Womad Festival Rivermead Leisure Complex, Reading: Live review

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The Independent Culture
"Silence, please." It was a strange request to make at a music festival. But it was for the sake of Ravi Shankar and his troupe warming up on their Friday night recital. One of the venerable inaugurators of Anglo-Indian pop musical crossovers, having worked with Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison, Shankar's Womad appearance was just right. He and other weekend performers demonstrated that the Anglo-Asian fusion is one of the most resilient and vital of all the current cross-cultural musical hybrids.

Talvin Singh's increasingly in-demand Asian dance collective Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground and Nitin Sawhey's fusion of traditional musics and modern beats are part of the new breed and both performed to much acclaim. So did the duo of Paban Das Baul and Sam Mills. This collaboration between the Bengali mystical singer and the member of former avant-funk outfit 23 Skidoo has already delivered a swooning summery album, Real Sugar. In their Saturday set, they were accompanied - and a little hijacked - by the Malian kora virtuoso, Touman Diakite, who milked the audience with stadium-style handclap routines.

Friday night's headlining performance by the legendary roots reggae singer Burning Spear (aka Winston Rodney) was a barnstormer. Spear, now grey-bearded but still plentiful of dreads, was relaxed and utterly charismatic, leading an excellent band through a set that included such classic "conscious" songs as "Days of Slavery". With the current resurgence of all things dub, it can only be a matter of time before the next wave of Spear-inspired root singers, one hopes.

One of the weekend's highlights was the Polish Klezmer trio, Kroke, who performed three times in as many days. On Saturday night, Kroke tore the roof off the big-top tent. Their instrumentation is minimal - double- bass, accordion and violin, with the occasional yearning ululation thrown in by the violinist. It's the empathy of the musicians that whips up their storm of a sound, encompassing mournful atmospherics and a sense of frenzied, almost jazz-style celebration. While theirs is a traditional music that originated in the thriving Yiddish communities of eastern Europe before the Nazis, there is nothing trad in the musty revivalist sense. After their rapturous reception this weekend, Real World whisked them off to their recording studios, where they are working with old farmer Gabriel.

At this most un-rock of festivals, there was a sense of several very different generations coming at world music from different angles. And with the incorporation of the Megadog World of Beats Dance Tent, this year's Womad saw the E generation consorting with the hippy generation, both sharing the same desire to explore something other and older than the current consensus-pop of Merseybeat necrophilia.