WOMAD is the World of Music, Arts & Dance. WOMADelaide began in 1992 and has gone on to become one of Australia's favourite festivals; the 2010 festival attracted 81,500 attendances over four days (not including children 12 and under, who are admitted free).
Groundation, whose members are from Jamaica and the USA, were just getting started on Internode Stage 1 when I arrived. They consist of three regular players, who met as jazz students at California's Soma State University: singer and composer, Harrison Stafford, Marcus Urani on keyboard, and Ryan Newman on bass. The rest of the nine piece line-up in the band has varied over time since they began in 1998. They do not, though, play jazz. The roots of their music are in reggae to which, not surprisingly, they have added a jazz feel, along with influences of both Latin American and African music. The is a vibrant and exciting band with a Rastafarian message of peace and spirituality that engaged the sun-drenched audience who, instead of taking shelter at a distance under the tress, crowded around the stage, standing the whole time. The drums and percussion kept the rhythms solid and there were also some great solo lines on trombone, sometimes open, sometimes, muted, and even occasionally with that 'growl' that was once such a regular part of 1920s New Orleans jazz style playing. A hot band for a hot day.
Next came a problem, how to catch both Mahala Raȉ Banda and, at the same time, Toninho Ferragutti and Bebê Kramer, the former, a gypsy-rock band from Romania, and the latter, piano accordionists from Brazil. The decision was made; first, a trip to Brazil on Stage 2. This was partly because I love Latin American music, and I remembered the great time that I had at the last Adelaide International Guitar Festival, thanks to the imaginative and wide ranging programming of Slava Grigoryan, and partly because it was very close to a really good, organic, free trade coffee stall.
The piano accordion, with its various registration buttons next to the piano keyboard giving different timbres, like the stops on an organ, makes it the original 'band-in-a-box'. One alone can make a mighty sound and two together creates so many opportunities for the way in which they combine. These are, of course, the full size 120 bass button accordions, capable of a wide range of bass notes and chords. In the hands of two such masters as Toninho Ferragutti and Bebê Kramer, the sound is powerfully engaging and, with the dazzling melodies, rich harmonies and wild Latin rhythms, it is impossible to keep your feet still for more than a few seconds. Even those that were not actually dancing, were rocking, swaying and tapping their feet, even though they were in the full sun of the early afternoon.
A little later, it was down to Stage 3 to catch some of Mahala Raȉ Banda (Noble Band from the Ghetto), perhaps best known for their work on the soundtrack of the film, Borat. Again, the piano accordion, along with violins, is an important part of the sound, but there are eleven members of this band, adding a large brass section and percussion to the more traditional gypsy instruments. This music from, Eastern Europe, has been brought up to date and a few influences from far away can be heard in both melody and rhythm, but without losing that gypsy feel. This was another exciting concert, with attraction for both young and old alike. Once again, a large audience formed and there was plenty of energy being expended both on stage and in front of it.
Between this and the next act I stumbled across Sivouplait, a mime duo from Japan, dressed all in clean, crisp white outfits. Nozomi Horie and Takeshi Shibasaki are amongst the roving acts that turn up here and there, entertaining the crowds. They claim to be a couple deeply in love, and tell their tale in short glimpses, with both humour and poignancy. Keep an eye out for them
Next on Stage 1 was the Spanish group, Diego Guerrero y el Solar de Artistas, led by singer, guitarist, Diego Guerrero, from Andalusia. The band included flamenco guitarist José Fernández and female singer Naike Ponce, with a Cuban rhythm section of Luis Guerra on piano/keyboards, Dany Noel on bass guitar and Pico Milám on drums, plus Nasrine Rahmani on percussion. This music is quite an exotic mix of flamenco, Cuban, other Latino music, such as the Tango, with hints of African and jazz influences. It was also very wide ranging, from fast music that encouraged dancing, to slow, gentle pieces with a haunting sound. Yet another huge crowd gathered to catch this enormously talented group.
Not being the Arts Editor of a well known Sunday newspaper in Adelaide, that I will not name, I will not resort to dreadful puns by telling you that the next act on Stage 3 was Frigging good. I'll leave that to him. From Finland and Norway came folk band, Frigg fronted by four fiddle players, with the rest of the band being multi-instrumentalists playing accompaniment on guitar, dobro, Estonian bagpipes, double bass, cittern, mandolin, and/or Jew's harp. They play what they call 'Nordgrass', a unique blend of Nordic music and American bluegrass, which also has some clear Celtic influences and hints of the Balkans. Unusual time signatures lie beneath much of the music, giving it a rhythmic complexity, amusingly catching the dancers unawares and leaving them wondering why they keep getting out of time. There is a sense of fun in their playing, as well as great enthusiasm. There are also a number of melodies that sound rather familiar, but dealt with in an unfamiliar way, which makes for extra fun working out what they were originally. This was yet another performance that youngsters seemed to be enjoying. Bring the kids.
Stage 1 next had Gurrumul, from the Northern Territory, with Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingal, who played with the famous rock band, Yothu Yindi for many years. Sitting up front with his guitar, he is backed by a small group of very fine musicians on guitar, piano/keyboards, violin, and drums, providing sensitive accompaniment to his moving and meaningful songs, sung in the Yolngu language. It is not necessary to speak the language to feel the emotion and get a sense of the depth to these numbers. The crowd for this performance stretched out in all directions, attesting to the importance and popularity of this artist.
A short break for the Grand Parade, giving me a chance to grab a drink, and it was off to Stage 3 for the Sharon Shannon Big Band, an absolute 'must see' for me, of course, since I play Irish traditional music, as I will be doing for most of St. Patrick's on 17th March, next Saturday. Shannon is a big name in the Irish music scene, and rightly so, as she is a brilliant button accordionist and surrounds her self with other fine musicians, playing plenty of traditional music, without overly modernising it, but also encompassing other music and giving it an Irish feel. A notable, and very popular inclusion was Music for a Found Harmonium, one of the biggest hits for the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, the forerunner of the Penguin Cafe, who played here yesterday. There were, os course many traditional jigs and reels, as well as some newer ones. Shannon also plays whistle and fiddle very well and her sister, who was not with her on this trip, is a great fiddle player, too. Another massive crowd, the biggest so far for Stage 3, included a big crowd of people dancing their feet off at the front. Do catch her set tomorrow at 6pm on Stage 2. If you still haven't had enough, she has made a number of recordings, and there is a shop on site selling CDs by all of the acts here who have recorded.
The watts were then turned up a few notches on Stage 1 for the eight piece Australian band, Blue King Brown. Based in reggae, there are African and Latin influences in their music, with the very politically charged lyrics being sung with conviction and power by Natalie Pa'apa'a. The thumping bass and drums instantly had the audience on its feet and dancing along and the occasional drum solo, or drum and percussion duet, seemed to increase the enthusiasm of the dancers, the audience growing larger right through their set. A lively way to end a hard day's work reviewing WOMADelaide.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.