July 27-30, 2017
The WOMAD global music festival has mostly been immune to bad weather during its 35 year history. World Of Music, Arts & Dance traditionally occupies the last weekend of July, which mostly guarantees a good scorching. There was the notorious WOMUD of 2007, its debut at the Charlton Park estate, close to Malmesbury in the West Country of England. Then, there was heavy downpouring for parts of the 2015 weekender, but this year's festival came closest to being a WOMUD re-run, even though the re-positioning of the site following 2007 has reduced the squelchy possibilities.
Ultimately, the 2017 festival suffered from persistent rain, enough to entrench a mildly muddy covering, turning much of the event into a slippery and sodden adventure. Whilst half of the main stages were undercover, this still left much of the site over-exposed, inevitably leading to a pall of misery descending a touch too often for relative comfort. Fortunately, the strength of the music frequently won over, but the general conditions created a scenario where many artists had a tough battle to fight. This stated, there were still multiple stretches where the sun reappeared, even as the sucking mud stuck around. The sight of massed mud-stomping and romping during Chico Trujillo's main stage set caused much merriment, as the Chilean ska-cumbia troupe delivered their ridiculously accelerated bounders.
The Brazilian Afro-funkers Bixiga 70 and the veteran Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab opened up the long weekend on the Thursday evening, but it's Friday, Saturday and Sunday that feature the full, bountiful multi-stage line-ups, from noon until deep into the night.
On Friday, the second of the festival's four Brazilian acts played an afternoon set in the Big Red Tent, with Metá Metá revealing a prog-samba orientation, delivering a sound that's in harmony with their country's musical antecedents, but charged with a slightly skewed interest in exploratory rock and jazz moves. A notable highlight of the weekend was provided straight afterwards by Officina Zoe, from Salento in the 'heel' of Italy. Robust with rattling tambourines and a continuously chafing fiddle, the already exciting instrumental sound was topped by the exultant vocals of Cinzia March. Luckily, they were one of the few acts to play two sets over the weekend.
On Saturday, again in the Big Red Tent, traditional ritual chanting from the southern desert of Tunisia was melded with alternative, pouty industrial rock, seemingly from the French-Italian axis. The Ifriqiyya Electrique band (or project) took three vocalists from the ancient Banga tradition, and cast them into a crucible of distorted guitar, bass and electronics. A filmic backdrop formed part of the moody experience, and the three singers began the performance out in audience. Gradually, the guitar duo (otherwise known as the Putan Club) introduced their brutal beats and riffing, except that there seemed to be problems with the laptop input, so these parts were muffled and indistinct. The Tunisian vocals were somewhat tuneless, and the factions didn't knit together as desired. Frankly, it was a mess. Your scribe is certainly not averse to radical fusions: in fact he actively seeks them out, but this was a failure that was admirable in its intentions, if not its reality. Later, there was a wealth of divided opinion amongst your scribe's posse, so at least this group prompted some strong reactions!
Both extreme and funny, the Zhou Family Band spent much of their set impersonating birdcalls and other forest sounds, using their doubled suonas and shengs, both instruments featuring heavily vibrating reed-resonances, one a single- belled horn, the other a complex multi-piped construction. In eastern China, they play for funerals and weddings, the tempo being fast-paced for both ceremonies, the mood usually exuberant in the extreme. They were musically impressive and ridiculously slapstick in nature, often simultaneously.
Your scribe wasn't particularly intending catching Bombino again, having already witnessed this Saharan Tuareg guitarist on several occasions, but upon passing in front of the main stage, en route to elsewhere, he was immediately ensnared and decided promptly to remain where the frazzling desert psychedelics throbbed. Bombino seems to improve radically with each performance...