Tomorrow, we set off to WOMAD (27-30 July) again for their 35th year with a lineup that is sure to keep me up on my feet for the long weekend. If you’re going then make sure you download their brilliant app. I’d be lost without it. Schedule who you want to see and get reminders, notifications and more. An essential piece of kit for getting the most out of your time at WOMAD.
In my recommendedations I’ve stuck to music so don’t forget there’s also the art, dance, workshops, politics, physics, storytelling and numerous children’s events, Our two two boys, aged 11 & 12, already have a full schedule. There’s always something going on for everyone, quite literally!
Also worth adding…I always discover new music at WOMAD so this is by no means aimed at being the ‘Best of’ – I’ve not included everyone I want to see – it would be a very long list otherwise. Some artists appear more than once during the festival, but one performance may be a more intimate performance at the Ecotricity in the Arboretum stage followed by a bigger performance on one of the larger stages or the same artist runing a cookery or dance workshop so check the schedule if you find acts you want to see that clash. And there are also non-scheduled secret gigs such as the one put on by This is the Kit last year. Keep your eyes and ears open!
Interestingly, the WOMAD app also tells you ‘what’s hot’ based on ‘Most Scheduled’ and ‘Most Liked’. The top 10 most scheduled (that shows more committment than a tick in my book) are currently:
TOP 10 Most Scheduled Acts
- Toots & the Maytals
- Ladysmith Black Mambazo
- Afro Celt Sound System
- Benjamin Zephaniah & The Revolutionary Minds
- Orchestre Baobab
- Roy Ayers, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
- Oumou Sangaré
- Seu Jorge: The Life Aquatic/Tribute to David Bowie
- Portico Quartet
Not far behind are Cerys Matthews and Eliza Carthy & the Wayward Band (get in there)!
Thursday & Friday Preview
Thursday 27th July 2017
Bixiga 70 (Brazil): Named after the multi-cultural neighbourhood in São Paulo from where they hail, Bixiga are a ten-piece band who draw from the city’s avant-garde, pop, jazz, dub and Brazilian music scenes. We reviewed their 2015 album III here on which Helen concluded:
Bixiga 70 have come a long way in the two years since their previous album; III finds the band themselves sounding their most confident so far on a solid and highly enjoyable album with engaging compositions and impressive playing by all ten members, either solo or as an ensemble. Factor in recording and production values of an equally high standard and you’ve got a very accessible album which deserves to be a significant crossover success.
Orchestre Baobab (Senegal): Senegal’s veran dance band should need no introduction
Friday 28th July 2017
Daymé Arocena (Cuba): Daymé has had a lot of exposure in the UK this year including a great session on the BBC’s Later with Jools whose delivery is pitched equidistant between Nina Simone and Celia Cruz.
Maarja Nuut with Hendrik Kaljujärv (Estonia): Maarja Nuut transforms tradtional tunes into incredible soundscapes using loops and body percussion. She is unarguably an innovator and there will not be another performance like this one.
(Members of) The Orchestra of Syrian Musicans (Syria): This stems from another great Africa Express project, the same folks who brought us Terry Riley in C Mali, it reunites Syrian musicians across Europe and beyond who have been displaced by civil war. It promises to be a emotionally strong performance based on the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall 2016 performance which can be streamed in full here.
Metá Metá (Brazil): Expect a mix of everything with Metá Metá. Wailing ancient chants with punk rock to freeform jazz to more traditonal Brazilian, Latin and African forms. Maybe not for musically the feint hearted but I find them fascinating and brilliantly cutting edge.
Inna De Yard (Jamaica): In the event of rain I’m pretty sure that Inna De yard will bring out the sunshine with their roots reggae…and if they don’t…then listening to this will make you more carefree.
Officina Zoé (Italy): Just take a listen to Mamma Sirena in our video preview above and you’ll sooon gather why Officnia Zoé are at the forefront of the revival of Italian folk styles such as tarantella abd pizzica. I think this will be another one of those lasting festival memories.
Junun featuring Shye Ben Tzur and The Rajasthan Express (Israel/India): I’ve already lost myself several times in this project between Shye Ben Tzur, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and The Rajasthan Express. If you’ve not yet the beautiful documentary on the making of this album then I strongly recommend you watch it then buy the album. Watching how this music evolved is just as fascinating as the end result. I can honestly say this is one of my biggest personal highlights of the weekend!
Khmer Rouge Survivors (Cambodia): Last year WOMAD brought producer Ian Brennan‘s Hanoi Masters to the UK for the first time. It was one of the most fascinating performances of the weekend so I’m equally looking forward to his latest project Khmer Rouge Survivors featuring some of Cambodia’s musical elders who play, in the words of The Observer, “slow. eerie, south-east Asian blues”.
Oumou Sangaré (Mali): Oumou Sangaré is one of the most powerful female voices in African music today. In our album review of her latest album Mogoya, Rachel declared it an album to continually return to for strength and celebration. She has campaigned fearlessly to improve the position of women across Africa and this WOMAD appearance is sure to be a big crowd puller.
Alsarah & The Nubatones (Sudan/USA): Described by The Guardian as ‘the new star of Nubian pop’ we reviewed Alsarah’s album SILT in 2014, in her review, Helen declared it as “a thoroughly absorbing record, full of sounds and timbres from a region of Africa too often overlooked by many. It’s a fearless and ultimately successful project that draws together many diverse musical strands to create a richly glowing sonic landscape which effortlessly dissolves the restrictive boundaries imposed by the all-consuming Eurocentric mainstream; that it does so in such a vibrant, life-affirming way is what makes it stand out from so much of the insubstantial ‘mall music’ which swamps our day-to-day lives.”
Goat (Sweden): Seeing as we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love this year, the weekend wouldn’t be complete without some psychedelic ventures. That slot is filled by Sweden’s Goat who are sure to put on quite a party seeing as they were No. 6 in the most scheduled WOMAD act when I started writing this. An exotic mix of trance-like grooves, hypnotic incantations and serpentine guitar lines.
Trad. Attack! (Estonia): Another Estonian act on my must see are Trad. Attack! I saw a great session they recorded for KEXP this year (it’s in the preview) which convinced me this power-folk trio were a must see. Just check this out, they’ll blow the roof off!
Jamie Smith’s Mabon (UK): One band that should need no introduction to our regular readers. Jamie Smith’s Mabon were Artists of the Month last year following the release of The Space Between, you can read a great interview here. Neil summed the album beautifully in his review of the album –
The latest chapter in Mabon’s mission to weave anew the invisible and ancient strands of Celtic culture succeeds on a multitude of levels. We have the irresistible pull of its jigs, reels and a myriad of dance rhythms – the backbone of Mabon’s live performance. There’s Jamie Smith’s remarkable ability to create authentic melodies from those divergent but related influences, and the skill of the band as a whole in arranging them. And we also have the thrilling musicianship displayed by each band member that merges into a dazzling, single entity. Jamie Smith’s Mabon have always been a band for whom live performance is the ultimate expression of their art, their ability to excite and enliven a live audience is peerless. With The Space Between, though, the band have taken another positive and effective step in the confirmation of their capacity for producing memorable, thought provoking music in the studio.
Vigüela (Spain) To end my Friday night after Mabon, I really fancy this five-piece from the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain, a wonderful traditonal band who have been doing it well for 30 years.
Saturday and Sunday Preview
Saturday 29th July 2017
Amsterdam Klezmer Band (Netherlands): They also play the Friday night if you want a great party band and they’ll certainly get you in the right frame of mind when they play on the Saturday afternoon. They are one of the best Klezmer bands out there and they never disappoint – a hard-blowing seven-piece delivering at the top of their game.
Toko Telo (Madagascar): A trio of musical stars from Madagascar: D’Gary, Monika Njava and Régis Gizavo were all set to play WOMAD this year when Régis passed away on 16th July. They are determined to play in his honour, if you’re new to this music then do yourself a favour and catch them on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage.
Bokantè (USA/Guadeloupe): With a description of ‘Zeppelinesque blues stomps to folkloric Caribbean rythmns, what’s not to like!
Ifriqiyya Électrique (Tunisia/Italy/France): Another big highlight of my weekend is Ifriqiyya Électrique who we recently featured. The band were formed in the Djerid Desert in southern Tunisia, home to the Banga ritual of Sidi Marzûq. The Banga is a key annual event in the lives of the black communities of the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, descendants of the Hausa slaves transported from sub-Saharan Africa. It is a ritual of adorcism not of exorcism: of accommodating the possessing spirit rather than expelling it. Read more about them in our recent post here.
Tanzania Albinism Collective (Tanzania): Another highlight of the weekend is another project from producer and author Ian Brennan who traveled to Ukerewe, the largest inland island in Africa which can only be reached by an over packed four-hour ferry ride. It is a place so remote that historically people often traveled there to abandon their children with albinism and now serves as a haven for many with the condition.
There, he worked with members of the Standing Voice community, who volunteered for songwriting workshops. Brennan encouraged them to write about their experiences and to express what they wanted others to understand about their existence. But even among the willing, singing-out proved hard within a group that routinely avoided eye contact, rarely spoke above a whisper, and were unaccustomed to dancing.
This will be the first time any of the collective have ever travelled outside Tanzania with many leaving the island for the first time.
Parvathy Baul & Somjit Dasgupta (India): From one of the most contemporary performers of Baul music and the leading female voice in a male-dominated tradition.
Portico Quartet (UK): Portico Quartet will be performing music from their new album ‘Art in the Age of Automation’ alongside back-catlogue favourites. Even better they will be perfomring at the Bowers & Wilkins Sound System stage allowing a special live surround mix.
Bombino (Niger): Get your Tuareg blues fix with Omara “Bombino” Moctar
Trembling Bells (UK): A Glasgow-based band that should need no introduction to our regulars. Their last studio album Wide Majestic Aire blew our socks off. They play at the Arbouretum stage in the woods which will be perfect!
Afro Celt Sound System: Come on, if they weren’t on this list you’d think I need my head checking. The fabulous Afro Celts will be playing the Charlie Gillett Stage. The Afro Celts last album ‘The Source’ was a Featured Album of the Month on FRUK. Which Neil reviewed…a lifetime fan! As he said of their new album “the pan-continental beats and musical traditions that have always been their hallmark are there in abundance. The host of new collaborators bring new life to the music too, and will undoubtedly go a long way to expand the band’s audience.” It will be a good one!
Toots & The Maytals (Jamaica): You just know this is going to be an atmospheric set as Toots unleashes classics that will have everyone dancing. This is WOMAD…people love to dance at this featival!
Ghada Shbeir (Lebanon): If I’m still stood after all the dancing this late night set in the Siam Tent is likely to be my perfect end to a day. From traditional Middle Eastern folk songs to Syriac and Ancient Maronite religious chants, I think it will be quite magical.
Sunday 30th July 2017
Cerys Matthews (Wales): Cerys will be presenting one of my favourite BBC Radio 6 shows on the Charlie Gillett Stage as special simulcast with BBC Radio 3. Last year was great fun and it’s a perfect way to start the final day at WOMAD.
Spooky Men’s Chorale (Australia): For those who want a scream, I’m pretty sure the Spooky Men’s Chorale will be huge fun. They’re also running a workshop to help you sing like a bloke (blokes of all genders welcome).
Mamadou Diabaté & Percussion Mania (Burkino Faso): hailing from Burkino Faso where he has built a primary school where poor children are taught free of charge comes Mamadou Diabaté, master of the Balafon, the West African xylophone.
King Ayisoba (Ghana): This is sure to be a great set, as are all the artists on the Glitterbeat Roster. Born in Bolgatanga in rural Ghana, King Ayisoba was a prodigy on the kologo (two strings spanned over a goatskin stretched over a calabash), playing locally until he’d outgrown the possibilities of the area. His new album is fiery and uncompromising – a raw, emphatic sound that fuses kologo music with contemporary sonics. Feat. Lee “Scratch” Perry, afrobeat legend Orlando Julius & more.
Noureddine Khourchid & the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus (Syria): It’s great to see such a Syrian presence at this year’s WOMAD and having watched several videos of them perfomring this is another weekend highlight for me. I could watch them dance for ages. Totally mesmerising, check the clip in the preview above.
Vesevo (Italy): Vesevo are a new musical trio that take the bucolic sounds of the region around Naples, blend them with world beats and modern arrangements to create some utterly enthralling new music that beats with a primal heart. They were a Featured Album of the Month on Folk Radio UK and I can’t wait to see them live for the first time. It’s opportunities like this that make WOMAD such a great festival.
Benjamin Zephaniah & The Revolutionary Minds (UK): Another one of the most scheduled acts so far. A voice we need in our current climate as the poet voices his dicontent through music and his latest project – Revolutionary Minds. Pencil me in…
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band (UK): Eliza and her band will leading us into the early evening for what will be a powerhouse performance. I’ve seen them three times and thy never fail to impress! Eliza and her band were our Artist of the Month in January with the release of Big Machine. As Thomas concluded in his review: Big Machine has all the hallmarks of a vastly important release, and should cement Eliza Carthy’s place as one of our most valuable musicians. he wasn’t wrong. Don’t miss this.
Loney Dear (Sweden): The latest signing to Real Word Records has been creating waves. The Swedish multi-instrumentalist is more than capable of creating unique intimate sets as he revealed on a recent La Blogotheque session which we’ve included in our preview.
Msafiri Zawose (Tanzania): Msafiri Zawose is currently one of the most admired Gogo musicians today. Born into a family that honors tradition, he is determined to preserve this style of music that plays a key role in the rich heritage of Tanzania. Gogo music, originating in Central Tanzania, derives its unique sound from the mixture of the traditional instruments and the incorporation of multiple vocalists.
Ariwo (Iran/Cuba): Another band I’m keen to see live after seeing a Boiler Room set which left me spellbound. Exploring the rich intersection between electronic music, Afro-Cuban rumba and Sufi Mysticism.
And there you have my selection. If you’re a first timer go and seek out bands you’ve never heard before as well. Part of the beauty of WOMAD is the world of discovery they offer over a long weekend. There isn’t another festival like it, the best festival on the planet.
Find out more here: womad.co.uk