I spent the weekend before last at Womadelaide. I went without a lot of expectations, just thinking it would be a fun time with friends and maybe some interesting music, though I didn't really know any of the artists on the program.
Wow. I had the best time.
I started the weekend extremely well, travelling on Thursday evening, getting there in good time to find out what the survivors on Lost were getting up to, then a big sleep-in on Friday morning. I passed the rest of the day in the most perfect fashion: lying on the couch reading a book... Aaaah.
The festival started on a less than perfect note, with a drizzly Friday turning to intermittent rain by the time we got to Adelaide's Botanic Park in the evening.
Bags were gently searched/felt at the gate, but unlike at most outdoor events I've been to, umbrellas were allowed. Most people were considerate or aware enough not to hold up their open umbrellas in front of the stages. Most, but not all: it's amazing how much of your view an umbrella a few rows ahead can block, and there was a fair bit of grumbling about it. The newspaper I had bought earlier in the day said it was the first rain on a Womadelaide weekend in ten years. We tried not to entertain thoughts of a whole weekend of rain.
The weather only improved through the rest of the weekend. It was quite cool a lot of the time, though hot in direct sunlight. On Saturday night I even wore a scarf! In March! It was sunny and warmer on Sunday, and overall, a lot better than being too hot. There was plenty of time for lying on a picnic blanket looking up into huge amazing trees (Moreton Bay Figs, Bunya Pines) blue sky, and the beautiful ragged-edged flags by artist Angus Watt.
Sometimes I forget that not all 15 year olds wear bumsters, boob tubes and trucker hats. Hippies and greenies keep appearing in every age group. The baby activists made me laugh. Overheard as we walked past two teenaged girls in Wilderness Society (or similar) costumes, brandishing a petition:
"My dad's a truck driver!"
"Oh my god. Wow! He's even more evil than my dad. I think we've found the most evil parent of all of us!"
The best coffee to be had was from Combi Coffee, served out of the back of a Kombi, and organic and free trade of course. Oddly, the froth disappeared before our eyes but we were drinking flat whites so it didn't matter. They issued numbers when you ordered and then you waited while numbers were called out in seemingly random order until yours came up (Bingo!).
As I had expected, there was a great range of food and lots of it vegetarian. Still, I managed to totally stuff up my Friday dinner, falling for a vegeburger that looked gourmet (fancy lettuce) but turned out to be one of those tasteless Bird's Eye frozen patties. This from a stall that also served Barramundi and Kangaroo burgers.... and charged the same $7 for the vegie disgrace. Luckily, the discovery of "Lord of the Fries", serving exellent chips with a range of toppings just about made up for the disappointing burger. I couldn't go past the Belgian mayonnaise, just like we had in Amsterdam. It wasn't until late on Sunday that we were tipped off about the Belgian garlic bread (it's fried). Divine.
WOMAD stands for World of Music, Arts and Dance; however this festival had a lot more music than dance, unless you count members of the audience boogying with varying amounts of coordination and committment. I did catch a few dance acts: Te Matarae i Orehu who did a real haka and lots more, from New Zealand; Korean drum group Dulsori kind of counts as dance as well as music, the way they bounce athletically, seeming to play the drums with their whole bodies was mesmerising. But, no salsa, tango or bellydance workshops to make me instantly sexy, unfortunately.
I particularly loved Archer's Arcadia, a range of retro mechanical creations in a tent like a carnival amusement arcade: fortune telling machines, kaleidoscopes, things you peer into and turn a handle to see what happens. I asked if I could take some photos, and the lady at the desk seemed to think it was ok. Later I was approached by (I think ) David Archer, who hesitantly asked if the photos were "just for my own use". I reassured him that of course they were. Should have just showed him my crappy camera! I was also charmed by The Mora Brothers' gorgeous papier mache sculptures, and after dark there were lots of beautiful lanterns in the trees, but the fire displays by La Compagnie Carabosse were the most mesmerising.
(I haven't put in the links to all the artists' home pages: the music and dance acts are all listed here and the visual and performance artists here.)
The first act we saw was The Audreys, a folksy group from Adelaide who sometimes include funny toy instruments with their guitars / banjo / fiddle combination. Their lead singer has a perfect voice for folk, a bit too sweet for the blues, though their "Trainwreck blues" was fun. Mia Dyson on the other hand, is only 23 but she sings country-blues songs like she really has had her 96th man walk out on her. Amazing performance. Although her original songs didn't excite me so much, I would see her live again. She sounded a bit like Melissa Etheridge.
Reggae group Alpha Blondy and the Solar System (Cote D'Ivoire) was very popular with the crowd. I was not completely into it, probably because of the rain, but wondered if maybe you need to be stoned to fully appreciate it? The Nick Parnell trio scored points with me for having a xylophone, but their music was a bit avant-garde for my taste.
We all enjoyed Capercaillie's Scottish folk, using flute, fiddle, electric guitar, drums, addional percussion, accordion and keyboard, singing in Gaelic. Most kinds of music with a good bit of fiddlin' in makes my feet jiggle around like they think they know how to dance.
Harper's blues seemed fairly standard until he started playing his harmonica, which was absolutely something else - getting some sounds that you would think came from an electric guitar and some from who knows where. He also plays the didjeridoo.
Patrick Duff and Alex Lee seemed a bit mainstream for WOMAD but they had some fun songs. Duff introduced "my only sweet beautiful love song – it’s called Fucked". Yeah, we all fell around laughing. But it really was a romantic song, with lines along the lines of "You’re the only one who knows how fucked I am". Aaaw.
There were others, Zap Mama (fun), Not Drowning, Waving reformed specially for Womadelaide (hard to descibe, very enjoyable). Sally Ford and the Pachuco Playboys were lovely, fun, doing dance-y cha cha cha and boogaloo. They made us a bit wistful, wishing Kirsty wasn’t dead.
We went to a workshop session with Cafe at the Gates of Salvation, a Sydney gospel group who patiently taught the audience the bass, tenor, alto and soprano parts of a couple of songs. I hadn't done this kind of thing since high school and it reminded me that I would like to sing in some kind of choir again. You know, one day.
The real Wahoo element of the weekend was due to two new favourites, Les Yeux Noirs (try this link for info in English) and Ozomatli.
Almost the first thing we had done on Sunday was to put our names on the list for free henna tattoos by Humna Mustafa. We’d already seen Les Yeux Noirs on Saturday, and the others were planning to see Mahinarangi Tocker in the next session… but I couldn’t resist going back for more French gypsy magic. Modern and traditional music based on eastern European styles including gypsy and Jewish klezmer music. Two amazing virtuoso violins, cello, bass, guitar, drums, and hammered dulcimer. I did want to see Tocker, but, well, New Zealand is a lot closer than France! Maybe she’ll be back. After that set finished there I found a bunch of missed calls on my phone… it’s nearly our turn for tattoos….we’re getting tattooed now….okay we’re off to stage 3 now.
I'm now a complete Les Yeux Noirs fangirl: I bought the CD, got it signed, and after I got back to Canberra, zipped up to Sydney for their last Australian show. (Had to share the 'wahoo' with little sis). Now I just need to work out what the hell all those French lyrics mean. Nevermind the Yiddish ones.
Sometime on Saturday night we walked within range of the stage where LA band Ozomatli were playing, and my feet started dancing of their own accord (and no, there was no fiddle involved). It soon became clear that I would need to clear my schedule for their set on Sunday night, which was the final event on the main stage. A decision which absolutely did not disappoint. At the start of the show the guys made their agenda plain: “Our plan is to rock it so hard for you that you can’t go to school or work tomorrow”. Ooh-er. Luckily, all we had to do the next day, before a late afternoon flight home, was go shopping for Ozomatli CDs and, in line with long-standing Adelaide tradition, drink coffee and indulge in some (shop-sanctioned) free reading in Borders.
I had never heard of Ozomatli but that might be just because I'm what I sometimes refer to as "musically slow"; I've since learned they're pretty popular in Australia (they've played at Byron Bay's Blues and Roots festival in the past) with their fusion of latino and hip-hop music with a dozen other genres. They combine a ska-style brass section with lots of percussion, the usual guitars-bass-drums, a set of turntables, and an MC. I’ve probably left a few things out. I don't really know how to describe musical genres properly. I know they mix a lot of them. They certainly rocked, hip-hopped, and latino-ed it hard, and even the girl with a bad back just about danced her socks off. When it was time to clear the stage, the band members jumped right off the stage with brass and percussion instruments, and continued to play, walking through the middle of the adoring crowd, while the stagehands started to pack up. A perfect ending to a nearly perfect weekend.