By Christina Croucher
Date / Venue: March 14th - 16th, Bowl Of Brooklands, New Plymouth
WOMAD 2014; where do I start? We entered at the open time of 5:30pm Friday 14th through the thirst clenched rainforest of New Plymouth to a festival already alive and kicking with markets stalls from around the globe; feeding festival-goers before the first night of celebrations. We explored the colourfully dressed festival grounds that catered to over 5 wickedly set up stages. The Main stage being on a massive hill overlooking native bush with a duck pond between the crowd and the stage, one lit up deeper in the bush (Dell stage), the Chimney stage, Shell Gables stage and Todd Energy stage.
Our timetables were loaded with a variety of activities you could get up to in-between watching the 1hour - 90minute long live sets of mind-blowing international acts; some of which were playing twice over the three days. There were an abundant amount of cooking demos called Taste the World which showcased different artists cooking a dish from their homeland, dance workshops, native instrument classes, art demos, wellbeing stalls, human libraries, you could even get a tattoo. The extra recreational highlight for me was the artist workshops and live interviews. The first I watched was Sam Lee on Friday night; an intellectual song-collecting folk singer from the UK. He spoke about his passion for maintaining culture and songs from the Gypsy's of England and re-creating them in unique ways with his folk band.
The first band we watched was Shanren from China; you couldn't help but fall in love with the cheerful faced 4 piece with colourful string wrapped wooden instruments and a folky, dub oriental sound filled with tongue rolls, bobby reggae beats alongside Chinese dance steps. The biggest act on the main stage Friday night wasKimbra. On home soil for the first time in ages; Kimbra's incredible vocals, charisma and stage presence showcased why she's engaging global audiences. Her band is of equal calibre; they fused rock, jazz and funk behind Kimbra's uncaged explosion of a performance.
We entered the site early the next afternoon spoilt for choice of brunch and coffee to have while we watched Emel Mathlouthi's workshop. I was immediately taken with the Tunisian songbird and her French/Tunisian band made up of a percussionist, amazing violin player and the keyboardist/sound engineer on electronics. The richly layered songs of Tunisian/English language resonated tales of humanity and protest; absolutely hypnotising.
Then to the electrifying La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia/Belgium) who had the whole main stage bouncing with their unmeasurable amount of energy, Samba rhythms, saxophone, bongos and bouncing of the wall band members. They played through sun showers in the middle of the day giving the feel of a Madagascar style party. With the days packed hour to hour with artists to watch it would be a book to tell you about all the amazing music we discovered but some other standouts for the Saturday were; the mad but brilliant Danyel Waro (Reunion), Dub Inc (France), the uplifting quartet of Breabach (Scotland) and the piano king of the weekend Roberta Fonseca (Cuba). I will also mention the band winners from Wellington the Balkanistaswho went off at the Shells Gable stage. The party band for the night was Femi Kuti from Nigeria; move over Miley Cyrus this is what real twerking looks like!!
Sunday was brimmed with entertainment. NZ - made singer Hollie Smith woke us up with her husky, soulful voice; who still managed to pull in a decent audience at the main stage despite a very wet morning. We then watched crystal - toned Emel Mathlouti and her band play a rock and trip-hop infused set which was as breath-taking as expected after being enchanted at her workshop. It was a day for soul; just as I thought I couldn't find a more powerful voice I watched Carminho at the Dell stage. Her Portuguese Fado music is something I can't really explain but it was transcending to be in the presence of and against the 3 styles of guitar backing her I don't think I could have listened for too much longer without leaving my body. Ane Brunwas another one on Sunday who was beautiful to listen to. She had a mixture of a mature rock sound reminding me of Sinead O'Connor and Florence plus a very unique soft sound of her own. This Swedish/Norway singer and her band played sweet but rich music.
The Boomerang Project was a pretty spectacular showcase, fusing musicians from very different cultural backgrounds. It included the band Breabach (Scotland), Shellie Morris, and her Native Australian friends who play Aboriginal music. They individually played songs important to them alongside stories of their ancestors but also did collaborations together which was backed by Aboriginal/Contemporary and Scottish dance.
At dinner time we watched the hilarious comedians from the Circus act Hop that is made up of a few French guys and some rubbish bins. Their cooking demo was a laugh out loud 1 ½hours that I'm so glad I didn't miss.Delaney Davidson who I was also lucky to speak to on his way up to WOMAD actually surpassed how good I thought he'd be live; his unique country sound is heart-warming and has a really powerful NZ feel. A highlight was his steam train exit made up of him mixing EQ's, delays and effects to finish off his incredible performance at the Dell Stage Sunday night. We managed to catch the last quarter of Aireleke (Papua New Guinea/ Australia) which was really cool as well, especially the drumming.
I was lucky to be part of an up close and personal interview with the frontman Speech of Arrested Development. He spoke humbly about the power of music and how Arrested Development continues to spread messages of change in a world where mainstream hip hop has "lost its way". Their set was toward the end of the Sunday night; WOMAD really stretched the celebrations out to the very end of the weekend so if you're going next year definitely take the Monday off work! They played a lot of new stuff from their album out beginning of April, Splash, with a mix of old-school hip hop. Their high energy performance drew in the biggest crowd of WOMAD 2014. Afterwards we watched Red Baraat who are predominantly of Indian origin but are based in New York. They use a Tuba as their bass; do I need to say more? The brass and drum heavy band was completely insane in a perfect way and created the best dancing atmosphere of the weekend; check them out.
Despite a late night drive home to Auckland ahead of us we stayed to watch the Finale after seeing Emel Mathlouti's rendition of Hallelujah kick off the farewell ceremony; it was her against the birds as the whole festival fell silent. An array of the artists of WOMAD played traditional folk and farewell songs from their nation. Shanren, Ane Brun and Sam Lee were stand outs.
You could live off WOMAD with its abundant offering of food, music, culture and humanity and I'm sure it will be something I enjoy now year after year. Check it out in 2015; bring your friends and family, everyone will feel welcome. It will open your eyes to culture and music beyond the small world in which we live in day to day.