Live Music + Gig Reviews

WOMAD 2009: Day 2 @ Charlton Park, Wiltshire

25 July 2009

WOMAD 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Waking up to a cloudless blue sky in a lush green field to the sounds of distant djembe drumming and the smell of frying bacon is what being at WOMAD is all about. And Saturday was just one of those days. As the sun crept across the camping field, heating tent canvas, there was a Mexican wave of unzipping and of eyes blinking at the daylight.

Some people were up and off to the hour-long early-bird yoga session in the World Of Dance tent whilst others crawled out of their sleeping bags and skinned up a spliff. This year there was even a spa where 35 gave you all day access to power showers, saunas and fluffy white towels.
For children, events in the World Of Kids area began each day at 10am with a comprehensive programme of workshops, entertainment and activities. If they got bored with face painting, graffiti and creative expression there was always the steam fair, with rides, stalls and candy floss. All this and the fact that under 13s are allowed in free establishes WOMAD’s reputation as one of the best festivals for the whole family.

The music kicked off with a regal performance by Malian singer-songwriter Oumou Sangaré. Resplendent in richly embroidered silk robes, Sangaré commanded the stage and held the crowd with her powerful voice and looping melodies. She included feminist songs in her set, singing against arranged marriage and for greater women’s rights. Standing over six feet tall, it is hard to imagine anyone would try to disagree with her. Oumou’s beautiful daughter was on stage with her as a backing singer and dancer, perhaps giving us a glimpse of a dynasty of Sangarés to come.

To an undiscerning eye Etran Finatawa, from Niger, could be seen as ‘a poor-man’s Tinariwen‘. Like the Malian band they are nomads (Tuareg and Wodaabe-Fulani). They dress in the same boubous and veils and play a similar electric guitar-driven desert blues. Whilst less edgy than Tinariwen, the big difference lies with their singing, particularly that of their lead singer and guitarist, Ghalitane Khamidoune, whose voice has the purity and range of a castrato. His otherworldly voice and their rhythms, which repeat hypnotically, may sound dissonant at first but soon get under the skin and offer transport to a very different world.

Geordie folk quartet Rachel Unthank And The Winterset captivated a packed Siam tent audience with their gentle, elegant sound. Combining elements of blues, jazz, burlesque cabaret, classical and contemporary music, they subvert the traditional folk genre, underlined with their Mercury nomination in 2008, and are deservingly building a popular fan base.

WOMAD co-founder Peter Gabriel looked at first to be regretting his decision to give himself the headline slot on Saturday night, looking distinctly uncomfortable in the spotlight and relying on a massive lightshow to distract from a set that started rather uncertainly, with new and experimental material, before moving onto stronger ground with more familiar crowd-pleasers like Biko. This was his only European gig this year and was perhaps less about the music and more about promoting his organisation Witness, which trains human rights defenders to use video to document abuse.

On a more cheerful note, a surprise discovery was Victor Démé, from Burkina Faso. He has been playing with bands for over three decades but only recorded his songs for the first time in a makeshift studio two years ago. Since then his folksy, bluesy sound underscored by Latin rhythms has captivated all who have heard it. As the second day of the festival neared its end Démé’s lyric implored us to be content with what we have in life. “Nous avons suffit,” he sang: “We have it all”. Dancing beneath the stars, we were inclined to agree.

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