Womadelaide 2018! I had been very much looking forward to this. One of Australia’s, indeed the world’s, premier music festivals. I am a recent convert, only attending over the last few years, and I have been kicking myself for missing out on twenty plus years of superb world music in the serene settings of Adelaide’s botanic park. Yes, it can be considered expensive, but the organisers know how to lay on a show.
I arrived early, getting in soon after the gates opened. I was on my bike, and the organisers had arranged enormous secure bike parking areas to cater for the hordes. While I was waiting for welcome to country, I wandered around the stalls and marketplace. The park had been transformed into a sprawling global village, with handcrafted wares of local and global provenance.
One of the highlights of the festival is the abundance and diversity of food. Wandering through the food stalls my senses were assailed with a mouth-watering array of smells from South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. With the afternoon sun beating down, indulging your inner hippy was the festival uniform of choice – cotton shirts and dresses in a bewildering array of designs, beads, ankle bracelets, sandals and bare feet.
To open the festival, representatives of Kaurna people came on stage for a stirring welcome to country. Tribal dancing and sacred smoke drove the bad spirits away, preparing the way for the good vibes everyone was expecting. First up was Bixiga 70, Afrobeat legends from Sao Paulo who got the crowd jumping with their brass, guitars, drums and keyboards dishing up funky beats with an undercurrent of street cred.
As the sounds of Bixiga 70 drained away, the crowds streamed away to the secondary stages. I wandered over to stage three to check out Baker Boy, the young Yolngu rapper from Maningreda in Arnhem land. I love hip hop, but sometimes it sounds tired, overproduced and boring. However, Denzel got the crowd jumping with his fresh and enthusiastic take on the genre. With live drums and didgeridoo Baker Boy delivered smooth, polished rhymes, and danced and bounded around the stage.
As night started to fall the lights came on and the crowds drifted back to the main stage to chill to the haunting and ethereal sounds of Grammy award winning sitar player Anoushka Shankar. The sheer size and scale of the event hit me then, the main stage area is huge, but there are stages and performance areas sprawling all over the park, tucked away under the huge Moreton Bay figs. The crowds were lively but mellow, with relaxed smiles and a festive vibe. The few police and security walking around looked bored, which is always a good sign at a festival!
There were half dozen cranes scattered around the park, with steel cables criss-crossing the air. As the night deepened the crowds filled the main stage and cast their gaze heavenward to be greeted by white angels of the French aerial dance troupe, Gratte Ciel. Performers garbed as modern-day angels, bedecked with glitter and white feathers, performed death defying aerial antics as they walked, slid and wound their way around the maze of cables strung above the park, dropping clouds of white feathers over the crowds. The effect was quite incredible, as they transformed the sky into a fantasy world of angelic visions.
Looking for some more music, I headed back to stage three check out the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble from the United States. They performed live brassy urban beats, combining jazz with hip hop rhymes. Hypnotic would not perhaps be the best way to describe their band, as they had a lot of energy and had the crowd writhing and dancing.
Last show of the night was back at the main stage, to see the acoustic rock duo Rodgrigo y Gabriela. These performers are nothing short of incredible, they play their guitars with flair and in perfect synchronicity. The sound is hard to describe, you can hear that acoustic South American sound, but with an underlying heavy metal like intensity. In any case it was a mesmerising and superlative performance and a perfect way to end the night.
Most of the crowds started to gradually stream out at this point, and I joined them. It is a marathon, and Friday night is really just a teaser, there are three more action packed days to go and I’m very much looking forward to Sunday!
Review by Jeremy Watkinson