The phrase “there’s something for everyone” is thrown around a lot during festival season, but nowhere is it more true than at WOMAD, where there are artists from over 120 countries and many genres. Away from the music, there’s dance workshops, cooking demonstrations, and a children’s area. A world of wellbeing and even a spa, there is quite literally something for every kind of person, and it’s reflected in the diversity of the WOMAD festival goers, from toddlers all the way up to OAPs from far-flung corners of the globe you’ll meet them all in Charlton Park on the last weekend of July.
Opening the D&B Soundscape stage, named so as you get the same great sound quality no matter where you stand, is Scandi-pop starlet Jennie Abrahamson. Taking to the stage alone, this is the debut solo show of the Swede, and it works to her advantage giving her usually upbeat synth-pop a darker, more eerie edge especially on the standout ‘Not In My Name’, about right-wing parties in Sweden closing its boarders to refugees.
Dressed in what looks like pyjamas, East London’s Kojey Radical was showcasing his individuality on Friday afternoon as an artist with his fashion as well as his poetic rap. His music is clearly inspired by his hometown, with latest release ‘Water’ describing his experience of returning from travelling to the tragedy of Grenfell and losing a friend to knife crime. He’s not afraid to speak out and be opinionated either, shown in ‘Fuck Your Feelings’. Having taken the Siam tent by storm the rapper certainly looks set to do the same to the rest of the UK.
Did you know hip hop was born in Africa? No? Neither did I until the Daara J Family all the way from West Africa came to the Siam tent with their brand of African-flavoured hip hop. You can’t help but dance to their music which is sang in their native Wolof, French and English. Their songs are full of messages: ‘Bayi Yoon’ is about the young generation in Africa moving away for better opportunities in the West. As Faada Freddy said, “Diamonds are sat on diamonds”. The duo are eager to voice their one-world message, and they are doing that in a way which is hard to ignore.
The Big Red Tent drew a massive crowd as drum and bass pioneer Goldie closed Friday night with his DJ set. Most of the crowd weren’t even born when Goldie was the figurehead for the British dance scene, so instead of going back decades he kept his set fresh and current, but ended it with Nirvana’s hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, reinventing it with his innovative sound which kept the crowd dancing till the very end.
With the sun back behind the clouds, Erland Cooper’s Saturday afternoon set is quite literally the calm before the storm. It sees the Orkney multi-instrumentalist air tracks from this year’s Solan Goose album, named after birds found on the island the piano-led ambient explorations were made on to help Cooper deal with the anxieties that come with living in London, and for the packed-out crowd provide a rest-bite from the hustle and bustle of the festival.
Dobet Gnahoré’s might just be the best Grammy award-winner you’ve never heard of. Hailing from the Côte d’Ivoire, she gives her brand of gentle acoustic songs an authentic spin by singing in a variety of native dialects. New album Miziki sees her swap her acoustic for an electric for a jauntier, funky approach, perfect for keeping spirits high despite the wet weather.
Speaking to Mr Jukes’ Jack Steadman at May’s World Island festival in Leeds, he revealed he was most looking forward to playing WOMAD, and it’s easy to see why. His jazzy reinvention fits right in, and fleshed out with funk tenancies he draws a huge crowd to the Siam tent. But it’s not all about Steadman; his stellar backing band really shine especially on a surprise cover of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Woop (That Thing)’.
The rain might be pouring down in Charlton Park, but whilst Daniel Haaksman is at the helm, the Big Red Tent is basking in the Caribbean sun. If you weren’t already burned out from the day’s events, the Berlin-based DJ and producer will make you dance till you drop. Blending Afro and Brazilian flavours with a house sound he turns the dancefloor into a carnival and ensures everyone goes back to the campsite with a smile on their face.
The final day of WOMAD sees the turn of Haitian-Canadian singer-songwriter Mélissa Laveaux. She weaves Afro-Caribbean rhythms around indie-folk-esque finger-picked guitar. Floating beneath this is her airy vocals, with a gritty edge as though she’s had one too many whiskeys it’s entirely unique, whilst her lyrics explore her parents’ native Haiti. It’s an emotional and atmospheric journey, a perfect Sunday afternoon’s exploration.
WOMAD isn’t just a chance to relax; you can learn too with music and dance workshops throughout the weekend, hover the best took place on Sunday. Even though the weather might not have followed, Ripton Lindsay took us to the Caribbean with his dance class. A combination of traditional Jamaican dance, as well as reggae, calypso and his own signature moves, he got everyone in attendance gyrating their hips to the sounds of the Caribbean. Whether you could dance or not, Lindsay captured carnival party vibes in the All singing All Dancing tent with his infectious character and simple message, jus’ dance!
Members from the BAC Beatbox Academy got everyone boom, tea, cha’ing in the World Rhythms workshop stage with their beat box class. You can’t beatbox without a battle, and the pros showed everyone how it was done, then opening the stage to the crowd. Out of nowhere a new beatbox star was born in the shape of a middle aged man in a flat cap. He had the whole crowd up on their feet, showing that literally anything can happen at WOMAD.
Saving the best workshop until last the reggae dancehall class closed Sunday night. The BW dancers got everyone “thunder clapping”, “stopping the bus”, “cutting the grass”, “skanking” and the move everyone came for; “twerking” on Sunday night to some fresh reggae dancehall beats. The energy in the tent was electric, even two police officers “got jiggy with it”. Everyone left feeling amazing (and a bit worn out) with some new moves for the club, which I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been practicing in my bedroom!
Shauna and Lauren Stapleton
Featured image courtesy of Borkowski PR