ROCK / World comes to Wilts: Philip Sweeney lends an ear to the Womad sessions

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The Independent Culture
DOWN in Wiltshire, Kenyan lyres and Chinese harps are again outnumbering combine harvesters: the second Womad / Real World recording week is under way.

Sitting on a little stone bridge separating the Real World recording complex (owned by Peter Gabriel) from the Womad office area, Kweyao Agyapon, the Barbados-born, Ghanaian-named, New York-dwelling percussionist with the Moroccan-led group Hassan Hakmoun, gazes over the twilight fields: 'The atmosphere here is wonderful,' he says, 'I've been through a lot of collaborative artistic situations - Festac, the 1977 black arts festival in Nigeria, the Dance Africa series in the USA - and this is on a par with any of them.'

Beside him, Billy Cobham, who has influenced a generation of percussionists, exchanges handshakes and fist-touches half a dozen members of the traditional Burkinabe group Farafina. What is Cobham here for, apart from advising the West Africans on recording techniques and appreciating Ruddles bitter? 'Anything else that might happen . . . I'm just waiting to see who wants me.'

This is the prevailing mood among the 60 or so musicians and seven producers temporarily residing in or around the studio complex in the village of Box. Most of the activities in the six studios concern the semi-spontaneous manufacture of tracks combining, for example, the flamenco guitar of London-based Juan Martin, the Kenyan lyre of Ayub Ogada, and the Lingala singing of Zarean Papa Wemba, the concoction mixed and stirred by the squire himself, Peter Gabriel.

In addition to the experimental stuff, which may or may not see the light of day, four other albums are being recorded: Hassan Hakmoun and his group Zahar are playing Marrakesh funk rock; Farafina laying down some West African neo-traditional; while there is classical Indian mandolin by U Srinivas; and Turkmenistan wedding music by Ashkhabad, whose first trip from their homeland resulted from a demo cassette sent speculatively to Womad last year.

The ensemble is largely composed of musicians long associated with cross-over, fusion and allied practices. Simon Jeffes, leader of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and a Womad festivalier since its foundation in 1982, was present as an 'ideas man', as was new recruit Nigel Kennedy, replete in yokel denim and straggly beard, who arrived on Tuesday.

Many hours - hundreds possibly, no one seems to know - of tape from last year's pioneering exercise remain on Real World's shelves, waiting to be processed. The six albums so far produced (four of which have been released) cost much more than the planned recording budget of around pounds 75,000. But profit isn't entirely the point contends Womad's administration director, Ian Gibson: 'In terms of PR, the building of contacts and artistic satisfaction, last year's event was regarded as a major success, and the eventual release of a really big-selling album, along the lines of Gabriel's Passion soundtrack could end up recouping the costs of not one but two years' activities. In the meantime, both ideas and Ruddles flow late into the night.

The recording week concludes with a one- day Womad gala in Victoria Park, Bath 1.00-10.30pm (Booking: 0225 448831).

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