Amid the spacious environs of Adelaide’s Botanic Park, I find myself following well worn paths and note one of this year’s decorating features scattered about the site are Les Pheuillus (the Leafies), human-like figures made out of leaves held together with chicken wire and frozen in moment like the ashen volcanic statues of the long gone but still present inhabitants Pompeii. I make my way mid-site to watch 5AngryMen perform their comedic bungee jumping bell ringing performance of The Bells before the collaborative performance by Amjad Ali Khan & the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and his sons Amaan and Ayaan commences on the Foundation Stage. The performance of a combination of Indian and European classical music had an epic beginning, progressing into a call and response between the two musical entities that was like duelling banjos playing over an orchestra at times (and I do mean that in a positive way). Their very western pastoral sound evoking the east was the perfect soundtrack to wander and explore the site and was just as enjoyable further away amongst the bars.

Continuing towards Stage 3, I momentarily watched Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC) sound checking their percussive heavy, bass and vocal sound making a note to return for their actual set a little later. I made my way to the Novatech Stage for the start of Las Cafeteras party vibeAfro-Mexican fusion calling a seated audience to their feet and shaking the bats from their perches, their onstage antics employing the type of dancing you might see at a Ska concert. Returning to Stage 3, BCUC perform Fela Kuti via James Brown freeform riff exercises, and by the end of their set of extended songs, the audience was dancing wildly like it was in a Voodoo ceremony.

On the Foundation Stage Fatoumata Diawara started her set solo playing guitar in a style like WOMADelaide veterans Tinariwen. She voiced a “Happy Birthday” for International Women’s Day and her band joined her for a set of music that included elements of smooth 80s jazz sounding like a more funky Sade at times employing a vocalese-scat singing style, whirling lost in the moment with the inexplicable prop of what appeared to be a horse hair whip.      

I catch Timberwolf briefly on the Zoo Stage with a sizeable audience and with such an epic soundscape and commanding presence, I am surprised that he hasn’t been on my radar before now. At the other side of the site at the Frome Park Pavilion Compagnie BilBobaSSo perform Amor, a humorous take on everyday life and housework in a setting of a lounge room on fire.

Khurangbin on Stage 3 is a set that I make a deliberate effort to watch from start to end (although I did make my exit during their last song, walking backwards to make my way to the Foundation Stage). They commenced with a sexy, bass funk instrumental before guitarist Mark Speer’s, “What’s up Adelaide? We’re from Texas”. He and bassist Laura Lee could almost be a brother-sister twin combo in their matching Cleopatra style wigs with Cee-Lo Green look-alike Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums behind them. Their set consisted of mostly funk bass heavy extended instrumentals sounding like Serge Gainsbourg through filter of surf guitar noodling and when there is singing, their easy-listening co-vocalising is in a style more akin to backing than lead vocals. Speer in his Texan drawl thanks Adelaide and notes it is their first gig in Australia. Following the repeated vocal line of “Yes, this is the third room” in Evan Finds The Third Room, they play a quirky instrumental with several changes that leads into an eclectic instrumental medley including Spandau Ballet True, a note perfect Chris Isaak Wicked Game, then Sukiyaki amongst other songs only a musical savant or someone using Shazam could decipher. They finish by returning to a bass–funk heavy style with Mama Tambien including a nod to The Shadows Apachethat had been hinted at earlier in their set.

There is huge crowd assembled in front of the Foundation Stage eagerly anticipating Christine and the Queens and they are not disappointed by the headline set. After the first song Comme Si, Chris calls to the audience, “What a time to be alive Adelaide… This is Christine and the Queens for your entertainment”. The show (and it is a show) continues with Girlfriend, Chris and her dancers performing Beat It video or West Side Story inspired choreography which reaches its zenith later with the slow motion acted out fight routines during The Stranger which starts with her back to the audience contorting alone in the spotlight.

Even if you couldn’t read it from the lyrics, Chris makes apparent her struggle with and eventual embracing of a pansexual identity with her onstage theatrics and in-between song conversation. She is grateful for how quiet and attentive we are and even I am surprised. She describes her first album as melancholic and her second album as having more stamina and performs over half of the first and almost all of the second this evening. Damn (What Must A Woman Do) ends with a dance routine to Janet Jackson’s Nasty, before Chris starts singing 7 Seconds (coincidentally performed by Youssou N”dour and Neneh Chery on the same stage back in 2015), leading the audience in a sing along before quoting from INXS with Need You Tonight. She stops to ask the audience, “Do you want me to be your personal jukebox?” before recommencing her own songs with Doesn’t Matter and ends with the “vulnerability” of The Walker, and a “Thank you a lot” before the stage goes dark.

As the encore commences, the stage remains in darkness while the lup-dup heart drumbeat of Saint Claude begins and Chris starts singing, a spotlight revealing her opposite the stage on a makeshift podium beside the Accessible seating, the audience turning and making their way toward her. She then introduces what will be her final song as a lullaby but is actually the high-energy danceable early non-album song Intranquillite. She sets off through the audience with a cordon of her dancers before returning to the Foundation Stage to complete the song and her set, a final call out of “Call me please” before what could possibly be the highlight of this year’s WOMADelaide is over.

WOMAD Review By Jason Leigh