Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Groove heads to New Plymouth for WOMAD - now in its 10th year.



  

WOMAD Saturday 15 March. It's 7.30 PM on Saturday evening, and the weather gods are smiling - mostly at least. I'm sitting on the lake band between the Dell Stage and the TSB Bowl Stage, enjoying the wonderful samba-DJ mix from Jennifer Zea and Latinaotearoa. Zea's gig is just one of the highlights this weekend. While the rest of the country's diving for cover from Cyclone Lusi, the 'Naki remains, to date, at least, relatively unscathed. Rain has shown but the heat, both physically and musically has not been quelled. Tim Finn and the Bads (Dianne Swann and Brett Adams) opened WOMAD last night with a clutch of tunes from the Finn/Enz songbook. The man himself was sounding a little strained but the Bads' treatment of his material gave new life to stuff like "Fraction too much Fiction", some of his solo work and a bunch of ancient70's Split Enz numbers. Now while Finn was an attraction, the night was definitely owned by Kimbra. She 'arrived' resplendent and royal (pun intended) in a white cloak of shimmering stardom ready to take on all challengers! Her dress, a tutu styled cartoon number, was as loud as bombs as it almost threatened to drown out her own vocals! As if! She ran through a stunning assault from her new work (out soon) and her incredible debut Vows. Her vocal gymnastics, the power of big stage amplification and the size of the audience all added to her phenomenal presence.

Dean with Pokey LaFarge

Today began with West Papuan Aireleke, a dj/rapper/performed who mixes his traditional musical upbringing with colourful hip hop. He was a force for good! The afternoon saw Buika take to the stage - her magnetism and shear power was mesmerising. Fado singer Carminho has been the darling of the festival - singing (or battling) with/to Jax at the Taste the World and then twice on stage. Her sound mixes traditional and modern in its own elegant confrontation. Unlike others of the genre she is so fluent, you can understand on a lever almost beyond language. Sam Lee and friends proved to be more than just a Home Counties preservation society. Waiora, who specialise in traditional Maori instruments, brought a real depth of soul. Their performance was spellbinding, haunting, and impressive. By the way Google them up for koha/download of their sounds. Red Baraat brought the party back to the Mainstage with a full on percussive, brassy funk, mixing Indian Bollywood with Nu-York Jams. They had the whole bank up and dancing. Just say WOW! Pokey LaFarge showed why he's one of the headliners. His vintage, Southern charm warmed the crowd, as the moon cranked open the cloud-space and let the stars through. "This might not be the South but it's the furtherest south we've been," Pokey announced. His infectious retro-grooves even the teenagers boppin' in Charleston-style.


Mckenzie creating Gold leaves
on the Govett-Brewster Gold Tree sculpture

By far, one of the weekend's highlights was Roberto Fonseca. His Afro-Cuban Jazz is often to be found in the more 'academic' concert halls of residence but was a welcome alternative to funk-heavy party music on the other stages tonight. Fonseca is a real magician on the keyboards, as his fingers meld Mali rhythms with Afro-Cuban be-bop with hour, subtlety, precision and sometimes, urgency. And despite the potential polarisation Jazz can bring to festival crowds it's possible that he may have scored one of the biggest head counts of the night! For me, the night finished with Femi Kuti and his show. He performed at WOMAD 3 year's ago, and it was good to see him back. However, at a news conference earlier, he'd talked of the deep-seated corruption in his home country of Nigeria. Like his father, Fela Kuti, Femi too felt he could too stand as a people's representative. Yet, with the cancer so deep in the bone, he said, no single politician can ever turn around this culture. Sobering reflections indeed.

Pam enjoys the oppulent Media facilities

WOMAD Sunday 16 March. Holly Smith opened today with her "chur bro" charm and sonic soul. She ripped into a couple of impressive new ones, promising a new album - maybe - next March followed by a brilliant rendition of Hendrix's 'Little Wing' with keyboardist Guy Harrison doing a blinder of a solo. "you never know what the sun may bring..." croons Pokey La Farge, back for his second show, this time in full adoration of the Baby boomer Sunday-set. His perfect, crisp down-home retro Americana is still delicious highlight of the festival. Spot winners the Balkanista, a hotch-potch band of gypsy office-worker-cum-students from Welly brought their A-game, and the most flamboyant costumes, out site the kid's parade which the later led. Ann Brun showed her pseudo Celtic power on the Bowl stage later, performing a stormy she shanty with a rare driving shower appearing on cue for the ending. The rain soon cleared for Fonseca's second appearance.


Tim with Speech (Arrested Development)

Sadly, travel commitments meant that I missed Arrested Development's closing performance, the only one of the festival. But Speech was still everywhere - at Taste The World cooking turkey lasagne; In Conversation, raising his concerns about the commercialisation and violence of modern hip hop; and in a press conference back stage, swapping links to Kiwi hip hop and soul artists with me for his radio show. I also caught up with Kimbra and Pokey LaFarge back stage - interviews are on their way. Off stage there was a traditional tattooist, a weaving programme, a kid's area, street theatre featuring comedic crooning garbagemen, a pirate, fleabites and a solid gold tree in the park. 10 years in the 'Naki has seen this festival go from strength to strength an I'll guaranteed that this review will be only one perspective on this amazing three day weekend. It's never just about the acts; it's the atmosphere, the vibe, the 2000 strong tent village on the racecourse, and the love! A special thanks to the TAFT publicity crew and all the volunteers for making everyone so welcome and making Peter Gabriel's vision the best WOMAD festival in the world - hands down!

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