Review with PHOTOS: WOMAD 2018

Photos by Trevor Villers

Photos by Trevor Villers

By Janine Swail & Ben Doy

Date / Venue: March 16 - 18: Bowl Of Brooklands, New Plymouth

We were a little late to the schedule this year for WOMAD being unable to leave Auckland any earlier than the dreaded rush hour so we decided to wait until the traffic madness had subsided, making our way down as far as Otorohunga on Friday night, before cruising into New Plymouth around lunchtime on Saturday. This was a good plan as when we did enter the enchanting Brooklands Park we were sufficiently rested and relaxed, and this vibe was affirmed as we found a spot in front of the TSB Bowl stage and sat down to listen to the wonderful talent that is Anoushka Shankar. An accomplished sitarist, this was the first time we had seen her live and we now fully understand why this woman’s fame extends far more than just ‘Ravi’s daughter, or Nora’s half-sister.’ She was phenomenal, owning the stage with such grace and musical discipline. The landscape of water between her and the audience almost suited the serenity she brought to her performance and when she left the stage we felt like we had just come out of a meditative trance – calm, peaceful, happy to be at WOMAD.

Yet, it was nearly Saturday evening – time for a weekend drink and get our revelling under way. We quickly made our way to the Todd Energy Brooklands Stage to check out jazz trumpet superstar Kamasi Washington. Washington and his band were right at home on stage and each member got their time to shine. Featuring two drummers and odd time signatures, Washington’s set certainly had you guessing. He addressed the audience about value in diversity and had a real message in his music. He could have happily played all night.

We headed back down to the main TSB Bowl Stage to experience local rock legends Dragon. With Dragon, you get what you expect. The classics ‘April Sun In Cuba’, ‘Are You Old Enough’ and their cover of Kool And The Gangs ‘Celebration’ proving to be fan favourites. The next morning our camping neighbour Odeyssa (the stereotypical WOMAD hippy) recounted how much she enjoyed dancing upfront with the Taranaki teenagers who were screaming the words to ‘April Sun In Cuba’ like their parents would have in previous decades.

Back up to the Todd Energy Stage and it’s time for the Lemon Bucket Orchestra. Hailing from Canada, they were arguably the highlight for Saturday. The vibe they had on stage was second to none, and they finished their act by leaving the stage and joining the foray of an already excited crowd, raising the energy even more with their orchestral version of Reel 2 Real’s ‘I Like To Move It’.

What was slightly odd was that despite St. Patrick’s Day, there was no Celtic representation from this part of the world (missed a trick there WOMAD). The closest we were going to get to a celebration of some traditional Irish tunes was by listening to some Quebécois francophone folk in the form of Le Vent du Nord. And all credit to them, they did a good job!

It was then time for the Afrobeat jazz sounds of Brazilian outifit Bixiga 70. Consisting of a large stage ensemble of musicians, Bixiga 70 took the audience on a journey through South American styles, including elements of electronica and funk. They used the stage to raise awareness of what they described as a military coup in Brazil and dedicated a song to Marielle Franco, an activist and councilwoman of the Socialism and Freedom Party who was murdered just a few days earlier.

We closed the evening back on the main stage with Havana Meets Kingston. While technically all sound and talented musicians, they did seem to get lost in their own jam and hence lost the crowd... and us. It was time to make our way back to the campsite and prepare for another music filled day.


Our Sunday started with the brilliance of The Milltones. Milly the frontwoman is fab! A true millennial country rocker band with a myriad of influences. The band was tight and performed like a well-oiled machine. It was evident that they really enjoyed performing together and the crowd loved them. They seem like they are on the verge of big things and totally one to watch out for.

It was also a time for us at WOMAD to focus on some of the stalls, food and drink that were on offer. And there really is something for everyone; from ample kids entertainment, to a lovely craft beer garden, alternative clothing stalls, bespoke sun glasses (Duskies) and the Wellness Village. We discussed a name change for WOMAD to WOMADAF – And Food, as we took the best part of an hour deciding what worldly culinary influences would decide our lunch and dinners with every kind of world food on offer, from quesadillas with fresh guacamole; to Asian fusion feasts; to tasty Greek souvlaki. Seriously, you need to put a good couple of hours aside at the festival to really indulge.

We had a quick chat with the trumpet player from Chico Trujillo (interview coming soon!), and decided it would be a must to check out their set. And it was a party, no doubt about it! With their mix of cumbia, reggae, bolero and rumba the Chileans were having a great old time - treating us to their Andean sounds and incorporating their iconic ska/punk sound.

But without doubt the highlight of Sunday was the phenomenal guitar duo of Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Heading to the main stage you knew it was going to be a wee bit different as they were using the band Tool as their intro music. Their sound is a mix of flamenco, rock, and heavy metal... only using their guitars with a series of musical effects on them. Gabriela was especially amazing, using her guitar as the percussion and drums. The pair have an outstanding chemistry between themselves, and the crowd went nuts as they performed an amazing version of Killing In The Name Of. If you have never come across Rodrigo Y Gabriela, CHECK THEM OUT... NOW!

We headed back to the campsite for the last time, reminiscing on our last couple of days in the lovely host town of New Plymouth. The whole experience was truly spectacular. The campsite was easy, with a very friendly vibe, great tent neighbours and virtually no trouble from anyone at all. WOMAD has to be the most under rated New Zealand festival, possibly through misconceptions that it's a 'Hippy Fest'. If you speak to anyone that has attended, that will attest that it is far more than that! No one leaves disappointed, and everyone wants to come back. 

Head there for 2019!