Founded by Peter Gabriel in 1982 to create a platform for world music, arts and dance, WOMAD showcases 90 artists from 50 countries, providing a feast for worldly and curious festivalgoers. Now in its 10th year running at Charlton Park in rural Wiltshire, WOMAD is as much a holistic festival full of delicious food, spirituality and knowledge as it is the global stage to discover new artists and celebrate global legends from Vietnam to Senegal. In a time of global despair, with the refugee crisis and terrorism at the front of people’s minds, WOMAD is a special festival that brings the world together through all genres of music, cultures, age groups and cuisines.
The reason I love WOMAD is it is easy going and offers something for everyone. You set the pace and tone. Enjoy the music from a distance whilst reading a newspaper, stand up right front (without being crushed), or stroll the grounds wandering from one enchanting performance to another, then having a massage and then perhaps listening to a poetry reading.
Young families typically enjoy the extensive activities on offer for children, including music workshops, human books, science shows at the science pavilion and endless activities at the World of Children. As the day progresses the crowds get larger and the adults come out ready for the big names like George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic.
WOMAD is perhaps the only festival that offers such an eclectic line up, perfect for the culturally curious and international audience from all walks of life, yet surprisingly the audience on average is not proportionately diverse – it is very much white middle class.
For a festival that last four days there is ample variety of food from Tibetan to Ethiopian. Every cuisine is represented at WOMAD and to my delight most food stalls have a vegetarian option. For the health conscious there are a few organic and super food stalls where you can get your chia seeds shot and green smoothies as well as highly nutritious salads and burgers.
All artists are treated equally at WOMAD, and wherever you go within the extensive grounds you will be delighted by a global gem – from a new discovered artist to world famous artists; each offering a joyous musical celebration or some form of political expression through their music.
Anoushka Shankar, the iconic and extraordinary talented sitar player responded instrumentally to the very current theme of migration. Her band demonstrated the essence of WOMAD – a pure mix of cultures, with the sitar and shennai, double bass, piano and Hang percussion. Baaba Maal, Africa’s most globally celebrated superstar and a favourite at WOMAD, gave a powerful Saturday night performance that was restless and powerful, celebrating his Senegalese roots.
His final act of promoting global harmony with poet Lemn Sissay was responded with a few members of the crowd shouting, “don’t play in Israel”. I came across Meta & The Cornerstones whilst walking to find some food, and was stopped by the feel good reggae that was playing on the Open Air Stage. Meta & The Cornerstones are impressive as unlike most reggae artists who descend from Jamaica this group is from Cote D’Ivoire, Jamaica, Israel, Algeria and Japan.
Portuguese singer Lura graced one of the seven WOMAD stages with a very up beat and joyful performance, contrary to traditional Fado songs one associates from the region.
WOMAD can often surprise and delight you when you least expect it. My husband and I discovered the rustic Yalumba Taste The World tent, that offers a very intimate and cute setting, where musicians share recipes from their culture and intermittently play or sing a few songs. This was perhaps my favourite WOMAD moment. We sat crossed legged in the front row, eagerly waiting for Lula Pena – a Portuguese Fado guitarist and signer who I had never come across. Lula very casually demonstrated how to make the infamous Portuguese pastry Pastel de Nata and then captivated her audience with the melancholy-drenched Fado music.
Lula is mysterious in every sense. You can feel the emotion and depth in her voice, which transports you to another world. Such an informal and intimate setting is an incredibly unique and special way to discover an artist.
On leaving WOMAD, we came across The East Pointers on the BBC Radio 3 Stage, and to our surprise this Celtic sounding music was from a Canadian group who recently left their full time jobs. This group armed with a fiddle, banjo and guitar have given Celtic music a makeover that made the whole crowd dance in unison. Tim Chaisson one of the members of the band says ‘traditional music is equivalent to soul music in my mind. It can take you to another place even if you haven’t heard it before”. That is exactly what happened, making it exceptionally difficult to leave WOMAD to head back to London.