After setting up my tent in the Womad campsite, I followed the soulful sounds hailing from the arena area and found Charles Bradley in full swing on the mainstage, earlier than expected at 5pm. It was refreshing to witness a performance completely stripped back with Bradley’s rich and evocative voice taking centre stage. New Orleans’ Hot 8 Brass Band soon followed and added some much needed sass to proceedings, as their blend of hip-hop with Louisiana jazz standards drew one of the biggest and most appreciate crowds of the weekends.
Yet despite the brilliance of Hot 8 and Bradley, the joy of Womad is found stumbling upon new music which you will likely hear again. As one passer-by told me in the queue, ‘Since it began I’ve come to Womad every year and I always come back with a host of new musical discoveries!’. He wasn’t wrong, as I soon discovered Desert Slide, a six-piece from Rajathan, India. Led by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a former collaborator of Ry Cooder, their imaginative and gentle extended ragas and looping rhythms had the audience in a hushed, transfixed state. A perfect way to end a brilliant first day at Womad.
After enjoying a delicious dosa from one of the festivals vast array of food stalls, Saturday started off with Toumani Diabate’s latest collaboration with Juan & Josemi Carmona & Javier Colina. Although I expected big things from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic (whose energy was off the scales), it was Anoushka Shankar’s performance that stole the show for me. Accompanied by a Shenaii (an Indian oboe), double bass and powerful percussion, the Indian stirred the audience with her emotive sitar, displaying a deft dexterity and musical ambition even her father, the legendary Ravi Shankar would be proud of.
This year at the festival Womad also felt significant for introducing far more electronic acts from the legends like Francois K to British Newcomers Auntie Flo. Yet, it was a rare appearance from France’s Black Disco Devil Club which was grabbed my attention. Hiding behind his synth, keyboard and a laptop, his dark and flamboyant take on synthesized disco had the audience pulling some inspired shapes. It is no wonder he is one of Aphex Twin’s favourite artists.
To see an electronic music pioneer, one of the world’s most famous sitarist and Dr Funk himself George Cinton in a single festival sums up the Womad experience. Unlike most festivals, it is marked by a willingness to take risks in its programming by giving headline slots to relatively niche acts, whilst acting as a springboard for newcomers. When you add delicious food, a friendly open minded audience and quaint, beautiful surroundings to this equation, it is no wonder the festival continues to gain a reputation as one of the UK’s most loved. All I can say is bring on next year!