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WOMAD 2008

.. the venue as always was spectacular as was the host city and it’s inhabitants.

9 Apr 2008

Womad 2008 was a beautiful experience filled with colour, wonderment and happiness.



We arrived at Womad on the Friday afternoon around 3pm and cruised around the pretty empty site after picking up our media passes. I’ve been continually impressed with the layout and set-up at Womad, big ups to the organisers and their crew. I must say that it was a fantastic to have a cash machine installed on-site, go TSB Bank! And the venue as always was spectacular as was the host city and it’s inhabitants. I’m not sure how other cities cope with an overnight injection of close to 12,000 extra occupants but New Plymouth welcomed us with open arms. I guess it’s got a lot to do with that Naki spirit!

My first introduction to what would be a tantalising plethora of world music was the Terem Quartet from Russia. The thing that stood out with these guys was one of the instruments, a massive double bass called a balalaika. Their high energy that was infectious and introduced Russian folk music into a realm it probably wasn’t before. Next I went along to Susana Baca whose exquisite smile and voice brought me back to see her the second time she played. I also caught some of the ‘Artist in Conversation’ with her, she’d had a childhood where music and dancing were a constant. Her afro-peruvian songs and movement were as captivating as her white dress flowing in the wind.



Green Fire Islands were a heady culmination of Māori and Celtic music. It started out bouncing between the two flavours of music, interspersed with an enthralling poem by Glenn Colquhoun and a well-matched and graceful kapa haka performance, ending in an explosive mash up which had people on their feet cheering. Everyone performing in this act were in the forefront of their chosen art whether it be singing, instrumental, poetry or kapa haka.

And finishing off my Friday night was Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra. When Toumani did a solo on his key instrument called a kora, made from cow skin and has 21 strings, the crowd were appropriately wowed. He made this seemingly difficult instrument look effortless to play!

Saturday morning started with a yummy breakfast and a fantastic swim at Fitzroy beach…what better way to start the day! And the day got even better as filled with beautiful music more yummy food.

Yes Womad has fantastic food, highlights for me were the burritos, mango lassi and tofu burgers!

The first taste of entertainment for the day was the Black Grace workshop. We watched the first half and joined in the second half. Being part of the whole crowd doing dance moves in unison was just awesome and I think the guys of Black Grace were pretty proud of everyone!



There were a few acts from Aotearoa, Kora were one of them and these festival regulars rocked the crowd with their energetic and unique performance. It’s funny that the most explosive part of their performance is always where they don’t do anything at all - ‘the freeze’. The crowd goes wild! Next was Brazillian beats with Clubo do Balanço and were they some beats, we danced through their whole act. If only I knew how to samba properly! But everyone paid homage to their songs with their own particular dance style and the main thing, we had fun!

Kapa haka group Whāngārā-Mai-Tawhiti were incredibly skilled and passionate in their execution of story-telling performances and their MC was very entertaining and funny. Tumeke! From here I popped over to see Tim Guy and his beautiful ensemble of ladies helping him make sweet sweet music. The songs were gorgeously melodic and they suited the setting of the Dell Stage perfectly. The Phoenix Foundation were on fire, when we got there we squeezed our way up near the front to dance, were outnumbered by ‘tweens’ and teenagers and feeling our age! But that didn’t stop us getting our groove on! ‘Bright Grey’ was a definite highlight as were Samuel F Scott’s sunglasses!

Farafina were super-charged energy spilling out over the stage, the lead singer seemed like she was in a trance sometimes when she was dancing, it was amazing. From Burkina Faso and proudly so, you could tell they were thoroughly enjoying introducing us to the music of their country. Next act to blow me away was Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Sharon and her enthusiastic and soulful performance matched by the Dap Kings and their expert delivery of the funk. These guys were easily in my Top 3! My favourite part was when André (a member of the audience) was invited up on stage to be sung to by and dance with Sharon…he was a legend!

Larger than life personality and voice Mavis Staples exploded onto the stage with a hiss and a roar and had the crowd bouncing, clapping and generally rowdy the whole time. She’s a soul/gospel music veteran and I believe she could get even an ardent atheist up and clapping singing to praise the lord! She has a catchy effervescence that makes you want to move.



Nickodemus ended my Saturday night with very sore feet from dancing my socks off. He had such an eclectic and varied record box, I could imagine him trawling through record store after record store and having more records than he’s had hot dinners!

Kicking off our Sunday morning was the Joji Hirota Trio with Taiko drumming and once again the Womad organisers found another act at the top of their game, these guys were just sensational. I was amazed at their strength and stamina at playing these really large drums…and the fact that the female of the trio did it smiling! She looked like she was having as much fun playing as we were listening. I shimmied over to the tropical sounds of the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra and were spellbound at the varied repertoire of songs and how fantastic they sounded just being played by ukeleles. And all the singing voices of the orchestra melded together marvellously.

Master Kong Nay is a splendid gentleman from Cambodia who is nicknamed the ‘Ray Charles of Cambodia’. His story telling songs accompanied by an instrument called a chapei dang weng (a Cambodian long-necked lute) were filled with humour. It was fantastic that there was a translator that after each song told us what he had sung about as it seemed that he made up every song on the spot which is a feat in itself!

Closing our Womad experience was Jess Chambers & the Firefly Orchestra who were again a group of superbly talented artists that filled the Dell with magic and wonder. You could almost see the fireflies in the sky! They looked a little bit squished up on the little Dell Stage but that didn’t affect the mesmerizing music that they made.

All in all, Womad was a fabulous experience and I was repeatedly blown away by the level of musical skill of the acts. A big congratulations to all involved. I’ll definitely be back next year and look forward to samples of new World music.


Pictures: Dominika Zielinska

Words: Michelle Pearson

Check out more pictures http://picasaweb.google.com/Domi.Zielinska/WOMADTaranaki08