concert to the " Peace of The World " and given the shit that old GW and friends were about to plunge us into, I suppose this was more than apt .

   Once again we lay back whilst these superb Indian masters improvised divine rivers of sound that transported us into another universe, by the time we returned from astral travelling it was way past the witching hour and time for us to toddle off to Ianto’s conveniently situated abode, to catch a bit of shuteye so we would be primed for the next days fun and games.


   A fternoon, was , from my viewpoint , much less action packed , and a bit less possible to visualise at this remove ( 2008 ). I find that the afternoon sessions are less memorable, partly because its usually bloody hot, so part of ones energy is taken up trying to keep cool, but also because this is when the organisers give space to the lesser known acts and I usually get tanked up and either wander round or socialise , so the memory loss is understandable to a certain extent . I think I saw Andy White on stage two, as I definitely saw him once during the weekend and he was pretty good, We also would have had a look at Drum Drum as well, but the first definite show was Cara Dillon at 2:40 on stage one and she more or less reprised her show from the following day and was just about perfection.

   The Waifs were next and this was my introduction to this charming Western Australian band . The Waifs are NICE and also can be quite moving in their own way, when their songs tell tales of their family , their travels on the road or deal with universal themes- such as death . Bobby Z likes them so they have to be good :-). They swiftly got the crowd swaying to their infectious songs and had won many new converts after their well received show from Friday night, when they clashed with Shooglenifty AND La Volee d'Castors -( not the most inspired of scheduling there guys ) .Anyway, from the opening number "Fisherman's Daughter "the Waifs had the audience in the palm of their collective hand, just the sort of music we wanted for a lazy Saturday afternoon ..... they finally pulled out the stops with the final number of their set when we were galvanised by the storming harmonica that introduces the more upbeat number ," Crazy Train" which finally got the audience really shaking butt !

   Stage One was graced by Amjad Ali Khan and Matthew Barley and this proved to be a particularly rich partnership as the mutual geniuses bounced ideas off each other with gusto. We moved over to one of my favourite stages-stage three -for the first time on Saturday to witness Bob Brozman, king of the armadillo shell guitar , mix it up with Takashi Hirayasu. This was a fascinating coming together of two very different musical genres, but it worked . The sparse sound of Hirayasu complimented the denser tone of Brozman to create a music that was moving and intense and they departed the stage to warm applause.

   No memory of any other acts until 7pm when I witnessed the most upbeat act of the weekend -La Volee d'Castors, from Quebec. Stage two reverberated to the sound of dancing and impassioned clapping from the audience as the members of the band flung themselves into their set , this was probably the first time during the weekend that audience and band became one entity- bouncing the music into a higher plane . Their accordionist plays a stomp board and almost from the start of the set we were clapping along to the infectious and energetic sound of this great band. Violin , congas , guitar and and accordion , propelled along like an express train by pounding bass lines, rapidly lifted the audience off their collective feet into dancing and very creative clapping mode. Wonderful stuff !

   Cheikh Lo followed on the main stage and he was the best of the rather sparse lineup of African acts of the weekend. No disappointment there though, sporting huge dreads,which hang like a furry curtain round his elongated seamed face- Lo is great and although he hasn't got the expansive personality of a Baaba Mall or Femi Kuti, he is a dynamic performer in his own right, proving a very able sticksman as well as a fine vocalist . This was very uplifting percussive music that once again had the crowd really pulsing and asking for more at the end of his set.

   Must have taken a break next as I did not see either the ADT, Felpeyu or Papa Kwesi who were the next slot of acts , instead I got down the front to reserve a position for the much anticipated Australian debut of Algerian rocker Rachid Taha. His entry wasn't terribly auspicious, as he appeared to be off his face on something or other, but although he did look like he needed to grab onto the mic stand on occasion to stop him collapsing , this did not affect his delivery and he tore into a great set comprising of most of the songs on his 2001 live album. Seventy minutes later and drained after such an enervating set and non stop dancing , it was time to move to stage two to chill out to the final relaxing set from the sub continentals , delivered by Pakistani ensemble Rizwan Muazzam Qawwali.

    Relaxed- HA ! I hadn't witnessed such impassioned singing and drumming since seeing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at the festival in 1995. Since then, Nusrat had passed on, but he had passed the torch to his nephews Rizwan and Muazzam Ali Khan and they blew us all away with their brilliant set. This music is so powerful, it builds to huge climaxes that just keep on intensifying and just when one thinks that they cannot get any higher, the group once again leaps forward into another and another , the singers swapping choruses and each attempting to push the force into another level altogether , the whole pushed along by a barrage of drumming from heaven , clapping from the singers and relentless harmonium .

   Qawwali is Sufi music that is in praise of god and it sounds like it . This sort of music just has to move one spiritually . We'd been exposed to two very different forms of Muslim music in the space of three hours and blown away by both. Perhaps the organisers were trying to make a statement , given the heavily anti muslim vibe we were getting at the time , this was timely.

   The set finished with the old favourite that we knew from Nusrat's appearances at the early Womadlaide's- "Must Must ", a perfect way to finish a wonderful day !


   Took a while to build, there wasn't a lot to shout about apart from Bob Brozman's early set on stage two at 12:pm . The time between Cheikh Lo's at 4:20 was spent moving around looking for something really meaty to listen to. The intervening bands failed to impress sufficiently for me to remember their sets as anything other than a blur. After Cheikh, who was excellent , Badenya Les Fréres Coulibaly were pretty enjoyable on stage two. One pleasant surprise was that I finally GOT Ernest Ranglin . I had not been impressed by his shows in 1999, but this time I warmed to him sufficiently to watch his entire set , although I fled a few minutes early to catch the last set by Rachid Taha and co .

   For his final show at Womadelaide 2003 on stage two Sunday evening , Rachid once again started off quietly with his percussionist seated at the rear of stage playing a flute, then, as the final evocative notes of the flautist died away the ROCK began and it was totally infectious, and within seconds most of the crowd was dancing .Propelled along by a barrage of nimble middle eastern percussion , the bottom was held down by the incredibly dark and imposing shaven headed bass player from Benin .The songs, heavily riffed by the grinning shaggy haired guitarist , were punctuated by deft oud playing from the Corsican of the group . The songs Ya Rayah and Nokta were held together by great swathes of keyboards and power riffs , Ida in particular is one of the best songs I have heard in this genre , its riff sticks in your head for days after playing. The hard driving Hadina was a highlight , and this time we were treated to a rare Womadelaide encore in the form of "Barra Barra". Rachid really was a highlight of this festival, probably my favourite live act of the year.

Memory fails for the next time slot, I imagine I might have seen Los De Abajo on stage one, but I cannot recall them at all.

   I can however , clearly recall the Temple Of Sound show , this was a mixed blessing, I loved the instrumentation and songs, but I was less than impressed by their female singer who was often out of tune , which spoilt the entire set to some extent , Very cool looking band , ska hats and shades on the guys and a fetching skin tight vinyl top for the lady on vocals, but a flawed set nevertheless- about 80% success rate overall.

   The final set for the night was the first of the "cultural mix" concerts , this time round called " The Grand Finale " which mutated into the All Star Jam in 2004 - by its very nature (about 40 musos from different genres creating a concert from scratch in less than 48 hours whilst busy performing as well) this show was not completely successful. In retrospect, the set was probably placed in the wrong slot as it failed to cook up the kind of explosion of energy that a top quality headliner would have done . As it was ,it was fun, and at times moving , especially when Andy White read his poem for peace and we observed a minutes silence (the whole crowd went quiet apart from one drongo yelling "rock and roll" in the middle, but otherwise , that was the only blemish ).

    Highlights in addition to those already mentioned were Lowrider, which was pretty funky , I felt pretty sorry for Messr's Brozman and Barley , who looked pretty lost at times trying to direct over 20 musicians as the jam session grew and grew . Members of Cheikh Lo's band were added to the drumming section , which became somewhat unwieldy after about 10 minutes, but then rescued itself and achieved respectable heights . Its interesting to note that from this session came a collaboration between the Temple of Sound front men Neil Sparkes ,Count Dubulah and Los De Abajo. The brass from Los De Abajo really propelled the Lowrider Jam along and pulled it out of the mire a few times.

   We nearly always watch the final set at Womadelaide as it is a superb way to chill out after all the noise and clutter of the weekend and the organisers have about a 99% success rate in choosing suitable acts to do the deed (Gyoto monks, Huun Huur Tu,etc ) , but this year we didn't , neither of the final acts Mei Han and Randy Raine-Reusch or Khalil Gudaz appealed so it was off home and to try and drag ourselves into work the following day ( always a hassle until they made Monday a public holiday in 2006, that REALLY was a nice treat .......

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