WOMAD 2013 … or to give its full title ‘World of Music, Arts and Dance’ is an international arts festival.
The central aim of WOMAD is to celebrate the world's many forms of music, arts and dance. Now in its 21st year, having been started by Peter Gabriel, musician and artist, and Mark Kidel, a music documentary maker, the UK festival is held in Charlton Park, Wiltshire. The main arena holds four stages, with a further four in the Arboretum – including the BBC Radio 3 stage.
An old fashioned steam fair, global market, children's area, and wellbeing section are also found on the WOMAD UK festival site. As you would expect there is a diverse selection of food from all over the world, including Italian, Australian, Indian, Philippine, Greek, Mexican, French, Caribbean, Thai, and the usual burgers – although they are made from top quality organic beef.
In the market area there are many stalls selling New Age jewellery, scarfs and bracelets, flower garlands, Saharan arts, Eco gadgets, reed baskets and mats. Of course, flower power shirts and dresses are also available.
The World of Wellbeing is set in a beautiful and tranquil section of the site shaded by the trees in the Arboretum. There are various massage tents and variety of soothing therapies, to help you relax and recover from all of the dancing – or you can simply enjoy some tea and cakes away from the busy arena.
Carminho, a young Portuguese singer who is following in the Fado tradition of music, played in the Siam Tent, supported by the usual acoustic backing of classical guitar, acoustic bass guitar and a traditional Portuguese guitar. Like many of the performers at the festival she does not sing in English, however her clear and crisp voice swoops and soars with optimism conveying the emotion in her songs. After the first, very emotional, song she paused and spoke in careful English saying that ‘this (festival) was a spectacular moment in the life of everybody who loves music’.
While exploring the ‘market’ area in the centre of the main arena it was hard to miss the irresistible African beat of Dizu Plaatjies and the Ibuyambo Ensemble. Their influence had the crowd bouncing and dancing. Between the songs there was a tribal hunting dance which finished with a great round of applause.
Yesking Live, originally formed with Mark Rae and Rhys Adams, play a blend of hip hop, dancehall, ragga and skank–ska. The band is backed by lead and bass guitar, trumpet, saxophone, drums and keyboards (played by Rhys Adams). Their set opened with guest vocalist Mystro for the first two songs – ‘Run Boy Run’, ‘Friends Like Mine’, bring his hip hop flavour to the group.
With Mel Uye-Parker and Ríoghnach Connolly taking over the vocals the mood shifts to a more mellow tone with ‘Just Like Me’, ‘Devil Inside’, ‘Overproof’ – the group’s first single, ‘Hardground’, ‘Chicken Chops’, ‘Rainbow Country’ - a Bob Marley song, was sung by the bass player Kodjovi Kush. The set finished with ‘Circles’, and ‘Secret King’ whereMystro re-joins the group on stage, swelling their number to 9.
Fimber Bravo is a famous steel drum artist. He has toured with Blur, worked with Electro-pop band Hot Chips and was a pivotal member of the 20th Century Steel Band whose mid-seventies hit ‘Heaven And Hell Is On Earth’ has been sampled by many of the hip-hop elite – even appearing on Jennifer Lopez’s hit ‘Jenny From the Block’. His music breaks the stereotype of what you would normally expect from a Jamaican steel band, with support from Electronic keyboard, electric guitar, rock drum kit and the new addition of an African Kora.
The set was very lively, with Fimber playing the steel drum with amazing speed and passion – the whole audience responding to the beat from the very strident drummer and guitarist. Fimber, paused for breath, saying although it was his first time at WOMAD he was enjoying it, as the feel of the festival was good.
Babylon Circus, are a SKA and reggae group who mix punk, rock, swing and jazz influences into their sound. This is their second time at WOMAD - they remember how good it was last time and said they planned on helping everyone enjoy this festival as much as they did on their last visit. This flamboyant French group is headed by two singers, a brass section with a trombone, trumpet and a saxophone, keyboard, drums, bass and lead guitar. Their energy and enthusiasm flowed from the stage and into the audience in the tent and dancing spread out into the arena.
WOMAD is truly a multi-national musical experience and if you are open to new forms of music and appreciate the passion and energy of talented performers, whatever the language, this is the festival for you. It is a vast and well organised festival, but the people and the ethos of it, make you feel like you’ve been invited to an intimate gathering of people who just want to share their music.