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Charlton Park, Wiltshire
Seu Jorge did Bowie, Estonian folkies took on bagpiping and a knock-out celebration of global sounds was packed with highlights despite a rainy weekend
Thirty-five years ago, the first Womad festival introduced global styles to rock and folk audiences. It was a financial disaster. Today, it is thriving and almost overcrowded with good music, as 35,000 people gathered in an increasingly mud-clogged Charlton Park to watch close to 100 acts from some 50 countries. Highlights of a strong lineup included ska veterans Toots and the Maytals singing Pressure Drop in a rainstorm, China’s avant-garde Zhou Family Band imitating chicken noises, the Tanzania Albinism Collective touchingly showing how music has helped them face stigma and health challenges, and an a cappella treatment by Australia’s Spooky Men’s Chorale of Picture in a Frame by Tom Waits. But the major theme was fusion, and there were new combinations of the ancient and contemporary from around the globe.
From Europe, there was the long-awaited debut by Xáos, a Greek-UK experimental band led by Nick “Dubulah” Page of Dub Colossus fame, who has a Greek mother. Electric guitar and a wash of keyboard effects from the microtonal composer Ahetas Jimi were matched against Nicki Maher’s clarinet and ney flute and Cretan bagpipes from Kalia Lyraki, which at its best was a brooding, atmospheric and epic fusion. Mysteriously, Lyraki was only allowed one vocal, on Pontos Blues, their best song of the night.