The honeyed, mellifluous tones of Gil Scott-Heron provided the perfect finale to the 28th Womad Festival in Wiltshire. Despite a bit of a dig to any journalists about his perceived 'disappearance' (come on Gil, you haven't released an album since 1994) this was a vintage performance from the man without whom rap would never have been invented.
Sat at his electric piano, Baker boy cap at a jaunty angle, and bathed in a pink spotlight, the 61-year-old had the audience in the palm of his hand from the offset. It was a captivating performance that saw the maestro cherry pick from his huge back catalogue and had the entire field straining to savour each and every word.
Earlier Afro Celt Sound System tore up the Siam Tent with their cross-cultural mash up of world music – the perfect band to sum up what Womad is about. At one point a kora player, dhol drummer, talking drum maestro and bodhran player jammed over squelchy acid keyboards and a breakbeat. Awesome stuff – and amazing to witness live. On CD it's hard to apprecciate that everything is live, not Mac trickery.
Another highlight of the weekend was the ridiculously talented Javier Conde who played the Charlie Gillett stage (dedicated to the great broadcaster, journalist and world music enthusiast who died earlier this year) to a rapt crowd.
Although only 21 the guitarist quite clearly has flamenco coursing through his veins, and his mastery of the instrument is enough to make grown men who've spent a lifetime trying to master a handful of chords weep into their real ale. Conde played a couple of songs on his own before first inviting his father to come and join him, and then a percussionist and bass guitar player. It was stirring, inspiring stuff and proof that flamenco has a bright future ahead.
Saturday saw the magnificent Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, fronted by brothers Rizwan and Muazzam, nephews of the late, great Qawwali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan captivate a rapt crowd at delightful, tree-lined BBC Radio 3 Stage. At the end of the set the crowd, who had largely stayed seated throughout the show, rose to their feet en masse for a well-earned standing ovation. The soaring, devotional songs lift the soul, whatever your spiritual inclination.
Ozomatli closed the opening night on the Open Air stage with their infectious blend of hip-hop, salsa and rock. The band attracted a huge crowd 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.
In the afternoon the legendary Horace Andy treated the crowds to classic roots reggae while Afrobeat legend and Damon Albarn collaborator, Tony Allen served up another outstanding set. But despite the presence of such renowned royalty, the biggest buzz for me had to be the outstanding Staff Benda Bilili. The Congolese group, whose star is most definitely in the ascendancy, certainly lived up to all the hype. Their music speaks volumes. It's impossible to stand still to their set and by the final track the whole crowd were one mass of beaming smiles and grooving limbs.
This was my first year at Charlton Park – it certainly won't be my last.