Womad has emphatically established itself as a festival of transatlantic cultural exploration and discovery. Wether it’s music from the middle east, food from the Caribbean or dance from West Africa, you’ll find it here in abundance, and then some. Each year it consistently hits the nail on the head with impressive programming bringing together acts and contributors from all corners of the world, making for a truly unique experience.
Just over two weeks on from our last outing, the microtones that filled the Womad air still vibrate strong impressions in our temples. On opening day it was Brazilian ten-piece Bixiga 70 who first called for our attention; big brass sounds melded with funk and afro rhythms, the band warmed our limbs suitably before we sauntered our way over for a sunset performance replete with Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds at the Big Air from the long-serving Senegalese veterans Orchestra Baobab. The following day had us injected with an energy from the word go. Dayme Arocena disarmed us with her rare charm as we learned cuban and other latin dance steps before surrendering all of our inhibitions as we followed her lead in imitating seductive voices to her brilliant “Don’t Unplug My Body”. Next was rising klezmer ensemble Don Kipper who added a bounce in our step. The whole stage was taken in by their supremely channeled intensity in intricate rhythms and untamed melodic phrasing alongside mesmerising vocals from front woman Dunja. Despite the juxtaposition in style this felt like the perfect precursor to the House Gospel Choir, whose huge choral sound had the entirety of the Big Red tent high with infectious jubilation. It was hard not to be swept away in the feel good atmosphere especially with gospel-worked house classics literally coming at you from all angles. We rode off this energy into the rest of the night and let it loose on the dance floor as we worked up a sweat to the bass and dancehall heavy selections of Bristol resident, Queen Bee in the Disco Bear tent.
Saturday was filled with more weird and wonderful, the weird mantle taken up by Sufi trance and post industrial electronic project Ifriqiyya Electrique. With a backdrop of ritualistic visuals from the Tunisian desert, Ifriqiyya’s entrancing mix of spiritual percussive mantra conversing with metal sonics from the electric guitar was initially challenging; but our curiosity was rewarded with some of the most interesting and aberrant sounds of the weekend. Loyle Carner had everyone on their feet with his effortless and natural stage presence later in the afternoon but the standout of the day was an unforgettable performance from reggae heroes, Toots & The Maytals. At this point the rain had well and truly made itself known to the festival site, but this did nothing to dampen the spirits of a crowd who roared the along to all the classic household jams, Monkey Man almost certainly the pinnacle.
Mamadou Diabate and his band were a perfect Sunday afternoon tonic the following day. The Malian’s showmanship was just as entertaining as his musicianship and dexterity playing the native Malian xylophone known as the balafon, in an hour of dreamy uplifting West African tones. What followed was another highlight of the weekend. An unspoken consensus the could be felt in the air as the crowd watched the raw brilliance of Tanzanian gogo music from Msafiri Zawose. With a flamboyant dress which included ankle bells, a headpiece of feathers and another two larger plumes attached to his shoulders; Zawose’s one man show was more than a feast for the eyes as he danced around the stage whilst singing and playing his ilimba and zeze. It was his smile however that completed the magnetism which had us all falling for him over and over. Afro/Cuban Iranian electronic fusion outfit Ariwo, took us on a more contemplative journey with their darker percussive tones. Their chest pulsing bass and expansive reverb fit perfectly with the dimly lit trees in the forest backdrop. An impeccable selection of disco, afro and house numbers was the final cocktail of the evening served up as cooly as ever by Floating Points, majestic reading of the crowd had us in the moment and just like that our adventure was over.