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f34 Womad Wildlife

What’s a city girl to do in a field with bugs in her hair? Get lost in the music, that’s what. Elisavet Sotiriadou gets the full on Womad experience. Pics:Judith Burrows.


he first day always has a crisp feel to it and everyone is full of expectation. Everyone has freshly washed hair and clean shoes, some even show up with

mud from previous years as a way of showing they’re real festival veterans. But me, I’m a relative newbie at Womad, though it was my third time in a row this year. Sunny with cloudy spells and limited mud and chilly nights sums up the weath- er report! There’s a tiny spider on my sum- mer scarf and bugs creeping in my hair too; I try to ignore them – that’s the coun- tryside with me a city girl in it. I’m glad I’m not camping and I give a bow to all the thousands who are way braver than me.

Womad is the kind of festival where people gather because they genuinely love the music and meeting different cultures. And it seems to be a good idea to enter Charlton Park with a plan in mind. Either you decide on watching a handful of con- certs each day in their entirety, or you run between the nine stages to get glimpses of as many artists and workshops as possible.

I said I would not do the latter this

year, because you don’t enjoy your time when rushing around, missing that ‘get- ting lost in the music’ experience. I cap- tured that feeling at least once while lis- tening to the Afro Celt Sound System, get- ting lullabied away in their West African and Celtic inspired music with electronica and Johnny Kalsi’s amazing dhol drum- ming. As I am standing in the middle of the crowd I feel their music through the people around me. This for me is Womad, the collective, the audience and the posi- tive atmosphere, breathing music in and out of every pore of my skin.

But with a programme so varied and artists to see from all over the world, I am hopeless at choosing one artist over another. My wish list is too long and I have no willpower to shorten it, as I want to see everything and create a souvenir of sounds to take home with me. So in the process of moving between stages I get sidetracked by other people’s funny out- fits, the food stalls or some impromptu show that springs up on me. I’m really great at making wonderful plans, but find it hard to stick to them when the whole world of music is at my feet. Its vibrant and exuberant sounds and smells are ready to distract me to the point that when I fail to move on to the next thing on my list, I feel like I’m playing truant.

Naturally, I missed some of the high- lights like the reportedly amazing set by the Congolese Staff Benda Bilili, last year’s

fRoots Critics Poll winners, but I got to see the backstage instead. I got my picture taken with Peter Gabriel as we were both on our way to the large blue Siam Tent to enjoy the Afro Celts. Honestly, I did it for my mum, really! I also got to steal five min- utes of Angelique Kidjo’s time for a quick interview, to talk world politics in Urdu and English with Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali and see their brilliant gig on the BBC Radio 3 stage, to discuss feminism in the Caribbean with Calypso Rose and fashion with Toumast, to learn to cook with Dobet Gnahoré and Orchestre National De Barbès – only some of the artists sharing their culi- nary skills by cooking food from their native countries which they portioned out to the audience to sample for free.

As I am standing in the middle of the crowd I feel the

music through the people around me.

Without doubt, as much as I love music, I have a weakness for good food. I’m not referring to the hundreds of world food outlets but thinking of this fantastic idea of the Taste The World workshops where artists cook and show off their chef abilities, which is sometimes more enjoy- able than watching their stage perfor- mances! We have a hunch they can sing; otherwise they could not possibly have been invited to play Womad, but can they cook too? That’s beyond impressive. The tagine cooked by the Orchestre National De Barbès was divine, and – trust me – when someone cooks they reveal a little bit of their true personality, something they can really hide well on stage behind their music, songs and instruments. But on the cooking stages, they bare it all!

Two of the music workshops I most enjoy are by The Kamkars and Cedric Wat- son. They each dissect and explain their musical styles, songs and instruments with such intensity and enthusiasm, you cannot help but get sucked in. It’s not a lecture, but more a participatory event where I feel I’m learning new things without really making an effort.


also get to see the peripheral activi- ties of Womad such as the building of four stages with recycled material, finding out about Architecture Sans Frontières and their work in building emergency structures for earthquake- shaken cities and countries, and the Nor- wegian architects who were using reclaimed timber to build a stage at Womad for the local and talented to per- form on. So what if I missed some parts of the best concerts, like Syriana… sniff!

I spoke to Syriana later as I was quite intrigued by the film that they showed behind their set, with natural images from Damascus. Hearing about their experi- ences recording the album and making the film in Syria broke down another miscon- ception that many in the west have about people in the Middle East and their cul- ture, underlining instead how people are open and curious and most of all friendly. I also enjoyed the mini-gig with Takht Al Emarat, a band from the United Arab Emi- rates, wearing the thawb and playing acoustic music that reflected the rhythm of the camel’s way of walking, all the while wearing dark shades and looking rather extraordinary but very cool!

Yes I do love watching people and their fashion solutions. In between sets and whenever there is a moment to hang around, there is always a lot to take in visually from the crowds and the stage. This year’s favourite item seems to have been the flower garland that a lot of women proudly wore on their heads, reminding me a little of the hippie spirit that seems to bloom around the festival.

With his humour, Australian accent, and even Dorset songs, Rolf Harris’s efforts to bring us in and out of the Aus- tralian outback take us on a nostalgic trip back to the olden days, but this is definite- ly not my cup of tea. Maybe I’m too young for this, or too Greek? The crowd, howev- er, adores him. And I wonder why it is, that I feel I can associate more with the West African music of Salif Keita, who I hear live for the first time, than the English-speaking Rolf Harris, who I under- stand but then again I don’t, really. Keita puts a smile on my face and gets my feet dancing. Isn’t it strange that music can express what language cannot?

And I’m thinking of Gil Scott-Heron:

here’s an artist I’ve been looking forward to seeing. Like Salif Keita, Mayra Andrade and so many other artists at Womad, Gil Scott-Heron’s music is soulful. This man was said to have disappeared, maybe off our musical radar, but his frail figure is

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