Lemon Bucket Orkestra
A massive dance floor favourite at WOMAD 2018 was the Lemon Bucket Orkestra - a self-described "Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super Band" from Canada. They were exactly what you expect from their description, tonnes of brass with sousaphone, two trombones, saxophone, a trumpet, a female and male vocalist, guitar, violin and the obligatory Balkan style one-man-band style mobile bass drum and cymbals combo. All this meant they are basically a mobile marching band and they made full use of this for their encore. The band jumped off the Brooklands stage and paraded into the middle of the crowd without missing a beat. There they proceeded to bash out a mashup of classic 90’s dance tunes such as Reel 2 Real’s I like to Move it and that techno classic hit Sandstorm. These guys are performing this weekend at CubaDupa in Wellington so if you need to assuage your WOMAD FOMO be sure to head along.
Video of LBO jamming in the middle of the dancefloor at WOMAD:
France-based Cameroonian folk-blues artist Blick Bassy was a great way to start day two at WOMAD. In New Plymouth sun reminiscent of his African homeland, the packed crowd was treated to a delicate exhibition of his guitar and banjo skills. Bassy sings in his native bassa language and composes beautiful songs with complex melodic patterns, jazz riffs and sizzling finger picking. The native African roots of blues are clearly evident here in his work, as with Tinariwen, as well as some US Blues and jazz influences and even bossa-nova (he spent time in Brazil studying and recording an album.)
This was a classy performance and although his lyrics were inaccessible, he talked between songs explaining their content and showed great wisdom and maturity and an open-hearted honesty. A poignant moment was when he introduced one of his songs written in France when he first found out about the practice of sending elderly family to rest homes. Bassy talked about how inconceivable this was in Cameroonian culture and how it really struck him and motivated him to write a song about intergenerational respect and interdependence. This was another example of the ‘harmony of difference’ message. I’d hate to tell Bassy but in my experience, New Zealand (with the exception of Māori and pacific cultures) is an even more ageist and culture than France and perhaps has far greater intergenerational inequality and incompatibility which is perhaps part of what leads to a breakdown of the support system he talked of.
This intergenerational tension between the younger and older festivalgoers in their differing attitudes to appreciating music was actually lurking just below the surface at WOMAD. It seems that much like in the property market, at WOMAD the Baby Boomer crowd get in first and claim the best located land near the stage and hang onto it for dear life with folding chairs and all. This causes issues when a large crowd influxes for a busy set and these people refuse to stand up or make space for new arrivals, then get upset when their toes or children are trodden on. I witnessed a few incidents or near physical confrontation over this issue. It is a strange and uniquely New Zealand crowd dynamic that perhaps requires an educational campaign from the WOMAD management. Ie. “If you really need to sit, there is a safe space to do so at the back of the zone, not up front on the dance floor.”
While on the topic of intergenerational difference, Anoushka Shankar appears to have forged her own path out of the very large shadow of her very famous father Ravi Shankar and carved out a new niche as a progressive and forward-looking Sitar maestro. She could have quite easily dined out on his fame without innovating so this is to be commended. Playing on the main bowl stage on Saturday afternoon, despite the subtle and gentle nature of her sitar based music, Shankar managed to captivate and entrance the large audience in this vast natural amphitheatre with a meditative performance. Here she was joined by a percussionist on drum kit, tablas, hang drum and other varied percussion as well as an electric kick-drum stomp pedal creating an Electronica sound at times. The other support member played keyboard, double bass and the traditional Indian Shennai. From the first notes, I was drawn into a world of sound and colour and blown away by the delicate beauty of the compositions.
Bixiga 70 brought the dance vibe to the Saturday evening line-up at WOMAD playing a heavily highlife influenced afrobeat music in the Pat Thomas vein, but with a distinct Brazilian twist. This São Paulo, Brazil based big-band feature rhythms and influences from the Afro-Brazilian religions candomblé and umbanda - highly esoteric, syncretic traditions melding ancient African folk religions and Catholicism. Music generally forms a core part in these religions and is used as trance inducer to allow devotees to reach ecstatic states. The crowd at WOMAD was on the verge of such ecstatic states at times as these guys played their funky repertoire led by Mauricio Fleury on keyboard and guitar with a full afrobeat backline of bass, Afro-Brazilian percussion, drums and horns.
They oozed a uniquely Brazilian cool and Latin funk vibe, which got the party started for the evening. They even played a ‘conga line rhythm and successfully got the crowd to create multiple conga lines which weaved through the crowd until it got too congested for anyone to move. Bixiga too experienced serious sound issues, with the bass player apparently having amp issues for most of the set. However, like true pros, they persevered and wowed the crowd with their energy and funky choreographed dance moves whilst playing their instruments.
On a more serious note, before their last song, Fleury talked to the crowd about the shocking assassination of Human Rights leader Marielle Franco, which they heard about while at the WOMAD powhiri on Friday. This was another reminder of the need for more diversity and peace and acceptance of our ‘harmony of difference’ in the world. Fleury outlined the terrible political circumstances and ongoing violence that has affected Brazil of late and the band joined together at the front of the stage at the conclusion of the set with a giant banner reading Marielle Presente [Marielle is present]. Meanwhile tens of thousands turned out across Brazil to protest about the murder of Franco and hundreds of thousands have pledged their refusal to forget in more than 30 languages using the hashtag #MarielleFrancoPresente.
Violons Barbares [Barbarian Violins]
This was a surprisingly moving performance. I missed them on Friday night but was recommended to check out their second set and was certainly glad I did. The band features musicians from Bulgaria, France and Mongolia. Dandarvaanchig Enkhjargal plays the traditional Mongolian violin morin khurr, Dimitar Gougov plays the Bulgarian Gadulka and Fabien Guyot (France) plays percussion.
While not immediately apparent, there are historical connections between the Mongolian empire of Genghis Khan and Bulgaria as the Mongol empire stretched right into Bulgaria at its height with a decisive defeat by Genghis making Bulgaria a vassal of the Golden Horde. Therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that the violin type instruments played by these two maestros work together so well. A highlight of the group is also Enkhjargal’s Mongolian throat singing with its eerie and powerful ancient energy and beauty which was truly mesmerising.
The video below shows the band performing a song about Genghis Khan on his way to a 'rendezvous de amour':
Havana Meets Kingston
The Saturday night closer this year on the Bowl Stage was Havana Meets Kingston featuring a Heavyweight star-studded line-up. From Cuba we had Barbarito Torres & Rolando Luna of Buena Vista Social Club fame as well as members of Los Van Van, Chucho Valdes. A lot of people were pleasantly surprised to see the actual Jamaican legends ‘Sly and Robbie’ Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on stage on drums and bass, as these guys are certainly legends in their own right. They have provided riddims for Grace Jones, Peter Tosh, Lee Perry, Michael Rose (Black Uhuru) and just about every other quality Jamaican Artist ever to grace the recording studio. And not without reason, these guys are tight and are basically responsible for creating the template for the relentlessly pounding bass lines and funky drum beats we associate with reggae and dub music today.
This was an ambitious concept and project put together by Australian Reggae producer Mista Savona who played keys on stage. The whole thing came together at times, but overall it was pretty downbeat as I guess you would expect mixing the laid-back son and salsa of Cuba with the even more laid back Jamaican roots and reggae vibe. These Islands are in fact quite close geographically and their music shares a common African ancestry and Caribbean influences, so it is certainly not as far a stretch as some cross-cultural mash-ups. This experiment certainly allowed both styles to shine, but it seemed that the Jamaican influence was the dominant one.
Cuban classics such as Chan Chan and Candela from the original Buena Vista Social Club album were given the reggae reworking to a pretty nice effect. The set seemed to fade out from about the last 15 minutes though and never really reach its full potential. It closed with sly and Robbie on a Drum and Bass duo, then just Robbie on Bass, and finally Robbie yelling a call and response of ‘woooah’, ‘woooah’, ‘yeaah’, ‘yeaah.’ It was a bit anticlimactic really and I would have preferred to have had another song. On the whole it was feel-good music from quality musicians and the crowd left WOMAD pretty happy that evening. It did seem a strange scheduling decision this year not to end on a DJ set or at least a more upbeat party band as has been the case in previous years.
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Closing the main stage at WOMAD were the Mexican brother and sister guitar virtuoso dúo Rodrigo y Gabriela. They released a pretty stunning album that raised a few eyebrows around ten years ago, with their unique flamenco/classical style acoustic guitar picking and rhythmic tapping style applied to reworking of famous rock songs as well as their own compositions. However, they hadn’t really made much of a splash on my radar since then. That is probably because after a few songs of this style, despite their amazing musical prowess, this can get a little tired. The crowd loved it, especially classics like Stairway To Heaven and Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of. It really is quite remarkable the sounds they could manage with just two battered guitars, but in general I preferred them when they were playing their more earnest numbers such as a bossa nova sounding tune and their original compositions. I feel better song choice could actually showcase their musical talent better, but they seem determined to live out their dream of being rockstar guitar heroes so fair enough.
Here is a clip of Rodrigo and Gabriela playing Killing in The Name Of with the crowd singing along:
Thus ended another abundant feast of Global music in New Plymouth. On the whole, the lineup has to go down in my books as one of the best yet. There were some hiccups such as strange scheduling decisions and some pretty shaky sound engineering, however most festivals experience these to some extent. It seems the WOMAD team is certainly maintaining a high standard and that people know what to expect and like what they get. Top international world music artists seldom make it down to this neck of the woods, so for those of us into this sort of thing WOMAD is certainly a welcome addition to the cultural calendar. Now it is a case of waiting and looking forward to seeing what they manage to conjure up for next year.