My previous blog was mid-stumble around the essences and indeed challenges of a Womad Festival experience. In it, I have tried to say something about both the fascination and the concern I have regarding how the music was – and is – performed and received.
For example I personally found Baaba Maal’s Saturday night headlining gig relatively dull. But I freely accept that this was in part due to choosing to waft around the perimeter of the crowd where the degree of engagement from all parties was decidedly lower than say ten yards from centrestage. Also, Baaba Maal chose to play what I imagine he hoped was a thought-provoking, dignified, suitably atmospheric set. There was a fair lump of acoustic strumming and relatively little dancing action from his generally flamboyant cohorts. I absolutely respect the choices he made but feel that relatively few punters really connected.
Earlier I had wandered into the leafy space that was and always is the location for the BBC 3 Stage. It’s intimate in the sense that it’s pretty much wrapped in trees and therefore the natural capacity is maybe 300. Most folks are sitting down in the balmy heat. In truth I had found myself there slightly against my instincts, being sure that some middle-aged Moroccan geezer with tricksier young’uns called the MoRoccan Rollers was likely to be a let-down, given the dodgy name and all. But Hassan Erraji was delightful; the band playing in a decidedly joyous groove that insinuated its way through the gathering. We all found ourselves smiling: some danced. It was consistently, appropriately, effortlessly gorgeous and understood: one of the quiet gems that Womad, year on year, does place quietly in your palm with a knowing wink and perhaps a “ssshh”.
Did Hassan know something special or expertly/knowingly deliver something special? Does he keep on doing that? What was really the making of that experience?
I ask these obtuse questions
- As a music lover (honest)
- As one, therefore, who actively wants to like that which presents itself
- As one who believes in goodness and heart shining through
- As one who will not tolerate indulgences.
AnDa Union – a Mongolian/Chinese troupe of singers, dancers and players had just started as I approached left of stage about 1-ish Saturday pm. From the first moment there was something extraordinary and yes moving about what held me/I hope us. It was majestic without the ostentation, it was swirling warmly like an exotic spice. Principally it was the sound of what I am prepared in my ignorance to describe as Chinese cello’s, beautifully milked by hands – apparently softly cupped hands – drawing bows easily across horsehair strings. In a truly memorable minute or ten, an immaculate female vocalist, arms outstretched expressively, absolutely nailed some unknown classic. I like to use and enjoy using the word sensational. These moments were sensational.
Donso I found by accident, during one of many wanders around the circuit of 5 principal stages. They had something, something understandably associated in the programme with Malian techno-traditionalists(!) They brought us an old/new, fluid, unforced French/African groove. They were maybe under-supported I felt – or rather their gently shimmering colours were fit for and worthy of a higher, dancier billing. (But nobody knows them).
The events I have singled out were truly diverse in nature; I did not go seeking a particular niche or for re-affirmation of some musical loyalty. I just went with faculties generally switched on, prepared to do enough de-construction of my discoveries to more fully appreciate those I chose (somehow) to believe in, and dance to. And maybe, as a friend said in another, loftier intellectual context, to ask questions – always to ask questions. I hope to have a relaxed view of any need for conclusions.
Come the Sunday night it felt like what the festival had slightly lacked for me was some good old-fashioned NRG. Dub Pistols were an honourable exception to this, so I guess I’m referring to bill-toppers; and I confess to being unhelpful in the generality of this assertion. The phrase this is how it felt – which I now intend to apply – suggesting a fair degree of bias/insight/unreliable but well-meaning judgement that I do not expect to fully vindicate nor intend to, is maybe not as loose as it may sound. This is how it felt.
It felt amazing and exciting, perhaps for the first time exciting, when Gogol Bordello launched into the first twenty minutes of their set. They were on it bigtime. Spunky, brassy, cool, noisy, raw and even from some distance – I checked – awesome and affecting. As soon as that magnificent tide turned in their set, I drove the family home to Wales.
But a last rider. Many things were great, as always, with Womad. However, apart from those briefly noted above, and in the previous blog, it may be that the real jewel (for me!) was being intimately exposed to the film animations of David Shrigley and William Kentridge. That these were shown in shipping containers by-passed unawares by many may, on reflection, be a matter of regret. I for one will be following up on this discovery.