Womadelaide – Hot Weather and Hotter Music!

Senegalese singer Baaba Maal performing on the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

Review by Chris Lambie. Photos by Rob Sferco.

WOMADELAIDE 2024 – Botanic Park / Tainmuntilla, Adelaide, South Australia. March 8-11

WOMAD – A World of Music, Art and Dance. A world of sanctuary within our larger troubled one. The Adelaide event is WOMAD’s longest partnership and its longest-running festival in the same location. The latest saw 72 artists from 40+ countries defy political controversy, challenging heat and associated program changes to wow the Womadelaide family again.

Along with concerts and workshops, expert guests discussed environmental issues in The Planet Talks sessions, simple joy and silliness reigned at the KidZone and roving scallywag performers diverted punters between strolls and screens.

This year, the star of the event was iced water. Yes, it was a 4-day heatwave. Pizza and curries were largely ditched for ice-cream and slushies. Cocktails for frozen mocktails. Thankfully, the re-jigged layout provided extra shady areas. I certainly spent more daylight hours than usual under trees than front of stage. But Womadelaide crowds are unstoppable and plenty of valiant fans rocked out in the sun.

Mexican band ‘Son Rompe Pera’ playing on Stage 2 at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

When exuberant marimba-punk Mexican group Son Rompe Peracommanded “Arriba,” we jumped and fist-pumped on cue. It was muy caliente both on stage and off. To no-one’s surprise, strains of ‘Tequila’ peppered song breaks. Likewise, Mauskovic Dance Band (Netherlands) delivered a flat-to-the-floor approach. Fellow Energizer bunnies Dubioza Kolektiv (Bosnia & Herzegovina) accompanied them for an outing of ‘I Fought The Law’, the crowd singing along. The eight-piece Kolektiv features two DJs and wild dance moves. In another pairing, The Budos Band (USA) were joined by Daptone labelmates Thee Sacred Souls. In one of the latter’s own sets, vocalist Josh Lane strolled among shade dwelling audience members, mic in hand as he crooned sweet soul melodies.

Emmanuel ‘Jagari’ Chandra of Zambian band ‘WITCH’ performing on the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

WITCH (We Intend To Create Havoc) (Zambia) became festival favourites from their first ever Australian performance on Sunday. Original member Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda rejoicing at the reception to their Zamrock revival. “Who here has no cousins? We want to move here!”

Angélique Kidjo (Benin) singing on the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

Somehow, with the last-minute cancellation (for medical reasons) of headliner Nitin Sawhney (UK) organisers snagged Benin vocal legend Angélique Kidjo as his Sunday replacement. Kidjo was due in town for her own concerts. But festival appearances offer one-off possibilities. In another surprise guest cameo, our own Sampa The Great joined Kidjo and band on stage. Sampa, who was on the official line-up last year, also popped up with Pongo (Angola/Portugal) and WITCH. Pongo turned out to be a highlight of the weekend with her warmth, energy, funky backing band and eye-popping outfits. One little girl I know (Go Jade!) was already a fan before Pongo, mid-performance, invited her and other eager poppets to jump on stage for a chat. Moonlight Benjamin (Haiti/France) brewed Voodoo vibes, with Caribbean flavours and pumping rock. ILLAPU (Chile) have survived political exile to preserve and share their folk traditions with cuatro, cajón, quena, guitar, pan flutes and sax. They inspired a Latino-worthy crowd reaction. The updated line-up of Cymande (UK) blended a big brass wall of sound with Caribbean/Brit funk and festive fervour.

Locals with multicultural roots also felt the love. Black Jesus Experience (Ethiopia/Aus) never disappoint with their brassy cross-genre jazz. Réunion vocalist AURUS accompanied them between his own Creole-spiced concert and workshop. Attendees keenly absorbed the hypnotic Maloya rhythms of kayamb and rouler and storytelling. With roots from across the ditch, Jen Cloher + T’HONI (Aus/NZ Aotearoa) taught fans about culture and yes, the irresistible power of the Haka. Singer/rapper. A.Girl is a Maori woman raised in Sydney. She surprised us with Willy Wonker song ‘Pure Imagination’ among her soulful set, getting a little emotional in the process. (Sharing, “I always have to stop myself crying when I sing that one.”)

Singer-songwriter Mo’Ju (Filipino/Wiradjuri) faced full sun on Stage 2 with apparent ease. Their sublime vocals not missing a beat. Her hit song ‘Native Tongue’ rang out across the lawns and into the ether. Soulful Noongar vocalist Bumpy (Aus) guested with the fellow Naarm (Melbourne) resident between her own popular sets. Aussie-based The Cambodian Space Project are an act like no other. Retro Cambodian pop/rock isn’t something you get to dance to every day.  Upcoming Australian Indigenous artists signalled a bright future for local music. Audiences lapped up gigs by poet Ziggy Ramo, RnB young gun Dean Brady and charismatic Alice Springs musician/rapper Katanga Junior who was born in Tanzania. Wildfire Manwurrk (Maningrida, Arnhem Land) sound for all the world like successors to the legendary Warumpi Band. The Rostron family group led by elder Victor, sing in their Kune (koo-nay) language. Live music magic.

As part of a national tour, Wantok Sing Sing Feat. (Sir George) Telek combined the talents of artists from PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (TIO)and First Nations Australia (Frank Yamma) under the artistic direction of David Bridie. Always compelling, the Oceanic blend of sound and story was an immersive highlight.

Gilberto Gil (Brazil) playing on the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

Of course, the big names of World Music impressed. Along with Kidjo, returning artists included Brazilian icon of Tropicália, Gilberto Gil (vibrant as ever at 81) as part of his Aquele Abraço farewell tour. Baaba Maal (Senegal) was back after starring at Womadelaide some years back. Timeless art from his four-decade career.

Nigerian afrobeat singer and saxophonist Seun Kuti from ‘Seun Kuti & Egypt 80’ performing on the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

Heritage and family are recurring themes. Seun Kuti (son of Fela and brother of Femi) and Egypt 80 fired intoxicating Afrobeat magic from the main stage on Saturday night. And who should pop up with Kuti and band? ‘Sister’ of rhythms, Pongo. Hollie Cook (ex-The Slits) is the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul and Culture Club backing singer Jeni. Another humble and delightful performer revelling in reggae and rocksteady grooves. Jamaican Ziggy Marley has a long career of his own but will forever be known as his father’s son. Some peaceful protesters held Palestinian flags opposing Marley’s reported support of the IDC. He opened his late-night set with 2003 song ‘Shalom, Salaam’, its lyrics expressing sorrow for all children caught up – and dying – in Gaza conflicts. His version of The Wailers’ ‘Rastaman Vibration’ triggered memories of Bob’s peaceful positive vibes.

DakhaBrakha (Ukraine) playing on the Foundation Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha are at the top of my fangirl list whenever and wherever they appear. Superb musicianship, unfamiliar (almost dissonant) vocal harmonies, playful bird calls and banter endeared them to listeners of all ages and tastes. These distinctive elements are measured with reverence in light of the long war-torn road their country continues to endure. Projected animations were stunning and video footage of their supporters, soldiers and citizens, was deeply moving. Defiantly wearing their heat-intolerant national garb (The three women in lofty fur hats and long layered frocks), they honoured their culture – hands on hearts – with the message ‘Ukraine Will Win.’ Marko Halanevych’s vocals pivot from haunting falsetto to a bluesy Jim Morrison baritone. Percussion, strings, accordions, jaw harp and keyboard variously framed songs with traditional gravitas to shades of Radiohead, 60s psych-pop and rap. ‘Vynnaya Ya’ had us all clapping along.

A further cornucopia of rhythm and melody was revealed, uniting citizens from far and wide: Grammy award winner, Arooj Aftab (USA/Pakistan), Leenalchi (South Korea) with pansori pop and AL-QASAR  with members from France, Türkiye, Armenia, USA.

The Good Ones provided welcome balance among a line-up rich in amplified animation. The duo of Rwandan farmers Adrian Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana were spellbinding. The stories, voices and rudimentary instrumentation touched all listeners. Other to take the temperature down for a little ‘chill’ time included guitarist José González(Sweden), the ethereal Emel Mathlouthi (Tunisia) and multi-instrumentalist Mari Kalkun from Estonia on kannel, keyboard, drum and voice.

Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar & Ambi Subramaniam playing on the Zoo Stage at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

The first seated performance of India’s master of sarod Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and violin virtuoso Ambi Subramaniam (son of Dr. L.) drew a huge crowd. With percussionists Tanmoy Bose and V.V. Ramana Murthy, the mutual respect among the four was evident. Subramaniam forewarned us that classical Indian compositions are long. The first piece comprised two halves – the first in a major key, the second – minor. The subtle and the dynamic in perfect harmony.

Ireland was represented by rollicking reels and traditional ballads from the Sharon Shannon Big Band – Shannon another return act to WOMADelaide. Having enjoyed a very successful tour of Australia, Lisa O’Neill & Cormac Begleycaptured another captivating side of Irish folk. O’Neill came to recent prominence for many with her duet of ‘Fairytale of New York (with Glen Hansard) at Shane MacGowan’s funeral. Her voice seemed to hover in the night between the leaves of the giant fig trees. The UK provided several contemporary (less traditional) acts. Corinne Bailey Rae sang several tracks from her latest album ‘Black Rainbows’ plus earlier hits. Morcheeba lit up Monday evening with their best-known songs ‘Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day’ and ‘The Sea’, frontwoman SKYE in fine vocal form.  Drummer/composer Yussef Dayes from South London ignited a beat-hungry following with contemporary jazz backing.

Eno Williams (singer) and Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman of ‘Ibibio Sound Machine’ performing at WOMADelaide 2024. pic: Rob Sferco

Feeling the love goes both ways, no matter the star status of a musician. Ibibio Sound Machine (UK) delivered one brassy infectious Afro-funk set after another in a marriage of retro and fresh grooves. Frontwoman Eno Williams’ (with Southern Nigerian roots) was so touched mid-gig that she choked up tearfully while thanking the joyous throng. Repeatedly, you ask yourself, ‘Why haven’t I heard these guys before?’ Well, that’s what festivals are for.