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WOMAD 2018

WOMAD 2018

WOMAD 2018

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WOMAD remains the premier festival for ‘World Music’ in Europe.

Ever summer, in the lovely setting of Chalrton Park, near the village of Malmesbury on the edge of the Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty, an impressive array of acts from around the world gather for a weekend of music, dance and peripheral activities, including cooking demonstrations held by visiting performers and various music and dance workshops, supplemented by some noteworthy DJ sets. As the festival grows in popularity, it faces particular challenges, and although its increasing success has inevitably brought some form of commercialisation, WOMAD has essentially remained true to its core values. You are still guaranteed to encounter acts at WOMAD that you have never heard of, before or since, and even the headliners remain fairly alternative.


A more pressing concern affecting this year’s WOMAD had nothing to do with the festival’s organisation or overriding vision. Instead, it has to do with the narrow tunnel-vision blighting the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies of ‘Brexit Britain.’ A number of acts had their visas refused or delayed, meaning that some artists arrived at the festival after their performances were scheduled to have taken place, and several acts were forced to pick up European musicians along the way, since some of their band members were denied visas. This deplorable situation speaks volumes on the misgovernment of Britain under the chaos of Teresa May’s reign, and we can only hope that such nonsense is swiftly rectified.

I was unable to attend WOMAD’s opening Thursday this year, so I missed Ken Boothe’s set, delivered in support of his latest album for Chapter Two, though I am told the performance was on par with what we expect from Ken these days.

My WOMAD began on the Friday in the ‘World of Words’ tent, with a fascinating, if somewhat chaotic talk on the Alpha Boy’s School, delivered by Adam Reeves, co-author of the book Alpha Boys School: Cradle of Jamaican Music, and a couple of Alpharians, including Basil Hylton. The session was chaired by the producer and mixer Wrongtom, and it got off to a messy start, with some arguments on whether Joe Harriott could be considered to have pioneered free jazz before Ornette Coleman; nevertheless, there was good testimony from the Alpharians on their experience of the place and good contextual information from Adam Reeves on why Alpha is important, as well as the key figure of Sister Ignatius Davies and the way that Alpha was crucial to ska’s evolution.

Friday’s musical highlights included Senegalese hip-hop pioneers Daara J deploying a competent and multifaceted set in the Siam tent, though Tal National suffered from the situation of some substitute band members, due to the aforementioned visa issues. I also enjoyed Polish ska punk group Hanba!’s rollicking show, and the portions of The Herbaliser and Rodney P’s rap-heavy set that I caught in the Big Red tent, and though I totally missed Leftfield’s recreation of their Leftism album, as well as Goldie’s DJ set in the D&B Soundcape tent, patrons told me each were of high standard.

On Saturday, after catching a very touching and informative cookery workshop with Abatwa (The Pygmy) in the Taste the World tent, Havana Meets Kington made a bright and brilliant impact on the main Open Air stage, playing under bright sunshine. Those familiar with the group’s debut album may have been miffed by the absence of Sly and Robbie, Ernest Ranglin and the array of guest Jamaican vocal veterans that included Cornell Campbell and Leroy Sibbles, among many others, but the incarnation touring Europe benefitted from guitarist Bo Pee Bowen and singer Randy Valentine on the reggae side of things, and Cubans galore in the mix. Opening with a traditional chant to Babalowo, it took a while for things to get going, but a version of Chan Chan had the crowd singing along and the hit-bound finale of Carnival with Solis and Randy Valentine in combination style was a true crowd-pleaser. The post-gig album signing session was pretty packed as well, so evidently the people enjoyed it. Elsewhere, Orchestre Les Mpangala’s pleasant performance evoked the glory days of Congolese rumba on the Charlie Gillett stage, getting the crowd dancing even if the sound was a little subdued. And a true highlight of the festival came when Macka B delivered a rousing, upful and positive set with his band in the Big Red Tent, full to capacity during a hefty rain shower. Songs like We’ve Had Enough and Never Played A 45 went down a treat, with Mr B displaying the confidence, inclusiveness and good nature that has always marked out his territory. There were some unexpected bonuses in the backstage bar too, with some foundation dancehall and ragga sets by young folk whose names I never gleaned. This year’s event was hailed by the promoters as a record-breaking success and where WOMAD heads from here is anyone’s guess. Hopefully next year’s edition will not face the same kind of punitive measure from government boffins, allowing patrons to experience each of the acts on the roster without censure.


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