WOMADelaide brings together a diverse audience of ages, backgrounds and cultures and is a feast for the eyes and the soul. That feasting takes its toll and by Monday of the long weekend the pace slowed as the crowds recovered from three big days and nights of dancing and wandering over the Botanic Park site.

It’s a highlight of the year for my family and the kids feel at ease in the friendly surrounds that are both familiar and comfortable. We’ve gone from prams and napping under shady figs to spending many hours in KidZone climbing trees, joining in dress up parades and crafting up a storm. It was fitting that KidZone would kick-start our afternoon and there was one thing on our minds: the Silent Disco.  Far from the eclectic musical offerings on the stages scattered around Botanic Park, the playlist was all about mainstream pop and we boogied on down with a crowd of happy families to a triple threat combo of Katy Perry (Firework), Taylor Swift (Shake It Off) and Bruno Mars (Uptown Funk).

Feeling energised, our attention turned to a pile of long sticks, hessian and rope and it was time to build a cubby. Kids everywhere scrambled and tied loops, with a handy parent holding things up whenever height was an advantage. Tent pegs were fashioned out of broken twigs and hammered in by sawn off pieces of timber while abandoned and unattended projects were broken down for new resources. Eventually each building crew had something that felt just right.

After building our own small project, we checked in on Ephemeral City at Frome Park, where we’d all spent time taping together boxes and working with many other festival-goers to lift a huge double helix construction the day before. At about 25 metres high the tower had become a spot for festival sightseers, keen to take some time away from the noise and find a spot to chill out and marvel at what can be achieved with people power.

In the background, the urgent rhythms of Maalem Hamid El Kasri washed over Frome Park and called us to the Novotech Stage. El Kasri’s performance was hypnotic as he played the guembri, a three-stringed bass lute, surrounded by four men in long, ornate blue gowns clapping hand cymbals. The music suited the relaxed, afternoon vibe of revellers who wanted to sit beneath the trees and let the sound wash over them while flying foxes chattered and flew overhead.

We wandered back through the site, past a number of this year’s resident ‘leafies’, human-shaped sculptures created from chicken wire and stuffed with collected autumn leaves, many of which moved each day. The drawcard for mid-afternoon was Baloji, who brought brought sunshine to the stage with funk, soul and poetry. The crowd jumped high, dipped low and grooved along as Baloji hyped the energy.

The dance, music and art of WOMADelaide are one thing to enjoy, but there’s also a world of amazing food on offer and only one weekend to dip into the culinary delights. Govindas feast is a staple that must be enjoyed at least once, Holy Cow chai is a daily need, and the Cajun fish tacos were my favourite discovery this year.

The other fun of stopping to eat is another favourite WOMADelaide pastime – people watching. By day four the crowd has really embraced all of the fashion and feel of the event and barefoot children run wild, gypsy looking folk jingle with bells and flowing fabrics and jaunty hats are par for the course.

As we ate, an intense bass rumbled across the site, The Colour of Time performance had begun and the kids’ eyes lit up with delight. We simply couldn’t miss another chance to get involved in the joyful experience. We lined up along the path of the parade where dancers burst into sight, moving in unison. They were dressed in white clothing and threw coloured powder, creating smoke-like bursts in the air. The crowd joined in as the parade progressed, collecting sachets of colour from volunteers and throwing them in the air, on to one another’s hair, clothes and everywhere. The playful pandemonium was addictive and everywhere broad smiles beamed from increasingly colourful faces.

We broke away from the party to catch Amsterdam-based My Baby in action. The three-piece plays psychedelic funk rock that at times veers into swampy blues that channels The Black Seeds. They created a wild dance party under the pines that was impossible to resist.

Despite my legs felt like they had run a marathon*, the next act on the Foundation Stage made me jump for another hour. Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar is Balkan music infused with gypsy brass and a whole lot of other influences in the mix. The crowd couldn’t get enough as Shantel called on them to jump higher, dance faster and sing along with music.

Happy, but exhausted from two hours of dancing, we slowly wandered to the circus stall in the market where the kids could swing poi and play with hula-hoops and ribbons with new friends while we found a lush bit of grass to sit and enjoy The Bamboos. Front-woman Kylie Auldist shone in a blue sequinned dress and lived up to her soul-queen reputation as she blew away the crowd with her glorious voice. While the band had the crowd up-front dancing, it was a perfect interlude to simply stop and listen.

As The Bamboos wrapped up their set I said goodbye to my family and struck out on my own towards The Original Gypsies, who closed theevent on the Foundation Stage. With three former members of the Gypsy Kings, Chico Bouchiki, Canut Reyes and Paul Reyes amongst the eight guitarists lined up along the stage, even just the sight of the band was impressive. Their sound was all encompassing, with layer upon layer of guitars picking the way through complex flamenco rhythms overlaid with husky vocals.

As the band played, in true WOMADelaide fashion I easily made my way to the front of stage to enjoy a few songs in the heart of the crowd. Everyone was entranced by the music and happy to let me get forward for a moment, or WOment if you embrace the language of the space. 

It was a perfect end to a wonderful weekend where people come together to experience fun, music, art, food, dust, colour, silliness, stillness, dance and more. They make space for each other and leave feeling a bit more whole, which is how I felt as I made my way back out of the crowd and through the gates as the strains of Bamboleo filled the air around me.

* a quick check of my fitbit today shows I walked over 65 kilometres across the weekend

WOMAD Review By Sarah Martin