LA's finest, Ozomatli, brought the opening night of Womad 2010 to a close with their infectious blend of hip-hop, salsa and rock. The band attracted the biggest crowd of the Womad festival so far with their party vibes sparking a fitting hands-in-the-air, pogoing finale to a Friday that showcased the best that world music has to offer.
Earlier the crowds were treated to roots reggae from the legendary Horace Andy and another stunning set from the lord of Afrobeat, Tony Allen. But the biggest buzz had to be the outstanding Staff Benda Bilili. The Congolese group, whose star is rising, lived up to all the hype. If you hadn't heard their heart-warming back story – aged guitar-pickers struck down by polio meet street-kid musicians and create uplifting funk-flavoured African groove – it didn't matter. Their music speaks volumes. It's impossible to stand still to their set and by the final song the crowd was one mass of beaming smiles and raving limbs. And the young guy who played his own guitar-type instrument fashioned out of a tin can and a strand of electrical cable was truly stunning. It is only fitting that they were presented with the Songlines award for "best band of the year" before their encore.
The Drummers of Burundi opened the Open Air Stage at 1pm. The 12 musicians, sporting identical red and green outfits, strode on to the stage with their huge drums atop their heads. Their leader twirled a spear and leapt gazelle-like across the stage. And the sound? I've never heard massed drums quite like this. Earlier I'd stumbled across a drum workshop where novices and pros alike slapped the skins and traded beats. But the noise that 20 drums produced in a workshop, even from just a foot away, is nothing compared to the full-on, solid wall of sound that The Drummers of Burundi produce. It made the hairs stand on end. They played the first Womad 28 years ago and judging by this performance, it won't be another 28 years before they return.
The beauty of Womad is that you can hear music from all four corners of the world in an afternoon. Take the wonderfully named Calypso Rose. The 70-year-old Tobagan singer, writer of over 800 calypso songs, has beaten cancer twice. Her saucy between-song patter, superb voice and showmanship belied her years. Backed by a quintet young enough to be her grandchildren, McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis (as her family know her) brought a sexy slice of the Caribbean to Charlton Park.
But the highlight of the first afternoon was Toumast. As a fan of the Touareg band Tinariwen, I half-expected a carbon copy slice of desert blues. But lead guitarist and main man Moussa Ag Keyna and singer-guitarist Aminatou Goumar take call-and-reponse-tradition-meets-Western-guitar to another level. Funky bass, solid drums and hypnotic percussion, allied to Ag Keyna's mastery of the six-string, lift them above their contemporaries. The swirling, building sound, blended with Goumar's striking ululations, makes for an unforgettable set. Keyna says in broken English that he once shouldered a Kalashnikov but now uses his guitar to fight for peace, which delights their new fans. The last song sees most of the crowd hollering for more. Toumast deserve a wider audience.