Womad festival – review

Charlton Park, Malmesbury

Womad's 30th anniversary required memorable performances, and they finally arrived as the festival drew to a close on Sunday night. Robert Plant has worked with guitarist Justin Adams in the past, but in his new band, Sensational Space Shifters, he has cleverly invited a second member of JuJu to join him as well. Juldeh Camara, from Gambia, is an exponent of the ritti one-stringed fiddle, and here he brought a wailing African edge to a set dominated by reworked blues classics, with Plant proving that he still has one of the great voices with his edgy, attacking treatment of the Howlin' Wolf favourite Forty-Four .

The second great performance of the night came from Kinshasa's Jupiter & Okwess International, whose hypnotic, high-energy playing mixed jangling rapid-fire funk riffs, and equally tight vocals and percussion work. They are surely the African discovery of the year. From elsewhere on the continent there were upbeat desert blues from Niger's Abdallah Oumbadougou, and a slick, easy-going set from Rai hero Khaled, who often sounded as if he was on cruise control.

This was a great year for Asian music, and Manganiyar Seduction, from Rajasthan, northern India, provided the most spectacular staging for any Womad performance I have seen. Each of the 36 musicians played inside a box initially covered by a red curtain and surrounded by bare light bulbs – an idea apparently inspired by the red-light district in Amsterdam. The boxes towered high above the stage, with the lights coming on every time a musician started playing – until they were all flashing like some wild Indian disco, as the musicians switched from fiddles and flutes to a furious climax of vocals and drumming.

From further east, there was the entertaining Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, furiously mixing Jamaican styles with jazz. And the strangest music of the weekend was provided by Marewrew & Oki, reviving the unearthly and tranquil songs of Japan's Ainu people. Only at Womad could you hear anything like that.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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