By Bernice Chauly
My first WOMAD experience in Toronto, Canada in 1988 was a seminal experience – having hitch-hiked from Winnipeg, some 1500 km away where I was in university. A music-festival junkie by then, I had to get to WOMAD Toronto by whatever means possible as the man himself — Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — would be there.
The late Qawwali singer was at his peak then. Standing there upfront amongst the throng of thousands in Toronto’s Harbourfront, exhausted, smelling “ripe” — as put by one kindly truckdriver before offering to pay for baths for me and my fellow hitch-hiker — I had the epiphany I had had so badly wanted. I’d heard the voice of God.
WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) was birthed by ex-Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel in Shepton Mallet, England, in 1982. Having reached legendary status in a few years as the most important launching pad for an emerging genre called “world music”, musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and others owed their fame and fortune entirely to Gabriel’s yearly concert, and his music label, Real World.
In the years after, WOMAD spread worldwide as far as Taormina (Sicily), Gran Canarias (Spain), Adelaide (Australia), Taranaki (New Zealand) and Singapore. Celebrating 10 years in Singapore, WOMAD has reached climactic success owed primarily to its festival organisers and fans who continue to populate Fort Canning Park every last weekend in August, year after year.
Having also been to WOMAD Singapore sporadically from its inception, I found myself once again, upfront among the throng of thousands. Apart from the last-minute absence of Sheila Chandra (another significant Real World artiste) which was thoroughly disappointing (she was the reason I’d taken the bus down for really), I had a blast. Perhaps the epiphany I’d needed from Chandra’s haunting drones was unnecessary after all – all music is sacred and WOMAD seems to just reinforce that fact over, and over again.
Moments during some of the year’s highlights have been captured on my manual camera. In order of appearance, these are:-
- Ensemble Shanbehzadeh — This father and son duo from Iran perform Persian, Arabic, African and Indian traditions, music which converged in Iran over centuries of influence. Hauntingly beautiful music from the Iranian Neyanbânn (Iranian bagpipes), the Neydjofti (a double flute), the Dammâm (two-sided drum) and the Zarbetempo (percussion) with a virtuoso drum performance from 12-year old Naghib Shanbehzadeh.
- Mahotella Queens — These three dynamic women from South Africa have been performing together since 1961! In their 60s now and still in their colourful beaded skirts and headdresses, they gyrated, and sang with undiminished passion to the indestructible beat of Soweto.
- Asian Dub Foundation — Militant. Radical. Alive. Original. These boys are awesome! They almost brought the ten thousand-odd crowd to near stampede levels. Incredibly vibrant, powerful bhangra-based rhythms fused with breakbeat, dub, hip-hop make this band one of the top in the UK. Have to be seen to be believed.
- Clube do Balanco — The band that have been shaking Brazillian booty for six years. This testosterone-driven 8-piece band is respectfully reverent to the classic samba-rock sound combining swing in creating unapologetically sexual, ecstacy-inducing music. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Marco Mattoli and the sultry Teresa Gama.
- Etran Finatawa — Music from the blue men of the Sahara desert. This music combines the rich nomadic cultures of the Wodaabe and Tuareg tribes of Niger who sing their traditional polyphonic songs in tamashek (tuareg language) and fulfulde (wodaabe language) combined with blues guitar, calabashes and tende’ (Tuareg drum). Hypnotic, rich rhythms to the smell of goatskin.
- Shooglenifty — This Scottish band is a hit with both Rainforest and WOMAD crowds. Celtic folk fusion from the “acid croft” scene in Scotland create a rousing sound that make you kick up your heels and dance!
- Youssou N’Dour and the Super Etoile de Dakar — voted as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The man who perhaps single-handedly revolutionised Senegalese music — combining popular music mbalax with the original griot percussive rhythms and Afro-Cuban music — in creating a distinct sound that is his and his alone. This musical legend has also been described by Rolling Stone (2004) as “perhaps the most famous singer alive”.
- Muntu Valdo — This one-man act from Sawa, Cameroon, performs in the tradition of singer, songwriter, guitarist, percussionist, harmonica player to great precision. His mesmerising songs are of his life inspired by bossa nova, afro-cuban, blues, soul and funk. A one-man phenomenon.
First Published: 04.01.2008