Womad Festival, Rivermead, Reading

Despite a drenching, African legends and Cuban favourites shine through
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Sunday dawned bright and warm over the quagmire that was Saturday's festival ground. The only stray water visible by showtime was splashing out of the white plastic tub holding the floating percussive gourd of a water drummer in the Siam Tent. The drummer was with the group of Manecas Costa, of Guinea Bissau, the tiny West African nation whose international festival ambassador Costa has just become courtesy of his new BBC label CD. Playing jaunty minor-key dance tunes, including the distinctive goumbé rhythm, Costa was enjoyable but the heavy bass amplification stifled any subtlety. But with much sweat flying, getting the audience to wave their arms, Costa finally pulled off a successful set.

African acts dominated this Womad. The South African ensemble Amampondo demonstrated with their xylophones and percussion the textural power of wood resonating on wood. Sotho Sounds, a group of young goatherds from Lesotho, impressed with their home-made instruments (oil cans, fishing line, horsehair) and sartorial flair (wellingtons, football socks, conical straw hats).

The big one for many however was the Super Rail Band of Bamako, Mali, another legendary band from the 70s. Their leader and star guitarist Djelimady Tounkara regal in dark mustard robes, played a wonderful flow of sweet notes curling through the octaves from peeling falsetto to guttural bass, particularly effective on the slow, bluesy tracks the band is losing for a younger audience.

Asia's strong presence started with the Dhol Foundation, a formation of UK players of the Punjabi dhol drum, like an Indian samba school. The Ensemble Kaboul, a group of Afghan exiles who have kept the traditions of their tortured country's music, played beautifully, and gave a workshop on the divergence of the Afghan rubab from the baroque violin.

Cuba hung in for the Latins, despite demotion after years as a festival favourite, as the Havana soneros Sierra Maestra gave good value. The Brazilians Totonho y os Cabra. seemed promising by having the word goat in the band's name. Fronted by an aged ruffian whose grizzled beard and baleful stage demeanour seemed to combined Screaming Jay Hawkins and Osama bin Laden, Totonho initially scared off some listeners with a blast of vicious heavy metal, but their mix of tropical guitar mayhem was fascinating. Totonho committed a festival cliche by ordering the audience to sing "yin, yang',' although no-one responded. Give that goat a medal.