Festival Review: WOMADelaide 2018

Highlights from a perfect weekend at the World of Music, Arts and Dance festival takeover of Botanic Park

★★★★★
music review | Read in About 6 minutes
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The Manganiyar Seduction
Published 16 Mar 2018

WOMAD has a reputation for being a 'hippy festival', and if taken in its most positive, progressive sense, it absolutely is. The spirit of WOMAD is acceptance and this is felt across Adelaide's Botanic Park as families, singles, couples and friends flock to the forest for WOMADelaide 2018.

This is not a festival which appeals to only one demographic – it is accessible to all ages and all music tastes. 

Held over four days, WOMAD hosts a range of artists from across the world. There are stalls open throughout the festival selling everything from musical instruments, to hula hoops, to frilly knickers and beaded jewellery. There are food vendors representing countries and cultures from Asia to the Americas, from hummus to donuts and everything in between.

WOMADelaide proudly strives to be a zero-waste festival by providing only biodegradable plates, cutlery and cups. Segmented bins, controlled by Adelaide Green Team, make division of wastes easier for all. By minimising the impact the festival has on the park, WOMAD is award-winning in the ability to restore the park to its natural state after the festival. In addition, a proportion of every ticket goes toward planting native trees in a reserve in the lower south east of the state. [Laura Desmond]

Friday

Opening night for WOMADelaide is welcomed with the perfect evening weather and sunshine beaming onto Tank and the Bangas' electric set at dusk. The New Orleans group have the crowd eating out of their hands as front woman Tank moves, grooves and soothes away across the stage. Her voice changes in an instant – a testimony to the utmost vocal control she has – from a rounded, gospel-like singing tone to a cheeky, upbeat nasal rap. Tank's slam poetry background shines with the mellow New Orleans jazz style beats keeping us moving on the grass. [LD]

Saturday

It’s testament to the magic and uniqueness of WOMADelaide that we get to experience moments like this. The sun is low, sending piercing arrows of light through the needle-like trees by the Novatech Stage. Clumps of bats hang like fruit. The first quaking beats of aboriginal rapper – and former Djuki Mala member – Baker Boy’s opener belch from the speakers, and great clouds of bats erupt into the sky. It adds to the otherworldliness this festival so often conjures. The boys on stage tear through their blistering hits, spitting impassioned bars in both English and Yolngu Matha. It’s an energetic set, and we dance to the kinetic tunes under the shadow of a thousand winged creatures.

Speaking of winged creatures; the sun has set and crowds gather near the festival’s main Foundation Stage. Near to it, but not at it, for this next act is a much less anchored affair. Gratte Ciel’s new aerial experience Place des Anges has been excitedly whispered about throughout WOMADelaide all weekend, the scattered feathers from the previous night’s performance giving only a faint clue as to what might occur tonight.

Lit like an angelic convict caught by a searchlight, the first heavenly figure is spotted high above the festival. Entirely white – suit, face, briefcase, wings and all – the contrast against the inky black night makes him glow. Soon other winged men and women appear, in far-flung corners of the sky, soundtracked by booming celestial chords as they begin gliding above us. Then the first feathers descend.

Further description might spoil the wordless airborne ephemera of Place des Anges. It defies belief: you’ll get lost in a rain of feathers, an overwhelming, almost farcical quantity of down – in your hair, in your drink, ankle-deep on the grass – as angels dance and fight above you. Ethical feather-harvesting concerns aside, this is a marvel rarely seen at music festivals – even for WOMAD’s boundary-pushing programming. Audiences frolic, disarmed, in the feathery blizzard, united by fantasy made manifest.

Markedly less fantastical, but no less compelling, are Saturday’s Foundation Stage headliners Gogol Bordello. These Gypsy-punk troubadours command a dazed, rubbernecking crowd, a fittingly gutsy spectacular for the festival’s zenith. Tireless Ukrainian lead Eugene Hütz, riding a wave of plucked guitar, accordion and brass, yelps with a contagious passion as he struts about the stage. It’s not long before ‘Start Wearing Purple’, the band’s anthemic classic, stirs the crowd into a jiving mass under these violet lights. We kick and stomp arm-in-arm through the thick carpet of feathers, perhaps not entirely convinced that what we’ve seen tonight even happened – but, wilfully lost in the euphoria, we don’t care. [George Sully]

Monday

At first, it is hard to make out the four bodies of the TAO Dance Theater troupe. Their movements are beyond rehearsed and reach into the unrealistic. Set to an a cappella vocal track, the essence of Tao is embodied within the movements of the troupe as they endlessly move around the stage, with no discernable start or finish point to each dance. Their limbs move together as if pulled by the same puppeteer, angles of extremities meticulously in check. 

The jewel in WOMADelaide's 2018 season is no doubt The Manganiyar Seduction, performed every night in its specially built box stage. The glowing red tower houses 34 boxes and 37 traditional Manganiyar musicians, who are introduced by the vivacious director Roysten Abel. Creating tranquil calm in vocal solos and invigorating urgency in fast-paced drum work, the boxes seem to glitter in the night as their lights flicker on and off while the musicians perform.

The sheer size of the stage is an incredible work to behold, and is nothing short of intimidating, and to see Abel in his element performing with his people is breathtaking. As Abel moves through the ebb and flow of the piece to the anticipated crescendo finish, he moves across the stage as if possessed – and perhaps he is, by the spirit of his people and their performance history in India. 

Nickodemus keeps the party moving with a worldly DJ set, effortlessly incorporating salsa and reggae vibes with electro-house beats. The resulting dance floor is a glorious swathe of hip shaking, foot shuffling happiness. Smiles cannot be wiped off of the faces of those of us who are committed to making the most of the final night of WOMAD as we kick up dirt until the wee hours of the morning. [LD]