Womadelaide festival 2016: 12 things we learned

Turbans aplenty as Angélique Kidjo, Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle, Violent Femmes and Seun Kuti delight Adelaide crowds over the long weekend

1. Blister in the Sun takes on a whole new meaning in 30C heat

When US alt-punk rockers Violent Femmes kicked off their opening night sunset performance with a version of their signature song so languid, so pared-back, so melted it could have been scored by Salvador Dali, it instantly became the festival’s unofficial anthem. Blistering – or at the very least wilting – in the sun proved inevitable over the four-day festival, with 30C-plus temperatures and punishing humidity conducive to either chilling under a Moreton Bay fig or doing Bikram yoga. (This being a festival set in a botanic garden that also offered morning yoga classes, it was theoretically possible to do both). – JI

children bounce on Sacrilege
For those who weren’t hot enough, there was always Sacrilege, an inflatable life-sized replica of Stonehenge to bounce on. Photograph: Scott Oates/The Guardian

2. Womadelaide has its own in-house bat choir

Radical Son, Eska, Sampa the Great, Miles Cleret, DakhaBrakha: all the artists who performed on the Novatech stage were accompanied by an overhanging chorus of squawking flying foxes. The creatures became particularly cacophonous during Kev Carmody’s haunting didgeridoo solo, as though engaged in some primordial call-and-response. – JI

3. Dirty Dancing soundtrack + topless young men = field of screaming women

Djuki Mala at Womadelaide
Djuki Mala’s performance was accompanied by thousands of cheering, whooping, wolf-whistling women. Photograph: Scott Oates/Scott Oates for the Guardian

Djuki Mala, formerly known as the Chooky Dancers, have a serious side to their hour-long set of Indigenous and Chippendales-esque choreography performed to popular songs. Their show is a homage to their Elcho Island homeland, to the group’s late mastermind “Big Frank”, and to the preservation of their Yolngu culture against the malignant forces of addiction, incarceration and youth suicide. But it was the torso-rippling lads with their springy bodies and suggestive dance moves that we stayed for. Songs like Get Ur Freak On, Everybody Dance Now, Zorba the Greek, Singing in the Rain, Be My Baby – joyously danced to in an ever-shrinking array of skimpy costumes – ensured all generations could join in this giant hen’s party. – JI

4. Turbans are to Womadelaide what fascinators are to the Melbourne Cup

Katherine Gailes (left) and Claudia Vidal, at Womadelaide 2016.
Call it a wrap: Womadelaide punters Katherine Gailes (left) and Claudia Vidal don colourful tignons. Photograph: Janine Israel/The Guardian

Gorgeous head wraps weren’t limited to the performers, although Angélique Kidjo, the queen of African music herself, certainly set the standard in a green traditional number. According to some of the headdress-sporting festival punters we spoke to, the tignon’s revival is as much about cultural reclamation as it is about beauty. For Claudia Vidal, a Melburnian of Colombian African descent, “it’s part of everyday life. I wear it to a festival as well as to go to work – it’s part of who I am. The origins [of the tignon] have not always been so beautiful though. In the Americas and Europe it was pushed on [black women] because white people couldn’t handle our curly hair.” – JI

5. Red is the new orange

@IbeyiOfficial at @WOMADelaide 2016 were incredible! Check them out. Shot for @theAUreview #WOMADelaide #ibeyi pic.twitter.com/EIziOqbDiS

— Scotopic Lux Photo (@ScotopicLux) March 13, 2016

French-Cuban twins Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz of Ibeyi got their prison chic on in fire engine-red jumpsuits, complete with chunky bling and high black boots. It was a sartorial fusion as eclectic as their sound, which combined old-school soul, trip-hop beats and acapela Yorùbá chants that honoured the orishas of thunder and the sea. Naomi, who straddles the cajón (box drum) and thumps her thighs and chest and clicks her fingers to drive the beat, has inherited the talent of her late Buena Vista Social Club percussionist father, Miguel “Angá” Diaz, and infused it with serious Parisian hip-hop street cred. – JI

6. Asha Bhosle proved old is gold

Asha Bhosle
Asha Bhosle’s set was a family affair. Photograph: Scott Oates/The Guardian

When you’re 82 years old, have recorded 13,000 songs, soundtracked hundreds of Hindi films and had Fatboy Slim remix a song about you, the whole world is your living room. And the thousands who gathered to see the Bollywood playback singer’s Saturday night performance were made to feel like old friends kicking back in her Bombay home. On a few ocassions, Asha Bhosle trundled out her 14-year-old granddaughter, who danced a classical Indian kathak before letting us judge whether she had inherited her grandmother’s voice. At another point, Bhosle, detecting sound problems, swished off stage and yelled loudly for her assistant, leaving one of her drummers with the awkward task of making audience small talk while wondering if his boss was ever going to return. Thankfully she did, and between songs chatted convivially with her Hindi-speaking fans, even indulging in some grandmotherly scolding: “You’re applauding after I sing – why don’t you sing with me?” – JI

7. Womadelaide provokes generational skirmishes

One 30-something Adelaide dude told me with disgust that Womadelaide is full of middle-class wankers “pretending they’re alternative by wearing a kaftan and listening to Cat Empire”, and he was only there under sufferance because his mate’s band was playing. That’s being way too harsh, but there are a lot of baby boomers at Womadelaide (drinking wine in the shade, carrying portable chairs), and there are a lot of kaftans. No one would go in there thinking it was Stereosonic.

Womadelaide has been going since 1992, and attracts a more even spread of ages than other festivals. This lends itself to a certain atmosphere: mellow, yes, but also slightly uptight. But hey, it’s all about the circle of life. One minute you are young and hating on Womadelaide, and the next thing you are there with your special chair and your pinot gris, feeling comfortable and happy in your worn-once-yearly kaftan. – BD

8. Seun Kuti likes to reclaim repressive acronyms

FELA LIVES! 😎@RealSeunKuti with his tattooed dedication to his father on his back. 🐓 #goldenplains #seunkuti pic.twitter.com/z6L0w31M5E

— Carbie Warbie (@CarbieWarbie) March 14, 2016

The electrifying Seun Kuti didn’t need to take his shirt off to prove that “Fela lives”. And with songs dedicated to the IMF (“international mother fuckers”) and THC (“the higher consciousness”), the Nigerian Afrobeat star left no doubt as to where he stands on his late father’s radical politics. – JI

9. Angélique Kidjo isn’t afraid to break rules

Angélique Kidjo
Everybody stand now: Angélique Kidjo ensured the audience rose to the occasion. Photograph: Candice Lo/The Guardian

Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo has a long history of sticking it to the man. First, a school-age Kidjo resolved to become a musician in a country where female singers were afforded the status of sex workers. Later, she refused to sing the praises of Benin’s communist government, preferring to go into exile in France than kowtow to a repressive regime. And on Friday night, in her first Womadelaide appearance – backed by the full force of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra – there was no way Kidjo was going to abide by the organiser’s strict “seated event only” rule. After a rousing speech about peace, love and the “human family”, Kidjo launched into a spirited rendition of Afrika, walked into the crowd and urged everyone to rise to their feet. Before long, there were thousands of swaying people with uplifted arms singing “Ashè é Maman, ashè é Maman Afirika” to the starry South Australian sky. – JI

10. South Australia’s nuclear destiny lies with Indigenous people

David Suzuki
Thousands turned out to see David Suzuki give a keynote speech at Womadelaide on 12 March. Photograph: Scott Oates/The Guardian

Since touching down in Australia a few days ago, the grandfather of the environmental movement, David Suzuki, revealed he has been “peppered with questions” from the media about whether South Australia is a suitable spot to dump the world’s nuclear waste. As SA awaits the full findings of the nuclear fuel cycle royal commission, Suzuki – who during his packed address to Womadelaide revealed he carries a traditional Kaurna name bestowed on him by an elder of the Adelaide region – said the long-term impact of storing nuclear waste remained unknown. However “the only group with any credibility on sustainability over thousands of years are the indigenous people everywhere. To South Australians – to all Australians – I say: if you want to deal seriously with the issue of nuclear waste, let the Kuarna and the other Indigenous groups make the decisions.” – JI

David Suzuki at #WOMADelaide PlanetTalks story https://t.co/sbTESfcLI0

— Simon Divecha (@simondivecha) March 13, 2016

11. Just when you thought you had no more energy ...

... Along comes Palestinian four-piece 47Soul, who within seconds had the crowd bellydancing, pogoing and pulling muscles they never knew they had. Now based in east London, 47Soul’s combination of shamstep, dub and Afrobeat was the sound of a futuristic Arabic wedding colliding with revolutionary politics (cue lyrics like “Jerusalem is the prison of philosophy and religion”). The band even brought an element of fun to a simulated helicopter air raid as the audience were instructed to crouch down as the air filled with the sound of machine gun fire. As one satisfied customer said after the show: “They had funk, they had soul, they had politics, and they were topless.” – JI

47Soul – before things got sweaty and the tops came off. Photograph: Scott Oates for the Guardian

12. The hippy stuff ain’t all bad

Womadelaide’s daily yoga classes are so mellow you could just do one downward dog then stretch out your shavasana for 50 minutes and no one is going to tell you off. The festival is held in a 34-hectare garden of several hundred trees, some of which are more than a century old. So if you want to take a break from the yoga, music and crowds, there are many shady and quiet spots to rest. Another great chill-out zone is the healing centre. Some of the state’s top masseurs work in lovely little tents where you can drift off to the sound of bands playing. Just don’t drift too far off. Last year one of the tents caught fire after an accident with a candle. This year nothing burnt down.

Punters sit under a tree at night at Womadelaide.
Punters sit under a tree at night at Womadelaide. Photograph: Scott Oates for the Guardian

As for the food, it is a million times better than old-school pies, donuts and the usual fried festival food. If you want to graze on acai bowls, fresh coconut and vegan cuisine, it’s all here. – BD


Janine Israel and Brigid Delaney

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
10 acts to see at Womadelaide 2016: Angélique Kidjo to Violent Femmes
De La Soul, Asha Bhosle, Ester Rada and Djuki Mala are also among the globe-spanning artists at Adelaide’s festival of world music, dance and talks

Janine Israel

08, Mar, 2016 @11:26 PM

Article image
Womadelaide 2019: Christine and the Queens dazzles amid smorgasbord of sound
More than 75 acts performed over four packed days in a world music festival that continues to push boundaries and open hearts

Janine Israel

12, Mar, 2019 @12:17 AM

Article image
WOMADelaide festival 2013 – in pictures

Hugh Masekela, Jimmy Cliff, Salif Keita and Tim Rogers and the Bamboos have all appeared at WOMADelaide – the Australian version of Womad, taking place in Adelaide – while festivalgoers have partied in the sweltering sun

Alicia Canter

10, Mar, 2013 @5:22 PM

Article image
Womadelaide 2018: all singing, all dancing festival of joy
Crowds delight in extraordinary range of talent, colour and atmosphere in botanic gardens

Janine Israel

13, Mar, 2018 @2:07 AM

Article image
WOMADelaide festival 2013 – review

Hugh Masekela and Goran Bregovic made sweltering festival-goers at the WOMADelaide festival in South Australia feel even hotter

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

11, Mar, 2013 @1:45 PM

Article image
Womadelaide 2017: politics rages through Australia's most diverse and surprising festival
In its 25th year, the world music festival took estimated crowds of 90,000 on a journey of discovery across four days

Janine Israel

14, Mar, 2017 @3:58 AM

Article image
How Adelaide could become Australia's most exciting city – simply by doubling down on culture
South Australia is on track to having Australia’s worst economy but, as anyone who’s been to Adelaide in March knows, there’s one thing the city excels at

Brigid Delaney

04, Mar, 2016 @5:04 AM

Article image
Womadelaide 2020: uplifting, political and expansive festival offers hope amid the doom
With Mavis Staples, Aldous Harding and Spinifex Gum in the lineup, the world music festival offered plenty of reasons to look up from our phones – and towards each other

Janine Israel

10, Mar, 2020 @4:01 AM

Article image
Womadelaide 2017 playlist: eight acts to hear before you go
The 25th anniversary of the music and dance festival promises to be a feast for the senses over three days and four nights

Janine Israel

03, Mar, 2017 @9:46 PM

Article image
Dustyesky's Russian folk songs and accent comedy – it shouldn't work, but it does
Joke act it may be, but there’s something weirdly great about a bunch of Byron shire lads singing in Russian at Womadelaide

Andrew P Street

11, Mar, 2018 @1:41 AM