The 25th anniversary of WOMADelaide proves that festivals of its kind are true musical sanctuaries

Oh, WOMAD. The World of Music and Dance is a hefty title to attribute to a festival but over the last 25 years, the institution has enjoyed huge amounts of acclaim and conjured many timeless memories. Festival goers make the trip every year to indulge in music discovery, learn more about different cultures and to feel a part of a movement that has truly tied the global community closer together now, over two decades in.

I’ve been attending the festival since I was about 19 years old but this year was the first in about three that I’ve been able to put in for the full Friday – Monday program. The first thing you need to learn about WOMAD is that this is not a festival easily digested. Like any degustation, you need to ease yourself in and enjoy the meal.

And what a meal it proved to be.

Across the program, we were treated to standout live performances from brass bands, hip hop artists, Indigenous legends and contemporary Australian pop artists well and truly on the rise. For those of us who enjoy WOMAD for the sheer opportunity of shirking expectation and heading in blind, this year’s line up presented some amazing artists I’d never heard of, but left a remarkable impact on me in the days afterward.

Pakistan’s choir of schoolchildren, The Manganiyar Classroom, charmed and captivated on Stage 2 – the voices of these young boys lit up the darkness of the nighttime program, easily standing out as one of my choice picks from WOMAD 2017. The idea that no one person from Manganiyar is born with music in their blood was translated brilliantly via the music and narrative that was told via the screen above the boys – a story told with enthusiasm and poignance where needed.

Weather hampered Sunday as Adelaide’s Botanic Park became drenched by rain, but this didn’t deter the crowds from donning ponchos or simply wearing the rain and continuing to dance elbow to elbow, muddying the lawns in the process. What a treat to lose oneself to the sounds of The Hot 8 Brass Band as the rain continued to fall, while the sun forced itself to break through the clouds? Or even, to sit in audience of Archie Roach as his iconic brand of storytelling enriched us at Stage 3 earlier that day?

MontaigneD.D Dumbo and Dope Lemon came through with huge crowds gathered for their shows, proof that bands born out of triple/double j success can stand toe to toe alongside some incredible world artists making their Australian/WOMAD debuts. Angus Stone‘s Dope Lemon project has become one of surprise success – at least in my eyes – over the last year, but I can see why. Regardless of your thoughts of his earlier work, Stone’s musical versatility and ability to spin gold out of each creative turn can’t be ignored.

Melbourne’s 30/70 hooked in on the Novatech Stage on Saturday night; one of my favourite discoveries from BIGSOUND 2016, the hip hop collective brought with them an eclectic and experimental show that had the crowd grooving as if in a heated club, not outdoors in the cold. They’re still pretty slept on, in my opinion, and although they might be emerging out from the shadows of Hiatus Kaiyote in some ways still, there is an uniqueness within 30/70’s delivery that I think will be generating more hype of its own through the rest of the year.

On Sunday night though, my top WOMAD set came when Electric Fields took to the Novatech Stage for an 8:45pm show. This was the first time I’d seen the duo perform after being given a little hint of their talent at the 2016 South Australian Music Awards. The presence Electric Fields bring to their live show is incredible and in Zaachariaha Fielding‘s commanding vocals, it was impossible not to get swept up in the, well, electrifying vibes. Nods to Nina Simone, equality and confidence were highlights of the set, while the fusion of English and Pitjantjara language was deft and effortless.

Ana Tijoux and Caiti Baker both struck chords across the weekend; the first with her dominating presence on the large stage, being backed by a tight band, the Chilean artist took the crowd through some amazing jazz, hip hop and funk influences that have shaped her career.

When it came to Baker’s Friday night set on the Zoo Stage, we were introduced to an artist fully flourishing into her own. With a band featuring the talented Zoe Hauptmann, severely underrated duo John and Paul Bartlett (of Lowrider fame) and James Mangohig (Baker’s Sietta partner), the singer had all the elements of a successful live show already in the mix but adding her powerful soul vocal to the formula made for a powerful execution of live music. An exemplary vocal range is Baker’s weapon and man, does she wield it with grace, confidence and charm.

L-FRESH The LION hit Stage 3 on Monday for a set I knew would be hitting the crowd right in the chest. I’ve seen L-FRESH a handful of times now and every time, there’s something new I fall in love with; whether it’s the endless amount of energy Mirrah exudes as she bounds across the stage, the dynamic relationship that exists between the vocalists and each band member right throughout the gig, or the connection L-FRESH maintains with crowds, now of an impressively large size. ‘Power to the Peaceful’ has always been the motto when its come to the Sydney rapper and his crew and once again, this empowered positivity shone through brightly with this show.

Of course, A.B. Original‘s monumental set on Monday was one a large percentage of the WOMAD crowd flocked to – coming off the back of their Australian Music Prize win, Briggs and Trials were joined by Baker and special guest Dan Sultan as they brought Reclaim Australia to life on Stage 2. It’s no secret the level of admiration and respect I have for A.B. Original, but their set was one that was talked about well before they even emerged onto the stage that day. Their reputation precedes them and it’s a show people want to be at not just to say they were there but because theirs is a show that pulls from deep within and delivers a sucker punch with a knock out effect.

While the craziness of Adelaide during this time of the year often leads to an exhausting and daunting feeling of over saturation, WOMAD remains a sanctuary for many – I know it is for me. The fact that I can wake up and hear distant drums then take a 10-15 minute walk to the festival site and immerse myself in four days and nights of music performed by professionals from all over the globe is an opportunity I never take for granted.

This festival is two years older than I am, yet I feel like WOMAD has established a legacy of a music institution that has run much longer – a great indication of the future it still has to come.

Lead Photo by Tony Lewis.