The first evening of WOMAD 2011 had built to a slow crescendo starting with Dub Collosus fusion of Ethiopian jazz and Jamaican dub. This was followed on the main stage by another Afro-Carribean collaboration in the shape of AfroCubism, a remarkable project bringing together some of the greatest Malian and Cuban musicians including Toumauni Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and Eliades Ochoa. Intricate kora riffs and desert blues solos are layered over catchy Cuban rhythms, building in speed and complexity and producing an elegant, mellifluous sound.
Alabama 3 produced their usual crowd-pleasing performance in the Siam Tent and were followed by the headline act on the open-air stage, Ivorian reggae legend Alpha Blondy. Whilst his old songs such as Jerusalem provided a spine-tingling burst of nostalgia his more recent work was not of the same standard. Vuvuzela may have had a serious message about safe sex (protect your vuvuzela before you waka-waka, don’t let HIV take your life) but it caused some chortles amongst the crowd. Alpha Blondys presence also attracted a small but vocal group of protesters who held up placards denouncing his decision to perform at a music festival in occupied Western Sahara earlier this year.
Baaba Maals set on Saturday night was perhaps a little too mellow for a headline act but it illustrates the fact that the most rewarding performances at festivals are seldom headliners. Instead they are the unexpected gems such as Honduran musician Aurelio,or Malian newcomer Fatoumata Diawara, or Susheela Raman, whose performance amid the trees in the arboretum conjured up the Gods and spirits of South India. Singing in Tamil, her deep soaring voice filled the warm afternoon air, the crowd emulating her ferocious dancing their hands lifted by the soaring bamboo flute.
Vieux Farka Tour, buoyed by his performance at the 2010 World Cup opening ceremony, played an impeccable set blending desert-blues with rock, reggae, funk and R&B. Combining strong catchy baselines with intricate guitar work and gentle vocals he seamlessly fuses traditional Malian music with modern instrumentation to produce a distinctive trancey sound. Unlike some desert blues which is raw and deliberately dissonant, Farka Tours sound is rich and warm. His songs are heavily instrumental and at times he drifts into wonderful labyrinthine guitar improvisations that last a full five minutes. Although comparisons with his father Ali Farka Tour are inevitable and although at times his style is reminiscent of that of his father, Vieuxs sound is very much his own.
With ticket sales up 29%, WOMADs 29th edition attracted 35,000 people of all ages. With under 13s allowed in free, the World Of Kids and the steam fair were full of children indulging in entertainments varying from story-telling and face-painting to bumper cars and candy floss. And with three days of wall-to-wall sunshine this years WOMAD is certain to meld into the happiest of their childhood memories; it was a weekend that also brought broad smiles to the faces of the adults.