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WOMAD 2017

Martin Longley By

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Shortly afterwards, back in the Big Red Tent, the UK's own Shobaleader One were laying down many grooves, often simultaneously. Otherwise known as bassman (and electronicist) Squarepusher, with a trio of drums/keyboards/guitar sidekicks, this combo operated at an accelerated Weather Report rate, with their leader in full Jaco Pastorius hyper-ventilation mode. Despite being extra-technical-cerebral on the note-counts, radical time-swerving and general finger-twisting complexity, their near-parodic density carried a visceral groinal rush. Speed jazz, speed thrash, speed d'n'b and speed electro were all involved in equal (over-speed) measure, allowing ample chance for wriggly bass solos. All this and identical black-robed garb, with flashing illuminated cyclopean headgear, plus a starkly strobing lightshow!

Now that David Bowie has departed, the Brazilian singer/guitarist Seu Jorge's re-reading of that great master's songbook has taken on an added significance. Despite the fact that it seems slightly strange to hear some of Bowie's lines in Portuguese, although Jorge does keep several key chorus phrases intact in the English lingo. Presumably this is because their Portuguese equivalents sounded just too curious, or rhythmically inappropriate. The emphasis is on the early 1970s Ziggy Stardust-ed period, with not much heard from either the Thin White Duke or Berlin/Eno phases, but this reflects the contents of the original Life Aquatic soundtrack which formed the genesis of this particular touring concept. Ultimately, Jorge created a powerful resonance, but also made us yearn for the original voicings, relying on our sudden flashes of those hallowed recordings of yore.

To climax Saturday night, the Jamaican reggae pioneer Toots Hibbert and his Maytals drew what seemed like the entire festival population around the heaving main stage, to deliver his classic songbook from the late 1960s and early '70s, including "Pressure Drop," "Funky Kingston," "Monkey Man" and "54-46 (That's My Number)." Hibbert is still in fine voice, delivering his songs with a raspy energy, strumming the occasional acoustic guitar part, prompting massive communal vibrations amongst the stretching mass.

Sunday was brighter, even if the mud still glooped on the ground. The day's first winner was King Ayisoba, on the open-air BBC Charlie Gillett stage. The King is ostensibly a traditionalist, but possessing an almost experimental, minimalist drone-intensity, delivering his individualist incarnation of kologo music from the north of Ghana. Ayisoba's booming voice, two-stringed lute-equivalent and his horn-flautist's Abaadongo Adontanga's amply-sized leathery bass version were all deeply resonant, helping to build a repetitive force of buzzing, clattering, chanting release, the players clad in old-school tribal gear, with long-haired hide attachments. The three-part drumming was also crucial to this ritualistic abandonment.

Msafiri Zawose gave a solo performance, again on the Gillett stage, this Tanzanian multi-instrumentalist being the son of wagogo musician Hukwe Zawose, who was a long-standing regular at WOMAD festivals, down the decades. Msafiri's sonic area is very similar to his father's, though in this instance, refined into a solo existence, delivered via a clutch of traditional instruments, which include chiming, cyclic thumb-piano, seed-pod and ankle shakers, as well as the bowed two- string zeze, which he could have chosen more often as his primary instrument. A minimalist palette, but turned into a repetitive, layered and chanted song-form (with whooping and chittering interjections), steadily accumulating in swaying, mesmerising atmosphere.

On the same stage, which was turning out to be the final day's prime location, Leyla McCalla played a gloaming set, captivating a sprawling and largely attentive crowd, all the better for absorbing her often sparse songs. She's a singer and cellist, from New Orleans, although born in NYC, to Haitian parents. McCalla's music lends its ear to the traditions of all these areas, sometimes involving her switching to banjo. The set moved from Cajun to Haitian folk forms, but wherever she's landing, the songs are invested with the governing McCalla personality, which is communicative and passionate. This is how she ensnared and captivated such a large crowd, at just the right time, in the lull before Seun Kuti's Afrobeat-storming set, which effectively climaxed the weekend.


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