Botanic Park/Tainmundilla, Adelaide, Sat 10 Mar.
Daytimes at WOMADelaide are difficult when it’s very hot. Most of the spaces in front of the stages are empty and the crowds try and squeeze into the available shade down the back or at the sides. Unless you want to cook in the hot sun, you end up far away from the performers, a little bit removed consequently, and struggling to keep cool with frequent visits to the ‘hydration stations’.
Nevertheless the show goes on. First up for me was Rajab Suleiman and Kithara from Zanzibar on Stage 2. Zanzibar is a group of islands off the coast of Tanzania. A very cruisy set of traditional songs featured the qanun (zither), several hand drums, accordion, flute and guitar, and the heartfelt vocals of Saada Nassor. In somewhat similar vocal terrain was the music of Ghada Shbeir from Lebanon. The passion and soul of Shbeir’s voice reached for your soul in that wonderful way that Middle Eastern singers have of pitching and sliding notes that is so foreign and yet so beguiling to the Western ear.
At the same time Australia’s San Lazaro were delivering surprisingly placid, gently swaying Latin rhythms, and despite the heat hundreds of couples were up and dancing in the hot afternoon sun. All credit to them.
Tim Flannery was the special guest at the first of The Planet Talks event for the day. He was given a very warm reception but then delivered a predictably sober message about climate change. Hope he had held previously that humanity might do something significant to combat this issue was now on hold he said. He added that South Australia is in many respects leading the world in preparing for a future based around alternative energies.
Ethnically Lura hails from Cape Verde (off the west coast of Africa) but she was raised in Portugal. I was expecting a trace of the brooding fado music that is Portugal’s trademark but these songs were much more upbeat, ranging from jazz to almost pop. She’s a great singer and she looked fantastic in a flowing white dress.
Several WOMAD artists do a workshop as well as a straight performance over the weekend. The format of workshops is very flexible and is very hard to get right, and unfortunately the Eva Quartet from Bulgaria got it wrong. After a brilliant opening song to show us how good they are, they then spent the next half hour trying to teach the audience quite a complex Bulgarian folk tune. They got there in the end but many left during this process. Like me, they probably would have preferred to hear more of their wonderful singing. But I heard enough to get a sense of a pan-European musical heritage common to a lot of early European music.
Bedouine was born in Syria, was raised in Saudi Arabia, and is now a resident of the US. Her pedigree is certainly right for a WOMAD performance, but her pleasant brand of folk music is something you could hear around any Australian city most nights of the week. Not much evidence of her Middle Eastern heritage in her songs, though she sing one song in Armenian. It was lovely to listen to as the sun finally started to sink below the trees on the Western side of Botanic Park.
The host at the Moreton Bay stage introduced Constantinople and Ablaye Cissoko with ‘this is what WOMADelaide is all about.” A group comprising musicians from Canada, Senegal, and Iran then delivered an exquisite set of stringed themed songs from their respective lands. Cissoke on kora was the dominant sound, and – when the sound engineer finally sorted out the sound problems – blended in perfect harmony with the Iranian setar and the viola da gamba, a large stringed instrument that looks like a cello.
My Bubba is a Scandinavian duo from Iceland/Sweden. They began with a song unaccompanied by nothing more than hand slapping on legs arms and even face. This was a set of very traditional songs, sweet sounding with pure harmonies. (I tried not to think about Nordic Noir programs!)
Now, sadly, a brickbat for the hardworking WOMAD organisers. For 20 plus years the lack of sound engineering problems was often remarked upon by people who attended regularly. No matter if it was one performer or 50 on stage the sound was always perfect. It is still a magnificent event/experience, but in the last few years something has changed with the sound engineering at all stages. There were frustrating sound issues at four events in a row today. Frustrating for both performers and audience. The sound quality at WOMADelaide used to be a benchmark against which you could compare the sound you heard at other concerts. Sadly that is no longer the case. Something is wrong here and WOMAD needs to lift its game in this regard.
WOMADelaide continues at Botanic Park/Tainmundilla, Adelaide at various times, until Mon 12 Mar.
Book at 1300 496 623 or womadelaide.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Image courtesy of Michael Coghlan