By Anya Whitlock
Date / Venue: Friday March 13 - Sunday March 15, Bowl Of Brooklands, New Plymouth
Womad 2015... My very first experience of Womad and surely not the last. The setting is one of the best for a festival in New Zealand- nestled amongst rolling hills, lily pad lakes and many mature trees, the terrain lends itself well to 4 major stages each with their own unique flavour. The main stage is especially special with a 20 metre moat separating the stage from the front row. No need for security as the ducks do a great job at stopping enthusiastic fans from storming the stage.
The people present are incredibly diverse there is definitely a quality present that this is a festival for everyone. Something I have not seen at other festivals but appreciated the need for; are bleaches for people over 65 to have a sit down and wheelchair platforms so they can see over the behemoth Kiwi crowds.
Now onto the music... Fanfare Ciocarlita was first up on my agenda. In this traditional Romanian brass band there were about 12 musicians on stage, but it was hard to tell as they were all middle aged Eastern European men in black pants and bright red shirts who wiggled around a lot. I felt like I was watching the real deal- deeply passionate musicians playing a legacy of sound that was well and truly in their bones. Their musicianship was outstanding and the Saxophonist deserves a special mention and I noticed a magic correlation - the closer the shade of red his face went to his shirt, the more wild the crowd went.
I munched on a disappointing pita from one of the many food vendors while watching Che Sudaka. Ska and Hip-hop provided the foundations for their sound and there were echoes of early Manu Chao and Spanish alternative rock. They were very high energy with the two nutty front men mixing up some crazy Latin flavours for the hungry crowd. There was a keytair on stage which was a great touch, I find they add a lightness and humour to a performance.
The Gloaming did not capture me so I floated off into the heart of what Womad seems for many to be about... retreating from the piercing sun and lazing around in the shade with an old friend I haven't seen in a while. Swapping stories and reconnecting over virgin mojitos as Flip Grater's dulcite tones kept us in good aural company.
After a trip to the tent to transform into night mode, I lost my way with the time and had to sprint full speed across the entire festival to turn up 1 minute late to my interview with Balkan Beat Box. Turns out they were 5 minutes late. After catching my breath and enjoying the good company, I headed down to the main stage for Rufus Wainwright. He was pretty underwhelming, so after staying for half the set and deciding I much preferred Jeff Buckley's version of 'Hallelujah', I though it a better use of my time to head over the hill and position myself well for Trinity Roots.
Trinity roots did not disappoint. They've been doing many shows over the summer and this is the 3rd time I've seen them. They were definitely the most cohesive for Womad and it was great to see the keyboard back in action for this show. The Balkan Beat Box was the final act of the night and a delicious icing on the Womad cake that had been baking in the sun all day. They were alive and engaging and the only band all day that really got me movin' and shakin'.
With a big tick next to Saturday at Womad I headed for the hills, ready for a good nights sleep with the incentive of an early morning surf on Taranaki's amazing coastline.
Sunday morning my scumbag brain woke me up before 7. It's still set to my working week timetable. I was happy to spend the morning pottering away in the tent writing up interviews and working on a craft project that I thought was very appropriate to pack for Womad. The main stage started sound checking using Massive Attack songs which was a great way to get in the mood for the musical treats to come.
Flip Grater was up first and her slow, soothing groove was a great way to ease into the day. Her voice had a beautiful gentle quality and an airiness that came across well through the PA. She had fellow Christchurchians as her back up band and although she currently spends most of her time in Paris they worked together just fine. She is a bit of a one trick pony, but I think it's a good trick.
I then spent much time negotiating through the masses of masses to get some lunch. The queues were pretty long, but my efforts manifested a delicious Italian venison risotto and an in depth conversation into whether or not the wine had been watered down. The kid zone was a fun quick stop, seeing the experience youngsters can have at Womad was really awesome. Many hands on activities like hat making, painting and creating hanging decorations along with the usual fare of face painting, bouncy castles and bubble making.
Ramzi Aburedwan from Palestine was up next on the musical agenda. He was truly a moving figure to behold and the gravity of his music, steeped in rich history really struck a chord in my chest. The concert had the feeling of a celebration or ritual and I was pleasantly surprised to see the magic of Womad- The ability for music to disseminate understanding and generate unity genuinely get under my skin. The experience brought more than one tear to my eye.
I really enjoyed walking around the grounds and seeing the parade of people of all sorts. There would often be randomly positioned collections of musicians drawing crowds. Sometimes it was hard to tell if they were there to get paid or had just decided to pull out a few instruments under the shade of a big tree and have a jam.
I caught a couple of the bands cooking up a storm at the 'Taste the World' marquee. A great idea from the Womad team where bands cook food and play music from their country of origin. It was an often hilarious experience where we got to taste old family recipes and boogie to authentic ethnic beats. Getting to know the performers on a more personal, interactive level was rad.
Another great space at Womad was the Lucky Star which was nestled over the hill from the main stage. I was shouted at warmly by a painted bearded figure high in a tree upon entering and beanbags were strewn everywhere to relax and enjoy the variety of performers who tumbled through. Great coffee, bagels and clothes were available as well as great company and tunes.
Balkan Beat Box performed another epic show on the Brooklands stage which was a perfect last dance to enjoy before hitting the road. A big learning curve as a first timer was discovering the need to take Monday off. 2 major acts- Sinead O'Connor and Buena Vista Social Club played on Sunday night. It was painful to have to give them a miss, but 5 hour drive through an angry cyclone and the thought running Mondays gauntlet without sleep helped me exit stage right at a sensible hour.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first Womad experience and was really grateful to the management team for keeping everything running so smoothly. It's amazing to attend a festival of this scale and scope and see that the motivation to make it happen is still very passionate and genuine. It really makes all the difference to the adventure.