WOMAD celebrates 30th anniversary with strongest-ever bill
We’re just a matter of days away from the greatest show on Earth. But it’s not taking place in East London. And it’s got nothing to do with sport. It’s the WOMAD Festival, the annual coming-together of the planet’s music, all gathered right here in Charlton, just outside Malmesbury. But this year, it’s something even extra special. Just as a certain sporting event is chalking up its 30th incarnation in the modern era, so too is WOMAD celebrating its big Three-O.
Three decades on from its first pioneering event that redefined the notion of a festival, WOMAD boasts an extraordinarily stellar line-up this year to help blow out all those candles. It’s a cliché when, year after year, a festival announces their finest ever line-up, but… 2012 arguably marks WOMAD’s finest ever line-up.
The list of big-hitting A-list acts amassed for WOMAD Charlton 2012 is faultless. It includes…
Robert Plant presents Sensational Space Shifters
Ever future-facing, Robert’s new band melds together the sounds of West Africa, Arabia, the American Deep South and his Black Country homelands.
Many Rivers To Cross, The Harder They Come, Wonderful World, Beautiful People… The positivity of this reggae icon continues to propel him to even greater heights.
Another icon, Hugh’s jazzwise songs were the soundtrack to a nation in flux, to a political and social revolution, to the overthrow of apartheid.
Buena Vista Social Club featuring Omara Portuondo
The never-say-die rhythms of Cuba were given a shot in the arm by the Buena Vista Social Club record. And the music continues to resonate a further 15 years on.
The king of Algerian rai has ruled his own particular roost for almost as long as WOMAD have been around. Pretenders to the throne have staked their claim, but that voice still reigns supreme.
Femi Kuti & the Positive Force
Fela Kuti’s son has moved out of his father’s large shadow and now basks in the sunlight of his own making, having hauled Nigerian Afrobeat into the 21st Century.
From the Test Match Special commentary box to the studios of Later… With Jools Holland, the transcendental songs of this Indian troubadour have melted even the coldest, hardest hearts.
Although this line-up features the exotic sounds of 78 acts from more than 30 countries, WOMAD never ignores the local when thinking global. Accordingly, there’s plenty of representation from these shores, whether it’s the sunshine pop-reggae vibes of Hollie Cook, the gritty folk tales of Seth Lakeman, the tell-it-like-it-is social commentary of Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Dennis Bovell Dub Band or an acoustic incarnation of stirring indie-rockers Revere. And, from just over the Irish Sea, there’s the no-compromise ballads of Damien Dempsey.
And, looking as close to home as it’s possible, a couple of acts signed to WOMAD’s sister organisation Real World Records are also welcomed onto the bandstand – the Mercury-nominated jazz-tinged instrumentalists Portico Quartet and much-admired acoustic modernists Spiro.
A couple of additional home-based acts have now been added to the bill. Illness has caused two withdrawals by artists previously announced – namely Gurrumul and Ben l’Oncle Soul. While we wish both parties well, some impressive replacements have been called up into action. Cornershop are currently enjoying the most creatively fertile period of their career and make a very welcome return to the WOMAD stage, while Ska Cubano energetically fuse the sounds of Cuba and Jamaica like no other band around.
As ever, the BBC Radio 3 Stage will be holding court in the festival site’s glorious arboretum. Among the delights here (aside from the already-mentioned Seth Lakeman) are Portuguese fado singer Claudia Aurora, Cape Verdean singer-songwriter Michel Montrond, Canadian fiddler Chrissie Crowley and Anglo-Colombian accordionist (and current World Routes Academy protégé) José Hernando Arias Noguera.
Over on the Big Red Stage, each evening is given over to the latest sounds stirring the planet’s club dancefloors. Among the highlights here will be South Africa’s Spoek Mathambo whose singular take on house and electro is both chilling and exhilarating; Sheffield-born DJ/producer Toddla T partnering up with Jamaican MC Serocee; and the irresistible hurricane of Angolan kuduro answering to the name of Batida.
Arguably the most mouth-watering of all the club performances will be the collaboration between DJ Yoda and the Trans-Siberian March Band, where the massed horns will be playing along to the esoteric vinyl selections that take in everything from Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It to the music from Gameboy classic Tetris.
While WOMAD welcomes the very latest moves and grooves, it’s also a haven to those timeless performers who’ve graced many a WOMAD stage over the past two or three decades. Madagascar’s Justin Vali is one such artist, a musician who’s always been one of the festival’s totem figures. Russia’s open-eared Terem Quartet also occupy their own spot in WOMAD’s history, as do the adventurous French collective Lo’Jo – rather pleasingly, all three acts are Wiltshire bound.
But many would argue that WOMAD isn’t about the big names, about how many artists you’re familiar with on the bill. Instead, for them, the beauty of a WOMAD event is discovering music you don’t yet know, sounds you never knew existed. In that spirit, hot tips for this year include the extraordinary audio-visual spectacle of India’s The Manganiyar Seduction by Roysten Abel; the splendidly tasteful Anglo-Kenyan collaboration Owiny Sigoma Band; and the bamboo pipes of Solomon Islanders Narasirato.
And this is barely the start.
WOMAD is a place where borders dissolve, where nationality is rendered unimportant. It’s been that way for 30 years now, in the process becoming a united nations of music. Indeed, the world’s festival.
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