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Adelaide Botanic Park, Fri 10 Mar.
As someone wrote on Facebook, it was a perfect evening to celebrate WOMADelaide’s 25th anniversary. Botanic Park was bathed in a soft, golden light. Stage 1 has another new name – it’s now the Foundation Stage. Seems like the contempt expressed by punters last year about naming stages with commercial brands has been heeded.
Proceedings began, as they always do, with a welcome to country from a local Kaurna dance group. Our indigenous hosts informed us that Aboriginal people are also celebrating a milestone this year – it is 50 years since they were recognised as human beings (In the 1967 referendum Australians agreed that Aboriginal people should be recognised by the constitution as citizens of their own land)!
The Warsaw Village Band kick started the music with a rousing set that included duelling violins, two percussionists and some tight but at times abrasive harmony vocals. It didn’t take them long to stray into the ubiquitous global funk. My favourite was a polka tune.
For me Gawurra was up next. The program notes added just a little pressure on the guy by comparing him to Gurrumul. They are both from Arnhem Land and sing in language. And they do have a lot in common. But I think it’s fair to say that Gawurra’s music is a little more accessible than Gurrumul’s. Very pleasant soft rock tunes flowed easily. Mention of the influence of Jesus on his music was where he and I parted company. But still a lively and enjoyable set.
WOMADelaide always features a group playing Celtic music and this year it is a Canadian group called The East Pointers. Or more specifically, they’re from Prince Edward Island. They were great. They dished up an energetic set of jigs and reels featuring music from Ireland, Scotland and local (to them) Canadian composers. It is unusual for Celtic music to feature banjo but it was the tenor banjo playing that was the highlight of this set for me. Unbelievably fast and melodic playing. And the crowd were up and dancing.
There’s been quite a bit of African acapella music around Adelaide of late. African Entsha and the Soweto Gospel Choir have both been on the bill at the Fringe. WOMADelaide’s contribution is The Soil from South Africa. Two men and a woman make up The Soil. The moon was rising over the zoo stage as they began and rather than relying on volume or quantity of sound their acapella format is more dependent on tight harmony arrangements and infectious rhythm. And again the people danced. It must be very satisfying for an acapella group, using no instruments, to get people up and dancing.
I wandered down to stage 3 and found the highlight of the night. Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro are an Argentinian tango ensemble. Three violinists, a piano player, cello, and three demonic accordion players rocked and swayed to a wicked and dramatic set of emotion filled tango. Deep and sexy female vocals added superb tension, and every scene was awash in smoke and stunning lighting effects. It was as powerful visually as it was to listen to. Just fantastic. I haven’t seen physical musicianship like this since the days of Split Enz. Every move by every player was choreographed to superb effect. There’s clearly a connection between this music and Portuguese Fado, and both musical traditions reveal that there is more to the Latin spirit than enjoyment and laid back Manyana-like attitudes.
For sheer joy I’m really glad I took the time to check out The Manganiyar Classroom. Hailing from India, this group of young boys aged 8-16 take to the daunting task of singing songs from the musical traditions of Rajasthan. Just across the border is Pakistan and it is quite obvious that this style of music from Rajasthan has connections with the Sufi music of the legendary Pakistani Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It has many of the same vocal inflections, and the spirited physical expression of the music with outstretched arms and much interplay between the lead singer (their teacher) and the chorus (the children). It was very impressive to see these children sing out with gusto, and they also simply sounded wonderful.
My musical soul felt totally nourished at this point and I headed towards the exit, only to be side-tracked by an enchanting park of fire lights by Cie Carabossa(France). Hundreds of small clay pots each with their own fire arranged in a variety of shapes across several hundred metres of the park. Just the ideal dose of fantasy to send you home happy. There is a serious side though – the exhibition is called Exodus Of Forgotten Peoples and is there to remind us all that peoples have the right to freedom of moment in and out of their country
Whatever one thinks of the changes to WOMADelaide over the years, some things don’t change. For 25 years it has created an environment of creativity and other-worldly fantasy. WOMADelaide 2017 is off to a brilliant start.
WOMADelaide continues at Adelaide Botanic Park, at various times, until Mon 13 Mar.
Image courtesy of Michael Coghlan