WOMAD 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | 29 July 2009

Overall  - 8/10

WOMAD consistently offers a fantastically diverse range of music. You can be sure that whenever you’re watching something great, there’s something else equally appealing going on at the other side of the park. This year is no different but the majority of truly fantastic performances are kept until last, competing with one another on Sunday afternoon and continuing well into the night. This is one festival guaranteed to leave you with less money in your wallet, but far more music for your CD player.

Getting There and Back - 8/10

In between Bristol and Swindon, the festival is not far from the M4 and it’s pretty easy to find, as it’s signposted from several miles away. If you’re getting there by public transport (or even if you just want to nip to the supermarket) shuttle buses run every half an hour throughout the weekend to and from the local town. The only downside is that there’s just one small road snaking there and back, so expect long, long delays.

The Site – 8/10

This eclectic festival sets itself up amidst the vast grounds of Charlton Park in rural Wiltshire. With three major stages, two lesser ones and numerous smaller workshop venues, it’s big enough to keep you entertained all weekend yet nothing is too far away. But should you find yourself wanting more, a well equipped internet café is tucked away nearby and olde worlde fairground rides dance along in the background. Little tents and yurts are dotted amidst trees and grass in a separate healing area, as is a sushi café, a tea bus and a workshop where you can play on handmade wooden gamelan instruments or have a go at making something yourself.

Atmosphere – 8/10

Whether they’re below the sun, the rain or the starry cloudless night, the WOMAD crowd are a pretty contented bunch who are constantly discovering new things. There’s something exciting around every corner, like heading into the beer tent to avoid the rain and catching the beautiful voice of Reading based singer Lisa Kenny and her ukulele. The Vegetarian Society offers free chocolate biscuits throughout the weekend and amidst the vast array of world delicacies, the ‘Iechyd da’ Welsh café is a little gem serving scrumptious breakfasts, pies and laver bread.

Music 8/10


Zambezi Express - 10/10

Narrated by a chuckling old man who’s had a few too many swigs of his homemade ‘Afrika beer’, the energetic show provides endless supplies of happy dancers who bounce onto the stage in between countless costume changes. Their cleverly choreographed performances tell the story of a young wannabe footballer on a long African train journey, but exact details are lost amidst the frenetic and gasp-inducing feats of springiness. The 30 members of Zambezi Express continue to inspire awe throughout the weekend, packing out the workshop tent and dancing along in the Carnival Parade.

Mim Suleiman workshop - 9/10

Mim Suleiman’s love and enthusiasm for the melodies and rhythms she shares in her workshops make your heart rise up and your vocal chords join in before you’re even aware of it. She sings out lines for us to mimic and throws out sarongs so we can tie them to our hips and bop to her bouncy East African grooves. “Exactly!” she says after we attempt to wind our tongues around the complicated sounds coming from her smiley mouth “As long as it sounds…like it anyway,” and we know that whatever it is that we’re actually singing, we’re still enjoying it as much as she is.

Nneka - 10/10

Nneka’s gorgeous voice is so heartfelt and strong that tears threaten your eyes in between moments of laughter as you allow yourself to be enveloped in her world. Her band is a mix of soulful Afro hip hop and R&B, and her music speaks honestly and beautifully about what she believes in, creating songs that are ‘spot on’ rather than ‘right on’.

The Apples - 8/10

The funky band from Israel have the solid drumming and bass playing that several otherwise good bands have been missing this weekend. Scheduled at the same time as the hugely popular Youssou N’Dour, they have a lot to compete with but their groovy tunes intertwined with snatches of turntable magic and funky horn playing make you want to dance until your feet hurt.

Enkh Jargal - 9/10

WOMAD always guarantees a cosy late night chill out experience in the Siam tent, and Enkh Jargal is the man for the job this weekend. The Mongolian throat singer’s hauntingly beautiful overtones  weave in and out of his lilting two-stringed ‘horse fiddle’, filling the stage with a cheerful intimacy that is over far too quickly, but just in time to send you contentedly off to bed. 


Mamer - 4/10

Music made by tunelessly twanging a mouth harp along to the rhythmic plucking of a chinese lute sounds like it should be played by smiling musicians. But Mamer’s serious performance as they plinky-plonk along attempting to be Steve Reich, befits the deadpan delivery of “We are very happy to be here.”

Peter Gabriel - 5/10

Spectacular visuals provide the backdrop to the festival co-founder’s highly anticipated one-off performance on Saturday night. He didn’t intend to play WOMAD at all, he says before lulling us into a strange sense of boredom with a couple of exceedingly slow covers of otherwise decent songs. Then he scares the pants off us with a sudden explosion of white lights and heavy guitar riffs. The accompanying strings are great, the set looks good, but the music is a bit dull.

Styl’O’Styl - 6/10

This clearly very talented combo are unfortunately doing their best to make break dancing un-cool by combining it with contemporary, French dance moves and atmospheric but forgettable electronic meanderings.

Random Events

WOMAD kids appear to be a very environmentally conscious lot as they wander around collecting up all the empty beer glasses from the grass, but in fact it’s a clever ploy by the organisers, who pay good money for old cups.

By Kate Rose

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