The 2017 WOMAD Awards

IMG_9563Another year later and I’m once again nursing an epic hangover from a wonderful three days at WOMAD in New Plymouth. This year we had the most stunning weather imaginable, the mountain was out in full glory, the flags were glistening in the sunshine and the people were kicking off their shoes and embracing bare feet as a cool-down method. The Bowl of Brooklands was looking its finest, and the music, food and dance that filled it was certainly world class, here are my picks:

The crowd favourite award:

This has to go to UK ska superstars The Specials. Their energetic set to close out Friday night was just what the doctor ordered. They had the bowl stage packed in and everyone was up on their feet dancing away as they charged through a hit filled set. Songs like Message To You Rudy and Ghost Town were echoing in my head for hours after they left the stage, only complaint – an hour set wasn’t long enough!

The unforgettable award:

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The Soil, an acapella trio from South Africa, blew me away. I am lost for words when I think back to their closing set on the Dell stage on Sunday night, it was the perfect performance to finish the festival on. This trio have voices like I’d never heard before and their ‘kasi soul’ sound is modern but traditional at the same time. It was simply magical to listen to under the trees and stars and beside a shimmering lake. I’ll never forget their show and that feeling.

The stage presence award:

Mali dance music hero Inna Modja had the most compelling stage presence. I couldn’t take my eyes of her! She moved with grace and funk, sang each note perfectly, told stories with pride and passion and generally just had me as putty in her hands.

The best dance party award:

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New Orleans jazz-hip hoppers the Hot 8 Brass Band had the crowd at the Gables Stage on Sunday dancing like mad things with their funky blend of genres. They had a contagiousness to their performance and I had a stupid grin plastered on my face as me and friends bogeyed the set away. Their musicianship was outstanding, to have so much talent on one stage is pretty darn impressive. Special mention to the trumpet player who regularly gave me chills as he hit such high notes so effortlessly.

The wow factor award:

Marlon Williams, our kiwi folk prodigy, ditched the dingy bar concert venues to take on the mighty Bowl of Brooklands and he did it superbly. He and his talented band the Yarrabenders, had the huge crowd overwhelmed in various fashions throughout his show. I was close to tears numerous times and kept gushing over how long he could hold a note for. I loved being up stomping my feet in a mad dash to keep up with the fast moving guitar before sitting back by the lake front to sway side to side in a mesmerised daze.

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The unexpected delight award:

Sitting down on a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch some of New Zealand’s best dancers on stage was a true privilege. The New Zealand Dance Company had the crowd captivated and were the talk of the festival for their stunning perfourmance of Brouhaha. I’m no dance expert but I loved it and didn’t want it to finish! Great to see the D put back in WOMAD.

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The Best of WOMAD 2016

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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:

Calexico

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.

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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

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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.

Tulegar

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.

Tami Neilson

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.

Song of the Week – Everyday People

Everyday People – Arrested Development

It’s time for a 90s flashback. On Sunday night I headed along to WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) at New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands. What an event as usual, even a cyclone couldn’t deter the crowds. The biggest of which flocked into the natural amphitheater main stage to check out hip-hoppers Arrested Development.

The old school rappers had people up on their feet dancing and echoing chants within minutes. The energy was electric. They played a perfect mix of new songs and old favourites but it didn’t matter if you knew them or not – the audience was included in every song.

These guys may be a hip-hop group but boy-oh-boy can they sing as well as rap. Lead rapper/singer Speech nailed every note and wowed the audience with a stunning rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song to finish the set. Tasha Larae has a powerhouse voice, she belted out notes that had everyone screaming with excitement because they seemed almost impossible to hit so perfectly. Montsho Eshe made sure there was never a dull moment on stage dancing around like a mad thing the entire performance, I could hardly take my eyes off her she grooved so hard yet she still perfectly delivered every backing vocal.

It was a memorable gig with the obvious highlight being Everyday People. Everyone in the crowd new every word to this song and the singalong reached new heights. What a jam. I can’t get it out of my head so it HAD to be this weeks song of the week. Enjoy.