Festival Review: WOMADelaide 2016 (Part 2) – Sarah Blasko + Ladysmith Black Mambazo + Marlon Williams – Botanic Park (13.03.2016 – 14.03.2016)

The physical and emotional hits kept coming for the last two days of WOMADelaide 2016. The heat would not relent, and while watching Quarter Street send the crowd into a salsa frenzy on Monday, sweat accrued in places that it is not natural for sweat to accrue.

Thankfully, the crowd didn’t mind. In fact, they wiggled their hips even more enthusiastically than ever in an apparent act of defiance against the humidity. Given the pumping brass and percussion soundtrack, the searing sun and the party atmosphere were really quite appropriate. We could have been anywhere from Miami to Rio. Not all the dancing was skilful, but it was surely enthusiastic. And what the crowd lacked in dance ability, Quarter Street made up for in musicianship. They made the very difficult look easy and sound great.

On Sunday Sarah Blasko battled very professionally through heat induced technical malfunctions to deliver a beautiful performance. Her set was a mix of her most well-known material and a number of new tracks, presumably the beginnings of a new album. Her voice was as crisp as ever and her persona on stage was mesmerising enough to make you forget that you were, literally, melting.

Earlier that day, and then again on Monday, Ladysmith Black Mambazo proved why they are mainstays of WOMADelaide. Their energy is undeniable and their cheery demeanour is irrepressible. I defy anyone to watch these majestic gentlemen perform without smiling. Great music grabs you in a place beyond thought and mind – it’s soulful. Whilst that’s what this whole festival is about, no act embodies that ethos better than these men. Their storytelling and angelic voices really do create a transcendent live experience.

For me, the discovery of the whole weekend was easily Marlon Williams. Playing this set with The Yarra Benders, Marlon had everyone in raptures. That’s just the kind of voice he has. It’s equal parts angelic and devilish. Within two refrains he can effortlessly move through the vocal stylings of Elvis, Eddie Vedder and Roy Orbison.

The blend of Blues, Country, Bluegrass and Roots that Marlon brought to WOMADelaide this year was, to say the least, impressive. “Dark Child” was moving, “When I Was A Young Girl” was haunting and “Hello Miss Lonesome” was a romper from start to finish. Accented by some well place covers, this set exhibited the apparently limitless talents of Marlon superbly. With cutting guitar, rampaging drums, nuanced bass and gorgeous harmonies the Yarra Benders provided the perfect complement to Marlon’s shining star.

Monday’s other highlights included high energy brass-dominated Japanese funk from Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro before a special performance from John Grant began to wind things down. The placement of such a master of cool on the final evening of the festival was genius. The mood among the crowd as John enchanted us was probably symbolised by the presence of Marlon Williams who cheered John while rolling a smoke. Earlier, Marlon had referred to John as the “greatest songwriter of all time”. Whether that’s true or not, it’s not for me to say. But I’ll tell you this, Byron, Poe and Keats have nothing on him. He’s a modern man’s poet with a striking ability to wind lyrics around stunning melodies.

I walked out of Botanic Park Monday evening happier, wiser and more enlightened than when I entered on Friday evening. I’d had fun, sure. But more than anything, I’d been moved. And moved deep within me. Only a festival such as this can do that like this one does. May WOMADelaide live forever.