We arrived at WOMADelaide and were drawn to the sounds of The Bells performed by 5Angry Men. These guys brought some comedy and musicality to the genre of physical theatre, harking back to the days of the campanologists of medieval Europe. Inspired by seeing the 140 colourful flags flapping in the wind, all created by artist Angus Watt, we then headed to the Foundation stage for the all-powerful Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. Many of the Baroque hymns and Romantic European choral arrangements were familiar to me as a former Adelaide University Chorister, but these women took them to the next level! Sung in traditional Western Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara languages, the hymns and music were given an even greater reverence with the merging of these centuries-old cultures. There were some more recent hymns as well – joining in to sing Kumbaya my lord with the choir as well the 2500 strong crowd in Pitjantjatjara was spine tingling!

The highlight for the day, Las Cafeteras, was up next on Stage 2. A Mexican and US group who use traditional Mexican folk instruments, this group plays music from genres as diverse as hip-hop, rancheros and rock. Fuelled by a narrative of migration and revering the land upon which we live, this band mashed up popular songs such as the theme from Cops, “bad boys” with Mexican traditions. The afternoon crowd was ready to start dancing and clapping with their energetic harmonies. My favourite songs highlighted the vocals by Denise, with some beautiful melodies serenading the Kaurna land on which they were performing and moving tributes to all founding cultures and land. A 400-year-old Mexican song was mixed up with newer loops and hooks and had the audience clapping in the manner of deaf cultures in honour of one of the ensembles’ many deaf siblings. If I was President was a crowd favourite and everyone showed their support for the band’s sentiments about no walls and ending poverty. Finishing with a message of equality, the band danced up a storm on stage. 

Back to the Foundation Stage at 3pm we listened to The Silkroad Ensemble. Founded by world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the ensemble has been playing around the world for over twenty years. Membership of the ensemble is ever changing with over sixty members worldwide, and whilst there was no appearance by the eminent Mr Ma himself, ever member of the ensemble on stage on Sunday was a virtuoso musician. On their first tour of Australia, the nine members performing at WOMADelaide hailed from the US, Japan, China, Hungary, Holland and Spain. A grand piano, cello, double bass, violins, vocals, and percussion, were all played with precise musicality and joyous harmony. But it was the pieces using the Galician Gaita (Spanish bagpipes) which were the most profound and the best I’ve ever heard bagpipes sound. This traditional Spanish instrument sounds like a combination of oboe and bagpipes with a tonality more robust and less strident than their Scottish cousins. This musically-profound, Mozart in the Jungle-esque ensemble deserves an Australian tour of their own, one that would certainly appeal to the most discerning classical music tastes.

At 4pm it was time to take a break from the music and head for some rest and relaxation in the Tiser T Bar. Then we checked out WoMade and the Global Village to purchase some unique SA clothing. Part of the joy of Womadelaide are the friendly markets and amazing activities on offer so we spent an enjoyable hour just wandering around. The Ukele Death Squad was up next at the Zoo stage, however the popularity of these guys given their performances for the Adelaide Fringe, meant it was difficult to get a good spot to see them. They easily pulled a crowd worthy of one of the larger stages, and we were blown away by their energy, humour and prowess with these tiny instruments with a bass guitarist and alto sax adding body to the sound of the ukuleles.

One of the problems with Womadelaide is the number of great acts on at the same time on various stages. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it did mean missing out on the end of some acts to catch others. This is where we found ourselves at 5.30pm, when we went back over to see accordionist Sharon Shannon on the Foundation stage with her amazing troupe comprised of a beatboxer, fiddle and guitarists. The beatboxing culminating in the riff from Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water then climaxing in a fiddle and accordion folk duel was sensational. The accordion playing was extraordinary – having grown up with a grandfather who played the accordion this was the best I’ve ever seen.

We were also able to witness the end of the Indian-inspired procession The Colour of Time.  Such a wonderful, joyous, festive procession of music, dance and throwing of coloured gulal powder! The many kids covered in these colours after the procession and the happiness on their faces showed that it was certainly such a fun part of the day. We then checked out the Punctum’s Public Cooling House and grabbed a bite to eat. For dessert, it wouldn’t be a visit to Womadelaide without a donut from the Byron Bay Donut shop and judging from the line-up, many others thought the same. Tkay Maidza, a rising hip-hop was then on Stage 3. This young woman with a powerful voice was awesome and highlighted what WOMADelaide is all about – celebrating emerging Australian performers while welcoming world-renowned performances. The track When I put my tennis on certainly turned it up for the crowd and got everyone on their feet. 

7pm saw us at the Frome Park Pavilion for Adrian Eagle’s outstanding performance. This local lad recently rose to fame as the hook vocalist on the Hilltop Hood’s platinum single Clark Griswold. Eagle has overcome many odds to have recently toured Europe with the Hilltop Hoods and currently making inroads into the music scene as a solo artist, winning Best New Artist at the 2018 SA Music Awards. His messages of positivity were uplifting for the soul. With lyrics such as “I came a long way from Adelaide’s housing trust”, were backed by a bit of a reggae influence. Peace love and unity got everyone chanting these out. The crowd went wild for 17 Again with most of them knowing the words and proving that Eagle has a strong following without the Hoods’ patronage. Some funky rhythms with Being Alive demonstrated that Eagle’s career is one to watch and I’m looking forward to what 2019 and beyond brings for him.

We hung around the Frome Road side of the Park to check out the Ephemeral Village and then went to stage two for Shantel’s performance of Balkan infused electronica. Being their first time in Australia, the horns, saxophone, drums, keyboard, guitar were all brilliant. Hearing the crowd trying to sing a Balkan song was hilarious and the celebration finished up with a bit of old school rock channelling Elvis. 

Then it was time to settle in for the headline act of the evening – Angelique Kidjo, who was performing one show only. Taking Talking Heads’ album, Remain in Light, Kidjo has reimagined it and infused it with West African music. Kidjo didn’t disappoint, commencing with Born Under Punches, then singing a few haunting west African melodies followed by Listening Wind.  Some forceful comments from Kidjo about Mother Earth and that women matter as much as men, came before a rousing rendition of the Great Curve. Kidjo is certainly a powerhouse on the world music scene and knows how to bring together some formidable musicians to perform western music with such a world flavour. She had everyone in the crowd joining in, dancing and clapping to her amazing rhythms and sensational vocals. Certainly a performance not to be missed. 

After a wonderful day taking in as many of the sights and sounds of WOMADelaide, it was time to make our way out of Botanic Park to the sounds of Palestinian DJ SAMA’ on the Novatech stage. We were filled up with the beautiful wonder and spirit of world music and beats of electronica. It is such a privilege to host this festival in our Parklands each year and one that hopefully continues for many decades to come.

WOMAD Review By Kim Burley