“Kakatsitsi and the “ceremonial removal of the wellington boots”
Womad 2015 Saturday afternoon, BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage

Womad was held at Charlton Park last weekend. Musician Bex Burch reports back for us from the Wiltshire festival which presented almost a hundred artists from fifty-three countries:

My first experience of WOMAD has been incredible, thanks to the 35,000 people who came and witnessed all this music alongside me. There’s so many voices, instruments and stories I had swirling round my head it’s a relief to be able to tell you about some. This report will stick to chronological order. It might not seem ‘logical’ but the WOMAD experience isn’t put into categories for you to walk around, even ‘headliners’ aren’t clear! Welcome to the wonderful madness!


Friday was a celebration despite the rain! Mahotella Queens looked and sounded beautiful, Totó La Momposina, who is 75 this week, has incredible energy of voice,  with 3 generations of her family on stage too, what a great debut! There was a real treat for those who saw De La Soul, an intimate set from a huge band. A theme throughout for me, as I turned up late but still found a place to watch Tinariwen under cover (Siam Tent) from the rain and wondered already at a festival with such variety and excellence.


Saturday dried up (some of) the mud and was a powerful day. A festival highlight for me was Kakatsitsi, playing the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage at 12 noon, I felt the warmth of the sun and, right at the front of the stage, I felt the warmth from these incredible drummers too. I’ve seen many Ghanaian drumming groups in my life and Kakastisti were spot on! Speaking to them afterwards, the Ga troupe, based in James Town, Accra, told me how they learnt the music of other tribes because they are “so smart”! Injoly (Samuel Teteh Addo, lead drummer) told me, huge smile on his face, “we play them (Ewe, Ashanti, Djembe from Mail or Senegal) different. We can play theirs, but they can’t play ours. It’s slower so you can enter and dance too.”

Certainly the accessibility was highlighted when Kofi led the packed crowd in a range of different dances. I looked back at everyone joining in, hands in the air, and felt everyone’s joy at moving together. This was true accessibility, but not at the expense of the power of the music.

From Ga Kpalengo drumming to the dhol of the Shikor Bangladesh All Stars. Staying at the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage, seriously incredible rhythms, incredible vocals, and later (in workshop with LoKkhi TeRra later in the World Rhythms tent) awesome cross-culture collaboration and a bongo playing front man!

L’Hijâz’Car (again a highlight from the fantastic programming at the BBC stage), something entirely different, played songs flowing effortlessly from syncopated bass solo to Stravinsky-esque tuttis! Awesome arrangements, instrumentation with the oud, tarhu (spike fiddle) double bass, bass clarinet, and percussion including darbouka and rek (Etienne Gruel was sensitive and brave). Minimalism, contemporary, and just a great sound!

“L’Hijaz’Car on BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage

Backstage I met the two BBC introducing artists, Nazim Ziyab, who listed among his Cheikh (masters), Algerian fusion musicians Cheikh Khlifi Ahmen, Cheikh Guezouabi alongside Cheikh Jimmy Hendrix and Cheikh Bach! And Ngawang Lodup, ex-Tibetan monk who is due to perform at the O2 as part of the Dali Llama’s 80th birthday celebrations. Ngawang sang us three songs, one in tribute of His Holiness the Dali Llama (who he told me he respects for dedicating his whole life to peace), an a capella song to the mountain dragon to ask for rain (for which I cried… as sure enough, more rain came), and one called ‘Homesick’ about his parents, who he hasn’t seen for over a decade. When I spoke to him about the music and his family, he movingly said ‘My mother taught me to sing while carrying me as a babe. If she heard me now, yes I think she would recognise me.’

Saturday also saw big names Cheikh Lô, who played his baifal Senegalese music, at times leaping out with explosive percussion, rich vocals, and great ensemble. Also Aurelio, from San Vicente, who was glowing on and off stage.

Spiro on the Ecotricity stage were another lovely highlight, playing among the beautiful trees, the strings, guitar, accordion and Mandolin combination of well played rhythmic passages and long harmonic space set a delicious tone in the Arboretum. After all this, Lunched out Lizards held a wicked after-auditorium party with Adam, Steve and Pewie DJ-ing.


Noura Mint Seymali played to a rainy crowd at Open Air Stage. Singing full throttle for an hour, preparing for her workshops, and actually feeding her baby as she made time to talk to me about being from a 15 generation griot family, Noura Mint was seriously hard working, powerful and spacious, both on and off the stage.

Incredible to put Noura Mint and Ghost Poet alongside one another, but that’s what happened walking round WOMAD – awesome to hear Obaro Ejimiwe (Ghost Poet) here, playing to a packed out tent (perhaps the rain helped in the covered Siam tent) which seemed unanimously cheered by his good taste and excellent vibes.

“Acholi Machon, or Gaitano Otiri Tep Yer Yer and Korneli Odong Mulili, both playing
the likembe (thumb piano) on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage.”

A very special personal festival highlight was when Acholi Machon were kind enough to talk and play to me before their gig on the BBC stage. Yer Yer and Mulili told me about their meanings, notably “Queen Elizabeth (or people of UK), we need peace in South Sudan”. We also chatted about the importance of thick coats, why tea is not good for Yer Yer’s voice, and (as matter-of-fact as coats and tea) the destruction of war on their new nation. These two men have great music to share, and I am so glad I got to talk with them and look forward to hearing more of this incredible uplifting music, distilled, as it was, in severe conditions.

Feedback from my camp highlighted a special hour with ESKA, playing at the Ecotricity stage, full of energy, creativity and courage. Her performance and music making is explosive and obviously communicated very strongly to the hugely positive audience.

Another wonderful female artist at WOMAD, and the last in my little round up was Laura Mvula. The songs were arranged so beautifully, the band played so well together, each instrument (my favourite was the harp, played by Laura’s brother) held something quite special and made space for Mvula to truly shine, even if the sun didn’t!

If you can’t beat it, join it!”
Photograph supplied by WOMAD

Rain and mud maybe the biggest aspect of my first WOMAD, but one can’t help notice the work which the crew, stewards, and even the press do (I have a new found respect for all the work that goes into reviews and interviews). So, thanks to the musicians, and to the friendly punters, all of whom put aside the soggy feeling in the shoes/head/everywhere to remain positive, respectful, joyful and creative. I still have wicked music in my head and a smile in my eyes.

Bex Burch was the guest of BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett stage. Her own group’s album Vula Viel is released in October.

Categories: miscellaneous

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