Apparently mud has different grades and it has gone from slurry to liquid on the site but we should be grateful — the Reading site would have been submerged. In these rather beautiful surroundings, WOMAD has begun with the best line-up in years to make up for the conditions underfoot
The stewards wandered through the crowd with bits of paper showing the severe weather warning for heavy rain at 8pm on the Saturday and the rain came but it was dramatic than feared. This was certainly a muddy weekend but not so much that it couldn’t be enjoyed fully.
The music on Saturday was sensational again. Like an ngoni junky I slipped in to see most of Bassekou’s set in the larger, Siam tent and if anything he topped the previous night’s performance with more exceptional and deeply bluesy solos while his wife Amy’s voice cut through the air with a power not yet seen on record.
Reluctantly, I left them playing to hear some of Massukos’ set. This Mozambican group delivered an uplifting sound of sunshine to help lift the moisture from the earth but perhaps I was still too much in thrall to the ngoni master to really enjoy the set.
Cesaria Evora’s band came on, the familiar notes of her hugely successful songs rang out and the unmistakable outline of Cape Verde’s most famous musician came into view. But she may as well have sung from backstage. The voice was there, the songs as good as ever but the singer had the same expression as you would see on any pensioner waiting in a slow-moving Post Office queue on a wet Monday morning in Reading.
If Bassekou can’t be the star of both days, then the star of Saturday would have to be The Imagined Village. Simon Emmerson of Afro-Celt fame had assembled an all-star cast with Martin and Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg, Sheila Chandra, Chris Wood, dhol drummer Johnnny Kalsi and not on a guitar but on a sitar was Sheema Mukherjee to re-imagine English music to be meaningful in the multicultural world of today. An ancient folk song re-told as a tale of asylum with the disembodied voice of Benjamin Zephaniah was particularly powerful. Appropriately enough the heavens chose this moment to open up.
Although there were a few things happening on the Thursday, the festival proper began on Friday. Toots and the Maytals blasted out their ska hits and the crowd jumped up and down, well they would have if their wellies were not suctioning them tight to the mud.
Possibly worth the admission price alone was a tremendous performance by Lila Downs, virtuoso harp, great tunes and the fabulously becostumed Mexicana herself delivering a set drawn heavily from her last and rather perfect album. Hitting astonishing vocal highs and lows throughout the performance, it seems she has been pushing her talents further and further as she takes her show round the world.
Daara J came back to WOMAD and a huge, fist-pumping crowd returned their energetic attentions in full. However, the most magical performance of the night was without a doubt Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba. While the album is still great, it fails to capture the energetic, funky excitement of this band in person. To put it another way, the album is a bit Radio 3, while live this band is a lot more James Brown.
All in all, a great WOMAD with the best line-up in many a year. The new venue would be stunning with a little less mud, so until next year…
Photos from WOMAD 2007 here…