Botanic Park/Tainmundilla, Adelaide, Fri 9 Mar.
WOMADelaide 2018 got off to a magical start. Botanic Park looked wonderful but it must be said was already looking pretty dry and dusty before the hordes arrived. They filed in as the sun went down. Old hands noticed a few changes. Charging your phone was no longer free Uniti, who do this year provide free wifi across the site, have cornered the market on this service – previously offered by UniSA for free, the bars have gone cashless and you can load $$$ on your wristband, and there’s a new stage – specifically for Cie Bivouac from France.
I decided to beat the rush and get a look at Arboria – this year’s offering from the Architects of Air. As with Exxopolis from 2015, you wander into a strange world of shapes and colour that is both wondrous and disconcerting. It plays with your senses as you explore aimless tunnels that could be the insides of some benevolent monster’s digestive system. But don’t let that put you off!
Back on familiar ground I headed down to the area that has become something of its own little sub-festival – the area near the Frome Rd entrance around the Novatech stage. First up there was world renowned oud player from Iraq, Rahim AlHaj. As part of a trio he dubbed the Axis of Evil (members hail from Iraq, Iran and Palestine) Rahim pointedly extolled the virtues of Australia as a multicultural society, and ironically preached a message of peace. I have always love the ancient sounds of the oud, and together with the Iranian santour (a member of the hammer dulcimer family) they danced out a series of upbeat, melodic instrumentals that were artfully complemented by impressive hand percussion.
Sometimes the best music is hard to neatly categorise and the quirky Hat Fitz and Cara were just that. She from Ireland, and he from Australia, played original tunes that variously sounded like Louisiana swamp or Cajun, blues, gospel or just plain country. So mostly American in style, but she is unmistakably Irish and is a gorgeous sight with a huge welcoming smile as she sings from behind her drum kit. Great songs and great energy.
I caught a glimpse of one of the non-music events at the new Bivouac Stage – Erica’s Dream by Cie Bivouac. It involves dance, acrobatics and swings, often high above the stage, and looked naïve and beautiful.
I wandered back towards the Novatech Stage. I was curious to hear someone who puts “true focus on ‘the voice’ and (is) nothing short of stunning.” I don’t know why someone should call themselves Nai Palm, or should even be allowed to, but I did enjoy the stripped back nature of her arrangements. One electric guitar played more like an acoustic instrument and a trio of subtle unobtrusive back-up singers. Also music hard to place – totally original and not revealing any of the recognisable structures that one can hook on to, but it’s a pleasant experience. An acquired taste I suspect and could become quite entrancing once you became familiar with her mood and style.
Then back to the area around the Foundation Stage (the old stage one) for the show everyone was talking about – another French aerial spectacular – Gratte Ciel’s “Place des Anges (Place of Angles). The show covers a vast area and it’s difficult to find a spot where you can see it all, but that in a way adds to the mystique as you see shapes moving far away through and above the trees before they come close to you. White feathered creatures zip, slide, and dance their way across illuminated high wires linked between huge cranes while releasing feathers that twinkle in the light as they flutter across the park. It looks enchanting.
But for those who like Indian devotional music there was more enchantment to come – courtesy of The Manganiyar Seduction. The Manganiyar Classroom was part of WOMADelaide 2017, and its director, Royston Abel returns with this remarkable work featuring 40 singers and musicians – each in their own compartment that lights up as they play their parts. It’s a stunning spectacle and a joyous celebration of music and life – it was one of those idyllic WOMADelaide moments under a perfect autumn sky with a gentle breeze blowing where you once again get that feeling of profound peace.
WOMADelaide continues at Botanic Park/Tainmundilla, Adelaide, at various times, until Mon 12 Mar.
Book at womadelaide.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Image courtesy of Jenna Bonavita