Festival review: Womad, Charlton Park, Malmesbury

 

With its six main stages and rolling programme from midday till after midnight, it’s inevitable that FOMO sets in as you try to sample a full taste of the world unfurling its colours at Charlton Park. This year wasn’t the greatest line-up, but it’s easy to pick out the hot and chilled over the merely warmed over.

Despite Noah-like forecasts of storm and deluge, conditions until late Saturday were outstanding. Then the heavens opened, pools of mud rose up through the dry compacted ground like some Lovecraftian horror in clay, then subsided with Sunday’s sun and bracing winds.

The BBC’s Radio Three stage is one of smallest but tastiest, set amidst the trees of the Arboretum, with its masseurs, healers, Gong Baths. At night, it’s spectacularly lit up, and in the heat, provides welcome shade. Here, brilliant young trio Barrule ignited the folk tunes of the Isle of Man, while British-Indian sitar player Roopa Panesar and her band were also outstanding, DaWangGang intriguingly fused traditional Chinese instruments with slide-guitar quotes from In My Time of Dying, and there was a sporadically brilliant set from Brazil’s Lucas Santa, who has a unique touch for ringing, chiming guitar.

Santa was one of a contingent of Brazilians, including Sunday night’s headliner Gilberto Gil, as cool and consummate as ever, and young star Flavia Coelho on that same Open Air Stage on Saturday lunchtime. This is Womad’s largest arena, where Seun Kuti led his father’s Egypt 88 band through a familiar but brilliantly energetic Friday night set. “This is not African jazz,” he declared. “This is not traditional music. This is not African soul. This is original African music.”

The same could be said for the Malian art music of Saturday’s main-stage headliner, Rokia Traore, who opened with brooding, snaking bass-driven and low, dramatic vocals. Seventies veterans Osibisa preceded her, while Zimbabwe’s Mokoomba scored lengthy rhythmic workouts with some superb lead guitar on Sunday afternoon.

Womad is as much about new artists as it is headliners. In the Siam Tent, Sam Lee’s Womad debut (following an inspiring talk on song collecting at the World Rhythms tent), came after the more belated debut of Canzoniere Grencanico Salentina, a veteran band from the heel of Italy’s boot. On the same stage, you could find Tuva’s throat-singing giants Hun Huur Tu, Poland’s Kroke with Mongolian singer Urna, or Romania’s Fanfare Ciocarlia slaying the crowd, while Charlie Gillette Stage hosted a supernaturally brilliant Iranian percussionist, so jaw-droppingly good that even the soundcheck drew astonished applause. Mohammed Reza Mortavasi, this one’s for you.

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