[WORLD MUSIC ~ INT]
Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla, Mon 11 Mar.
Is WOMADelaide one of the best produced festivals in Australia? Walking into the beautiful grounds on a perfect mild, breezy Autumn Monday, it definitely feels like it might be. It’s clean, pleasant, and vibrant, even on the morning of the fourth day. There’s a group of people in front of the Novatech Stage doing yoga under the soaring pine trees while Adelaide’s hundreds of grey-face flying foxes chitter in the branches above.
I’m here for the first time, but I grew up around ConFest, the Laura Folk Festival, Nimbin, and a bunch of hippy communes and logging protests. Adelaide usually feels about as far away from that as you can get, but walking through WOMADelaide under the spreading trees, the air smelling of chai and falafel, surrounded by people in ikat prints and sarongs, with the sounds of artists like the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe, it feels like I could just about be back there. The Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe, made up of the indigenous Paiwan people of Taiwan, are like music out of time, both viscerally present and echoing from some deep and almost untouchable past.
After, I wander over to Stage 3 to check out the Isango Ensemble performing their trademark mix of Anglo and South African traditional music, like their very Xhosa cover of Danny Boy, haunting and moving and surprisingly lively all at the same time. Then, I make a stop to watch the Sharon Shannon Band, an incredible display of rough, political Irish folk. This hour’s kind of a whirlwind for me though, so I’m quickly on the move again – this time to see Mambali on the other side of the creek. Mambali, who hail from the Gulf of Carpentaria, are a definite highlight, playing a kind of music I can only describe as Aboriginal ska – take ska music, replace the horns with a didgeridoo, and write the songs in indigenous language (either Wubuy or Kriol, I’m not sure). It’s fun and frenetic, and the audience clearly loves it, going right to the same excitable, bouncy rock-show place as the band is.
Later, it’s time to go watch the destruction of Olivier Grosstete’s art installation Ephemeral Cities, a large minaret made out of recycled cardboard boxes. It had apparently been constructed with the assistance of festival-goers over the course of the weekend, and I get to sit and watch as the guy ropes are loosened and the structure, slowly and then all at once, is tipped over, before it’s overrun by children hell bent on wrecking it. After, I see a kid, maybe 12 years old, lugging a cardboard box almost as big as he is across the festival grounds like a hunting trophy.
Sitting down the watch Silk Road Ensemble, I can hear faint drumbeats in the distance and see the clouds of coloured smoke rising up from the Colour of Time parade, an event similar to the Indian festival Holi where handfuls of coloured dust are tossed into the air. The stragglers from the parade look like photographs that have been clumsily hand-tinted, and as the sun sets WOMADelaide takes on an air of the unreal.
When it’s fully dark, with the festival lights and the bats and the sliver of new moon, listening to the rollicking music and banter of Bavaria’s LaBrassBanda in the cool night air, I look around, surrounded by one of the most pleasant and chill festival crowds I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s hard not to think, just this once: thank god for Peter Gabriel. After all, what would Adelaide be without WOMADelaide? Then I settle in and wait to see close out the night with The Original Gypsies.
Image courtesy of Ruby Niemann