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WOMAD 2018

Martin Longley By

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The most danceable band of the weekend were Tal National, from Niger, who built up a compulsive, repetitive groove during their late night Friday set on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage. This was with a reduced line-up, due to visa problems upon entry to the UK. They triumphed via ever-spiralling guitar solos, anyway, even under such dire circumstances. A close second in the dancing contest was Orchestre Les Mangelepa, those veteran Congolese-in- Kenya guitar-fixated revivalists, transporting us back to the heyday of soukous sounds. Conversely, the emergent combo of Kokoko!, garbed in matching workmen jumpsuits, demonstrated their homemade instruments, debuting a new sound from Kinshasa. Theirs was a different sort of repetitive pulse, derived from modern electronic dance music, but still attuned to a very rootsy, hands-on percussiveness, whether on actual drums or makeshift string constructions, with rappy chants, metal beats and weebly synth solos.

It's been a long while since WOMAD presented a Moroccan Gnaoua music master, and Maalem Hamid El Kasri delivered the classic sound, singing and playing his resonant three-stringed sintir, and joined by a row of qraqeb players (clashing metal castanets). Everyone sings in this ensemble, and several members come out to dance, twirling and crouching with great vigour and precision. Your scribe actually caught both of Kasri's sets, the best being the Saturday indoor Siam Tent show, which featured more wild dance moves and a heightened atmosphere.

Something of an odd act out were the Polish punk gang Hańba!, hailing from Kraków. Their vintage comes not from the expected 1976, but further back in the 1930s, believe it or not. Well, at least they perform in a rowdy, bawdy approximation of what a protesting street combo would have sounded like, knitting Polish folk with aggressive punk. Their name translates as 'Disgrace!,' and their weapons of dissent are accordion, banjo, tuba and drum. They stood out as being quite apart from the rest of the programme, and offered a compelling shunt into a radically different closed universe, sandwiched as they were between La Dame Blanche and Leftfield.

Let us not neglect the d&b Soundscape tent, another provider of frequently exceptional alternatives. Over the weekend, there were extremely calm, concentrated sets by laptopper Leafcutter John, using motion and light sensor tactics to add visual expression to his sonics, whilst actually forming his music through movement. Then the Irish fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh played completely solo, and softly, partly folky, but also emanating into a more general sphere of ambient painting. The most enchanting performance was given by sound artist and field recordist Chris Watson, who concentrated on his Riding The Silver Tide dawn chorus repertoire, managing to almost completely silence the entire crowd, who sprawled around the tent, drifting off inside sculpted sonic records of varying birds in various weather conditions. He sometimes snapped us out of our nature reveries, filling out the background to his next recording, before we communally wafted off again, into another countryside (or urban backyard) portrait. All sounds were captured around the British Isles, that most exotic of regions.

Photograph: WOMAD

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