I’m finally starting to recover today from the most magic three days of listening to music from all over the world, eating enough delicious food to sink a ship and dancing till my feet hurt. WOMAD 2016 was once again epic in every way. The whole event gets a 10 out of 10 from me, but there were a few particularly special moments over the weekend so here are my musical highlights:
The indie band from Tucson, Arizona were crowd favourites last time they came to WOMAD so people packed into the Bowl in huge numbers to catch their Friday night closing set. Their mixed sound was fresh and compelling with every track. At times we went from dancing to mariachi songs to swaying to slowed down brass-heavy ballads. A particularly special moment came when they got Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins on stage with them to sing a couple of songs. Her voice complemented their sound beautifully and everyone in the crowd was raving.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
The South African male a cappella group were the much talked about headliners ahead of the festival, and seconds into their set it was obvious why. Their choral blend of male voices was spine tingling, the songs they sang were emotional and enchanting and their on stage energy was contagious. The Grammy award winners shone best during performances of the Nelson Mandella tribute Long Walk To Freedom and Homeless, the song from Paul Simon’s Graceland album which launched their international career. Oh and we can’t forget the impressive dance moves – the high kicks were echoed on dance floors across the rest of the festival.
Bic Runga and Tiny Ruins
I want to shake anyone who tells me the New Zealand acts aren’t important at WOMAD. Our local musicians stand up against the international acts incredibly well and in many cases stole the show this weekend. A real highlight came in the shared set of Bic Runga and Tiny Ruins. Their contrasting voices complemented each other perfectly. They played a mix of each others music and pulled off one of the best covers I’ve ever heard of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. Show closer Sway went down an absolute treat with a huge crowd singalong. This was the favourite act of many people I spoke to.
De La Soul
Is there anything this American hip hop group can’t do? WOMAD probably isn’t the typical sort of festival they’d play but they nailed it. Front men, Pos and Dave, were true performers who got the crowd involved in every way possible. As I danced down by the lakes edge I loved looking up the natural amphitheatre of the Bowl of Brooklands and seeing the whole audience fully embracing their show. In fact, three people loved it so much they dived into the duck-poo infested water and swam across to the stage to have a boogie with the rappers. Their backing band was brilliant, their wordplay hilarious – it was such a fun way to finish the Saturday night.
This duo is pitched as Mongolian throat singers, Chinese folk music players and grunge musicians. Hell of a combo right? Well as bizarre as it sounded, it was a real highlight for me. These three genres came together magnificently to form an almost indie-country sound. The eerie throat whistles from Gangzi, who’s trained as an opera singer, were spine-tingling and the electric guitar playing from partner Zongcan was impressive. Add to the mix their hilarious banter in between songs calling each other Kiwi Boys and asking if we were “ready to rock”, and the crowd couldn’t have been a happier bunch watching Tulegar.
Pass The Gat
After their much hyped show in the Taranaki Arts Festival last year, Kiwi musicians Warren Maxwell, Thomas Oliver and Louis Baker, pulled in a huge crowd for their Sunday afternoon set. In this show they collaborate on each others songs in the most beautiful fashion. All three of their voices flow so smoothly together and it’s incredibly powerful, particularly on the slower tracks. Maxwell’s Trinity Roots and Little Bushman songs were particularly popular as they were best known by the audience, but Oliver’s and Baker’s songs really held their own and showcased what up and coming artists they are. A rousing cover of Take Me To the River started a great dance party before Home, Land and Sea had everyone mesmerised in a chilling finale. My only complaint was that the set was over too soon.
The Jerry Cans
This fantastic band hails from Iqualuit, Nunavut in Northern Canada, one of the most remote arctic places on earth. For that reason their songs are sung in a mixture of English and Inuktitu, an Eskimo language. Add to that, throat singing front-woman Nancy Mike, a fiddle-base to every song and the indie influence of front-man Andrew Morrison and it makes for quite a quirky sound. But this is a good kind of quirky, their set on Sunday evening was a captivating one. I went from dancing like I was in an Irish jig to having my mouth drop open as Mike made noises I didn’t know were possible. The crowd was lead in a throat singing battle, taught about Inuktitu culture, encouraged to dance up a storm and sing a long in Inukitutu. It was such an energetic and rewarding show, people walked away a little bit in love with the Jerry Cans and chanting “MAMAQTUQ” over and over.
As one of the closing acts on the Sunday night, Kiwi songstress Tami Neilson had a challenge on her hands. Would it be a good finish to an amazing weekend? That’s what my friends and family were asking. I insisted it would be and they were all so glad they stayed behind late to check her out. This woman is a powerhouse and her backing band are brilliant! She lead us through foot-stomping rockabilly dance tracks and made us all quiver with delight in slow country ballads like Lonely. She provided thoughtful and at times hilarious chatter in between tracks. My sister-in-law aptly named her New Zealand’s Adele. It was the best end we could have asked for.