Music Feature











Festival 2009


Photo by John Couzens

Charlton Park, UK

Friday, July 24 – Sunday, July 26, 2009


More Images to Follow





A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


There is simply no way that such an intensely diverse, enlightening and enjoyable WORLD music festival could be done justice to when written about in the context of a mere review. To do so would be to diminish WOMAD and align it with other well meaning, but intellectually and spiritually lesser festivals. To traverse the grounds of WOMAD and be privy to its plethora of beautiful, enlivening and sometimes enrapturing musical offerings is a rare privilege and one that engenders heartfelt thanks to the musicians and festival organisers involved in the staging of this endlessly inspiring event.

As a festival virgin who is, (how can I put this sensitively?) now a seasoned woman who vaguely remembers the time when Woodstock was world news, though I was admittedly too young to make my own way down those blocked up, back water New York roads into festival history then, I’ve managed to side step Glastonbury and every other festival of the many held in England for many years, until now. And now, according to my recently educated estimation, I’m about twenty-seven years too late to have been in on the beginnings of what has, over time, become something great, and, unmissable.

The main reason that WOMAD is a great festival is that its music comes from all over the globe. While it’s easy to say that we’ve become a global society these days, a visit to the WOMAD festival does much towards making that statement become a mental and, transitorily, a spiritual reality too. For me personally, there were far too many highlights of this year’s festival to be able to mention them all here, though I will give it a good go!





Mad Professor and his Dub Show

Photo by John Couzens


Friday night post tent-wrestling (it’d been a good twenty years since we’d put up a tent and we’d borrowed the one we’d brought), found us in the extremely cathartic presence of the Mad Professor and his Dub Show in the Big Red Tent which was filled to over-flowing with surprisingly, a crowd mostly comprised of adolescents and young teens, many of whom happily bounced up and down to the Profs cannily infectious mixes of dub reggae, pop, trance and house music non-stop. While it was great to see so many youngsters getting so stuck into some of our previously well trodden grooves, it was at times, somewhat off putting to be stared at as though I was a matron who’d shirked her duties at the local asylum while I was dancing.  But hey, the Prof wouldn’t want me to do otherwise, would he?  Shrill, collective screams were emitted when the Prof chose to mix the Jackson 5’s youthful hits ‘ABC’ and ‘I Want You Back’, presumably his own personal tribute to their recently fallen lead singer. Sadly, fame has a habit of engulfing some individuals. Nuff said... The Profs quirky rewind sounds in between his re-verbed mixes let us know he was about to switch gears, which he often did. Speaking of which, it was also refreshing and kind of amusing to notice a mum wiggling her bum like nobody’s business to the obvious disapproval of her three uninformed children.


The Black Arm Band

Photo by John Couzens



Just when I thought things couldn’t get any bigger than the Professor’s mixes and the huge reaction they’d received, I found myself in the Siam Tent, before the real life largeness of the politically insightful and compelling Australian collective, The Black Arm Band, an indigenous and non-indigenous group of musicians whose themes of solidarity between races expresses a message that is both relevant and necessary for these times if together, we hope to achieve healing and reconciliation. The gutsy, infectious upbeat anthem ‘We Have Survived the White Man’s World’ inspired thought as well as movement with its fervent message and compelling hooks. Far from being a song of hopelessness, this memorable number inspires hope for the future through its frank addressing of hard truths. Telling projections of historic events of importance to Australia’s indigenous population, in both positive and negative ways, formed a potent backdrop to this powerful groups’ diverse, strongly performed set. The collective’s spokesperson and sometime lead singer, Archie Roach told the crowd that he’d been one of the people who’d travelled to London recently in order to reclaim the bones of their ancestors and that he had also taken part in the traditional ceremony enacted over the remains in order to help them rest in peace, at last. Another anthemic number with a vibrant groove and potent lyrics was ‘All I’m Asking...(Is That What We Deserve?’) which stated, ‘Our basic human rights are being denied, They give the excuse that their hands are tied, They go on committing genocide, All I’m asking...’ Powerful and essential messages, conveyed through darkly uplifting music. At one point in their set, a didgeridoo player who extracted an amazingly wide range of sounds from the instrument drew appreciative clapping and cheers from the Friday night crowd.




Solomon Burke

Photo by John Couzens



Belatedly acknowledged King of R & B, Solomon Burke is a Grammy award winning singer-song-writer, who is said to be able to make his voice as ‘sweet as Sam Cooke’ and as rough as any soul or R and B singer; he is also a man who is famously, too big for his britches. Burke has drawn on his gospel, soul and blues roots over the half century he’s been performing, developing his own style at a time when rock and R & B were new, as well as making well received country and western recordings. Like many soul singers, Burke started his career as a preacher, moving into more secular music after signing with Atlantic Records in 1960. His 1964 song, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’ stands as an R & B classic, which also became one of the Blues Brothers’ theme songs in their 1980 film. Burke was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and appeared at the Glastonbury Festival for the first time in 2008. This appearance marked his first at WOMAD, a festival he’d, in his own words, ‘always hoped to perform at.’

Having spoken to a fellow next to me in the crowd who’d recently seen Burke in concert at the Barbican, I was informed that despite his massive girth, Burke would ‘materialise’ on stage, presumably though the miracle of electricity or lack thereof after he’d been wheeled to his throne.  On this occasion, however, Burke’s smoke screen was formed by a gaggle of smoothly quaffed young ladies in glittering red sheaths who parted like the proverbial Moses led Sea to reveal their seated celebrity master. And masterful Burke was too for the various styles he sang in, as well as for his way with the crowd, facetiously thanking them for their ‘love lights’ when cigarette lighters and mobile phones were held aloft during his performance. His generosity was later evidenced when he requested that his backup singers (one, his youngest daughter, of 21 children, the other a granddaughter, of an incredible 90) throw beads or t-shirts to whomever he selected, imploring one blue faced fellow from the Czech Republic, whom he’d invited onstage to dance, to distribute the long-stemmed red roses behind him to the ‘ladies in the crowd.’ Burkes’ singing, which was richly warm and soulful, also included numbers written for him by musicians such as Tom Waits - ‘Always Keep A Dime in Your Mind’ and Eric Clapton - ‘Why Can’t I Feel What I Want to Feel?’ Burke also spoke of some of his musical comrades, departed and living, among them Ike Turner, Ben E. King and his former boyhood school-mate Otis Redding, as well as James Brown, the latter of whom Burke’s larger than life attitude and actions put us in mind of. A subsequent medley of covers included: ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Stand by Me’ and Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’ which the audience sang along with. Adoring fans clambered onto the stage during the show, not always at Burke’s invitation and the group, which almost seemed to comprise a cross section of human nature given their mini-dramas, danced their hearts out, though a good time was, seemingly had by all. For my money, Burke’s a great character, and performers of his ilk are something of a live history lesson in and of themselves; both facets of his persona were wisely and amply drawn upon by him during the course of his performance, which, with the aid of his rockin’ r and b band, with its nine piece horn section and bluesy guitar, bass, drums and super soulful keyboard kept the crowd groovin’ and, movin.’   


Tai - Chi in the Big Red Tent

Photo by John Couzens


After a night of tossing and turning against the audible crossfire of two backstage bars, we got a later start the next morning than hoped for, though we still managed to find our way to the 9:30 Tai Chi class in the Big Red Tent we’d danced the week’s angst away in the night before. While we were there, standing feet apart, trying to slowly shift our vibes back into neutral, who should drive by but a group of motley milkmen tooting their Harpo Marx horns rhythmically in time with the clinking of the partly filled ‘milk’ bottles lining the sides of their pared down cart. Their rumbling toots really brightened up what was until that moment, for the most part, a guilt ridden, belly hiding group of middle aged festival goers who’d only just admitted to themselves that they were out of shape. This sobering Saturday offering was followed by a quick walk through the grounds in search of breakfast, during which time we managed to consume the bulk of the snacks we’d brought with us to the festival and yours truly walked out of one sit in food stall when a tiny, plastic looking piece of pizza I wouldn’t serve to a Barbie doll was plunked down before me to the tune of three quid! 

RASPO - Reading's All Steel Percussion Orchestra

Photo by John Couzens


These seemingly unlucky chances placed us back in the Siam tent with RASPO – Reading’s All Steel Percussion Orchestra, where we happily, though gingerly swayed, intermittently stepping over an array of knocked out campers stretched out on the floor of the tent, who were, presumably still lying in state from the night before.  RASPO weren’t kidding when they dubbed themselves an Orchestra as their repertoire included a medley of some pretty additively performed Classical favourites such as the two centre pieces from Bizet’s popular opera Carmen and ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, as well as some rip-roaring Rimsky Korsakov to kick up your heels to, which the knees up set of all ages in the audience made great use of! Following these uncustomary musical forays, the band easily flowed back into lively Caribbean mode.



Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan

Photo by John Couzens



This smile inducing chance subsequently lead us onto the exotic sounding Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan from the region’s wild Thar Desert area, on the Open Air Stage nearby where their manic, frantically executed drumming, singing, dancing, balancing and fire-eating, was greeted with wildly enthusiastic applause by the sunny Saturday afternoon crowd. By the time their veiled dancer in her colourful costume was whirling to their tablas, harmoniums and mouth harps, most of the Gypsies’ audience was whirling too.

A bit of window shopping in the market area afterwards lead us to the Saddlespan Stage and Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s Workshop session where the nine brothers making up the band’s line-up talked about life on and off the road and, in the tradition of Duke Ellington’s autobiography, Music is My Mistress, their wives, aka instruments.



Malick Pathe Sow

Photo by John Couzens


A stroll over to the BBC 3 Stage, situated in a lovely little dell surrounded by trees, and we found ourselves just where we should be, in front of the marvellously mellow Malick Pathe Sow and his uniquely soul-stirring band. Pathe Sow, a former side man of Senegal’s Baaba Mal, is now, decidedly, in a class by himself. The music of his group, which includes guitar, hoddu lute, kora and nianiooru violin has an easy sense of timelessness about it which is very compelling. During the course of Pathe Sow’s set the sky turned from sunny to stormy but no one left despite the fact that as we were dancing, we were also getting soaked, for the compelling music seemed to dismiss any and all clouds, outer or, inner with its wafting beauty. As he and his inestimable band were returning to the stage for their second encore in response to our cheers, the sky opened up in earnest, and we headed hurriedly towards the Big Red Tent for the performance of the aforementioned Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

As musicians go, this band of brothers gets down in a way that is thoroughly uplifting with its refreshing blend of red hot jazz licks and booming New Orleans brassiness. The brothers brashness helped move things along and given their unforgiving touring schedule of late, which, they confessed earlier allows for only a couple of hours of sleep per night, they can be forgiven for saying ‘Hello London’ at the opening of their set. In actual fact, the band was to be one of the Barbican’s ‘Free stage’ acts the very next day! The group’s music worked its persuasive powers and before we realised what was happening they had the sizable crowd firmly in their camp, rocking, rapping and rolling us all into an irresistible state of non-stop stepping.

However, as mesmerising as Hypnotic’s set was, had I been in possession of a working umbrella (I went through three over the weekend) and/or been able to have myself cloned, I would have also high tailed it across the grounds to the Open Air Stage to catch the set of Africa’s sublimely gifted singer, Oumou Sangare, whose wondrous talents I’ve only managed to appreciate thus far on video. That said, glowing reports confirmed that Sangare was in fine voice that evening and her presence and performance were as engaging as ever!



Peter Garbriel

Photo courtesy of PA



After what we hoped would be a final pit stop at ye olde campground for a change into some dry clothes and rain-gear, we joined the crowd in front of the Open Air Stage for the already in progress set of WOMAD founder (1982) Peter Gabriel. Admittedly, I’ve never been a great fan of Gabriel’s music, having seen him in concert in Philadelphia circa 1986, during the height of his ‘Sledgehammer’ days in the company of friends who’d been fans since Genesis, but I must say that there was something in the air that dusky evening while he was performing that was truly, magical, although a skeptic might surmise that the shimmying, over-sized bubbles and glowing Chinese lanterns intermittently floating over the audience helped. The song ‘Talk to Me’ on which Gabriel was vocally backed up by his once estranged daughter, Melanie, provided moving moments and ‘Steam’ with its accompanying towering bursts of the real McCoy bursting up behind him as he strolled across the stage were memorable. The staging of Gabriel’s set was in the tradition of a large scale rock show with multiple, detailed animated projections simultaneously flashing in synch behind him as he performed. Gabriel is, of course, one of the ground-breakers in terms of animated rock videos specifically designed to accompany his most popular ‘70’s and ‘80’s hits, many of which he performed in his set here, such as ‘Big Time’ and ‘Games Without Frontiers.’
As WOMAD’s chief founder and a musician with an abiding social conscience which is often evident in his music, along with the fact that he was given a ‘Man of Peace’ Award in 2006, presented by the Gorbachev Foundation as well as many other humanitarian accolades over the years, Gabriel deserves our respect and gratitude, as well as admiration for his continuing affirmative activities against racism and abuse. The proceeds of that evening’s concert went towards yet another human rights group Gabriel co-founded – Witness, an organisation dedicated to the exposure of breaches of humanity the world over through the backing and subsequent involvement of like-minded, compassionate individuals utilising photos and video documentaries which are then brought to global attention via internet.

Determined not to let the blaring backstage bars get the better of us that night, and simultaneously, hoping to get into festival stride, we decided to stay out and, up for the duration, so after Gabriel’s pensive set, we refreshed ourselves, sidestepping the amazing Shlomo and The Vocal Orchestra, whom we’d already seen and enjoyed at the Swedish Day Festival on London’s Primrose Hill a few weeks before, joining the crowd in the Siam Tent afterwards for the set of Mongolian musician Enkh Jarga.





Enkh Jargal

Photo courtesy of


Jargal is truly amazing, both for the astounding range and breadth of his throat singing and musicianship on Horse fiddle, known as morin koor and, also, for his sense of humour on this, his auspicious ‘first trip to the UK.’ The higher registers of his voice conjured up mental images of great mountains and plains, and when he sang in the lower range, the sounds he made put us in mind of the chanting of the Gyuto Monks of Tibet. The fact that his CD was one of those sold out in the WOMAD tent the next day proved that the newfound popularity Jargal so obviously enjoyed onstage that night wasn’t unfounded.

The second scheduled act in the Siam Tent, the Cool Crooners of Zimbabwe was replaced by a nine man strong a cappella group of singers, also from Zimbabwe, whose name I unfortunately either did not catch, or heard but did not understand, who nevertheless drew cheers from the crowd from the outset with their frontman’s smiling query, ‘Do you speak English’ and his subsequent cliché statement of ‘I love you’ in answer to our affirmative response. The group quickly drove the chills away on what was turning out to be a very chilled out ending to a wonderful day of music. And I make that statement noting all of the fantastic musicians and singers we missed out on that day as well, among them, Etran Finatawa of Niger whose ‘Desert Blues’ I’ve appreciated via CD, Mamer of China, a ‘Chinagrass’ as opposed to Bluegrass musician, and many others, likewise to all those talented individuals we missed seeing over the course of the weekend.

Two am found us heading back into our home camp directly behind the Siam Tent, hoping against hope that the absence of music there after that time might make for a good night’s sleep. On the way back however, my partner insisted on a few late night twirls on the dance-floor so it was the temporary watering hole the ‘Pink Flamingo’ for us, where we found ourselves in the midst of a congregation of nubile sex-pots and junior league body builders with a few Africans in the mix for good measure, all of whom seemed to be gyrating in their own mini spaces within the confines of a very small room. After a few half-hearted motions, I pleaded exhaustion and we headed back to our tent, only to be rudely awakened a couple of hours later by the cheeky young group next door, comprised of one very vocal, obviously inciting female and four or five too drunk for their own good males screaming, ‘Get up’ at the top of their lungs outside of our zippered door in the midst of the by then, stone silent campground! After shoving some handily placed toilet roll into both ears (brought plenty) we managed to stave off the plumy voiced remarks about ‘the pissy little tents’(they had an eight man walk in with adjoining gazebo) and get some semblance of sleep, and we gamely headed for the neighbouring town of Malmesbury earlyish Sunday morning.





Photo by John Couzens


After hurrying out of the press area Sunday morning in an attempt to make one of the day’s first shuttle buses, I found myself short and so joined a lengthily port-a-loo queue on the way to the garden centre where we were meant to connect with our transport to town. ‘Hope you brought a book,’ my partner mumbled, taking his place on the sidelines. My droll response of ‘I didn’t but I’m writing one in my head,’ drew titters from the women behind me along with mutual speculation about the length of our wait. We needn’t have worried, as the line moved very quickly and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the loo I drew was much cleaner than those in the press camp. However, before our spirits could be dampened, we were at the aforementioned garden centre and, after being informed that we’d just missed the Andybus to town, we were kindly offered a lift by a friendly fellow who said he was heading that way anyway. A short ride later, we found ourselves in the charming town of Malmesbury, with its pretty stone-houses and lovely gardens, one of which, The Abbey House Garden, according to its brochure features ‘nude gardeners.’




Photo by John Couzens


We were especially welcomed by the OAP townspeople in the Abbey as well as in the town’s Information Centre, where, as one of the women questioned us about the experience of being at the festival, the safety, music, food, etc. (all questions we’d been asked in the Abbey, with one woman confirming that she’d definitely ‘be there next year), a man walked in with his discount resident wrist band on, took one look at our multi-coloured wrist bands and commented, somewhat disgruntedly, ‘Oh, you’ve got one of those wrist bands that lets you access all areas...How did you get that?’ Perhaps he somehow believed that if we were writing about the Festival, we might have some super-human ability to keep ourselves pristine, not an easy thing to maintain when your tent demands entrance on your knees! Supplies replenished and forgotten razors purchased, we re-boarded the shuttle bus for WOMAD, on arrival, once again traversing the colourful, multi flagged grounds, grabbing a quick bite, dropping off our baggage and heading out for some much anticipated world music.



17 Hippies

Photo by Andreas Riedel



Fairly heavy rain had prevented us from dining alfresco, so we’d consumed a quick sarnie in our dome tent before catching the very catchy Weimer inspired tail end of Berlin’s 17 Hippies’ set on the Open Air Stage.



Open Air Stage

Photo by John Couzens


After following and photographing the Festival Procession afterwards, in which many of the local school-children donned in hand painted, now streaking and drooping cardboard costumes marched along with a plethora of festival musicians on drums and all other manner of percussion, we hit the shop/ stalls, where my mate gamely traded in his rain jacket for a formal black dinner jacket with tails while I caught part of the workshop of Guinea’s Ba Cissoko, whose 3pm set on the Open Air Stage I’d sadly missed. I was therefore, delighted when Cissoko played and sang during the course of his workshop, wowing the small crowd assembled in the pouring rain with his brilliant musicianship as well as his casual admissions, with the help of a translator, that he uses ordinary fishing tackle, available at any sporting goods shop as stings and tunes his instrument, the kora, West African 21 stringed harp ‘by instinct’. After savouring every note of Cissoko’s encapsulated but engaging performance, I have to add that I’ll definitely be looking out for him in future.





Photo by Mary Couzens


After Cissoko’s generously illustrated talk concluded, I headed for the Open Air Stage, arriving just as a huge roar rose from the crowd as Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour, who introduced the mbalax sound to the music of his country in his younger days, began his set.



Youssou N'Dour

Photoc ourtesy of Flickr


N’Dour has come a long way since we last saw him at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia circa 1994 in his long flowing robes, with a somewhat shy, composed demeanour, for his current onstage poise and performing prowess, resplendent in a shining two piece ensemble has accelerated tenfold since. There wasn’t one moment in N’Dour’s set which ever lagged or disappointed and it was all I could do to tear myself from his dynamic presence to join my fellow Roy Ayers fans in the neighbouring Siam Tent a few moments ahead of the American acid jazz legend’s set.



Roy Ayres

Photo by Daniel Locke


Master v ibrophonist/singer Ayers and his marvellously tight, pioneering band were well worth the wait his more ardent fans had patiently endured to secure positions up front, with ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ and  the disco classic ‘Running Away’ being two of many definitive highlights in their amazingly well-executed set. Personality plus is also something Ayers and his group exude with each excellent, fun loving musician taking their solo in turns, sometimes to very comic effect, as in the case of their definitive bass player following a Jimmy Hendrix medley when the rest of the band, Ayers included, bowed to him and patted him with towels. In one interactive instance Ayers smiled at the crowd approvingly, joking, ‘You think you’re bad now,’ after we’d attempted gamely to follow his lead, making one jazzy sound after another. His enthusiastic fans, myself included, sang and/or danced along to nearly every enjoyable number, including the instrumental ones, some of which formed a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. Everyone who left Ayers sunny presence seemed to do so with a smile on their faces. The queues following Ayers set during which he signed his CDs were even longer than those for the porta-loos.




Ethiopiques - Mahmoud Ahmed

Photo Courtesy of Seatwave


As if Ayers and N’Dour weren’t more than enough to fill any music lovers evening, following Ayers’ stellar set, we rushed back to the Open Air Stage area for a stunningly diverse set by the mighty Ethiopiques group during which they mutually demonstrated just how influential they have been on nearly everyone’s music from their obscure ‘60’s and ‘70’s heyday onward, with foreshadowing of David Byrne’s classic post-punk band The Talking Heads, right down to Byrne’s off-beat delivery evident in one song in their heady mix, among many other echoing musical suggestions. Believe me when I tell you that many, many groups have been influenced by this collective’s music, however inadvertently or, subconsciously over time. The present incarnation of this consummate grouping aptly represents Addis Ababa’s ‘swinging ‘60’s/’70’s heyday,’ with Mahmoud Ahmed manning the soul front, Alemayehu Eshete doing his own take of the JB (James Brown) sound and Getachew Mekurya offering endlessly cool jazz grooves. All told, this is one super fantastic outfit which is not to be missed in any case!


A Filetta

Photo by Mara Bottoli


To round off the night and the festival itself, we returned to the Siam Tent for the Corsican tradition bearing, polyphonic a cappella singing group, A Filetta, who sang their monastic sounding music in a huddle with their arms across one another’s shoulders, eyes closed, offering their hushed audience a deeply resonant and fitting way to end a very special, unforgettable weekend. Back in their island home, the group hosts the annual Recontres de Chants Polyphonique Festival to help keep the flame of this deeply harmonic tradition alive.

It started to rain steadily as we headed back towards camp and it rained all night long. For old times’ sake, we stopped in at the Pink Flamingo one more time on the way to our tent and danced with more vigour than we have done in many a day, inspiring some of the other oldsters aka funksters in the makeshift bar to come out of their respective corners and take to the shredding red carpeted floor. As a final gesture, we also touched down in the more spacious Backstage Bar, only to find that they were closing, for good. Before Monday morning could break, our noisy neighbours were at it once more, playing atypical reggae music on their CD player at top volume in the wee hours while bragging about how pissed they were – again. Loo roll re-installed in ears, we laid back, secure in our tiny port in the midst of a lashing storm.

Monday morning brought heavy skies, huge puddles and mud, mud everywhere, mud which clung to your hiking boots, your trousers and everything else it touched. There was no way to stay dry or clean, or, in hindsight, unmoved by the past weekend’s truly eclectic, humbling musical experiences. Having been a part of this joyously essential WORLD music festival, I must admit that I am now thoroughly hooked on the idea of being part of it again, so much so that the WOMAD Festival now has a permanent place on my perpetual calendar.


Photo by John Couzens


Editor's note: While it is admirable that recycling and trash bags are distributed to festival goers on their way in and recyling bins are positioned around the grounds and Oxfams and a couple of other charities have stalls at the festival for the recycling enthusiasts among us, I still feel there should be more of a 'green' presence at WOMAD. Apart from the charity stalls and recycling bags, a lone 'solar operated' cafe', a couple of organic food stalls and a small Greenpeace stand were the only representions of our planet's urgent environmental concerns. And, in light of the fact there was only one stall selling individual pieces of fruit at extortionary rates, some stalls selling local produce for those preferring natural, raw food wouldn't go amiss either.


WOMAD – World of Music and Dance  

Don’t miss Womad’s festival at The Tower of London
September 19 – 20, 2009








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