July 26-29, 2018
If festivals might have become bonded to female performer quotients (or not, depending on the individual festival), there is no potential negative effect when selected artists are of the high calibre presented at this year's WOMAD. Indeed, most of this long weekend's best global-feast sets were given by female bandleaders, or outfits with significant womanly presences. At least three of these could be deemed extremely quirky individuals.
There are always new discoveries to be made at this festival. The French-Colombian quintet Pixvae were one of these, and also qualified as being securely in the top five of 2018's WOMAD performances. Their essential combination involved the commingling of traditional folkloric song, and percussion, with a brutalist heavy rock dynamism. Everything melded perfectly, as the twinned vocals of Margaux Delatour and Alejandra Charry intersected across the tensed power-bleed of Romain Dugelay (baritone saxophone/electronics), Damien Cluzel (baritone guitar) and Léo Dumont (drums). Yes, this combo prefers the low-end scuzz pit. It was extremely refreshing to have some menace at WOMAD, a festival mostly renowned for its open-hearted partying stance. Fittingly, Pixvae were received enthusiastically by most of this final-afternoon crowd. Their vocals and hand-held shaker percussion sounded quite purist, in the Colombian hardcore manner, but took on an unfamiliar cast when shadowed by the waves of cyclic riff guitar distortion, the behemoth roars of the baritone, and the deep vibrations of the electronics.
Garbed in what might be termed boxing champ superheroine chic, the Turkish surf garage rock singer Gaye Su Akyol was joined by her masked male band, gold cape shimmering as she completely dominated the Big Red Tent on the Saturday afternoon. Vocally, her input resides in the Turkish folk-pop corner, but with a Goth-a-billy twang, sometimes echoed with some distinctly hillbilly guitar lines.
Heading back further to the Friday, La Dame Blanche operated a visually old school Cuban look, but vocally mixed up rap, ragga and son, sometimes during the same pushy deck-spinning number. There were also shades of conventional showbiz vocal projection, as if making a Havana-Broadway pact. Electrifying on the early evening Ecotricity stage, she was larger than mere reality, a cartoon figure of strong-will, swigging humour, but ready to switch on forcefully if she was slighted in any way. Chomping on a cheroot, making occasional solo asides on the flute, and passing spirits around the front of the dancing crowd (booze spirits as well as santeria spirits).
The Parisian singer Camille joined this year's select clan of intense choreography greats, almost matching David Byrne with her well-sculpted movements, aided by a nimble, mobile, pliable group of performers who at certain points brandished their own marching drums. Camille not so much fought against the rain, but lapped it up, succeeding in seeming totally impulsive as she roamed and romped around, draped in a simple dress, a design matched by both her female and male companions. Like David Bowie
, for instance, Camille revels in making quite an accessible act out of elements that have their roots in alternative art. Even if it was an illusion, it frequently seemed like she didn't know in which direction she'd leap, or cavort, even though there was invariably a well-coordinated landing at her destination point, whether physical or musical. She actively encourages a childlike lust for an immediately gratifying exploration of the new, but she'd laid a few prior plans, doing her best to make them not appear like graven trajectories. Her staging stance and vocal layering was often similar to how we might imagine a more unruly, punkier Meredith Monk
. Plus, Camille was surely the only artist at this year's festival to indulge in a bout of spanking, as she explored the tactile qualities of her percussionist companion's derrière (he was curiously garbed in a silky, hooded boxer's gown for the duration of the gig).
Renata Rosa specialises in the hardcore folkloric sound of north-eastern Brazil, singing exuberantly, and sawing fiddle in the maracatu fashion, her band featuring adept guitar, percussion and spirited call/response group vocals. The songs were open and approachable, but completely shorn of any smoothness, fully juiced, and without watery additions. Rosa was the best Brazilian artist that WOMAD has featured in recent years.