WOMAD 2008

WOMAD -NZ 14-16 March
2008 New Plymouth

WOMAD festivals are becoming a fixture of the New Zealand music scene; and more than welcome. Being close to where you start worrying about falling over the rim means it’s a long way for artists to come. That being the case, the advertising is hard to believe
“…. more than 400 artists from 20 different countries performing on 7 stages.”
“This experience is not about the familiar, the tried and the tested; its essence is the discovery and enjoyment of a totally unexpected artist or a style of music never encountered before!”

Set in a 52-hectare park of New Zealand bush and waterways, the main stage is in a natural amphitheater and has a moat surrounding it.
Looks magical by day or lit-up by night, the only slight drawback being that it separates the audience from the performer and means both have to work harder but any large outdoor concert normally has the problem of an elevated stage.
The other stages are smaller and definitely more intimate..

There’s the global village, the commercial center of the event where stallholders sell all sorts of art, craft, and ethnic goods as would be expected in a venue of this type. It is commercial and yet feels as if one is at a village fair. Then there are the food stalls and bars, always busy, tastes from around the world. No matter how physically active you are over the 3 days [and believe me you will be…. very..], plan on starting that diet on your return to normality.
There was even a workshop stage where the musicians cooked menus from their homeland and discussed it with the audience.
There was also a program where musicians talked about their personal history and music. Then there were the workshops everything from playing the Ukulele to Tibetan chanting.

Oh and of course there was music, non-stop, earth to sky, ear to ear music.

Friday 14th

Arrived, registered got to the motor camp 15 minutes away, unpacked, wash and brush up, dash back, find car park [miles away] walk, more walking, get in rush to shop must have a ukulele,
Get next to the last ukulele and more rushing to arrive at…………….

6pm – Gyuto Monks – Tibetan Chant
In their own tent, sadly too small for the interest generated but just managed to squeeze inside. 7 monks all singing parts down in the lower ranges imaginable. Amazed that the male vocal cords are capable of reproducing. Takes a while concentrating to the point of non-concentration and then the harmonies become apparent. There are resonance’s going on that at first aren’t noticeable
Definitely meditative, surfing on the waves of sound. One minute following an individual voice only to lose it into the whole and follow a different voice out again.
50 minutes pass in a flash.

7pm – Beirut USA/France
Led by American, Zach Condon. The band plays a mixture of what can best be described as french, gypsy, some pop and to my ear tex-mex. The band is a strange mixture of horns, violin, guitars, accordion, drums, bass.
Condon performs a la Jeff Buckley with passion and heat. To my ear, something was off, what, whether sound balance, tuning, I don’t know.
Just that the passion and obvious talent wasn’t enough.

8pm – Green Fire Islands New Zealand/Ireland

Led by Donal Lunny famed as one of the leaders of the renaissance in traditional Irish music through the late ’60s to today. This is a project to link traditional Irish music with Maori and to present in a dramatic form with dance and movement. Music, kapa haka dance, poetry, NZ traditional instruments [Taonga Puroro] such as nose flutes.
From NZ Whirimako Black [vocals], Richard Nunns [Taonga Puroro] with Horomona Horo, Riki Gooch [percussion], Glenn Colquhoun [poet]
From Ireland Nollaig Casey [fiddler], Larla o’Lionaird [singer], Laoise Kelly [harpist], Steve Cooney [guitar], Sean McKeon [Uilleann piper], Cathal O’Searcaigh [poet].

This was a performance, a drama.
The link was a mythological reading of and in Irish and Maori. The imagery was of violence, of tempest, of upheaval from the forging of the world to the forging of the people. This is of course my reading of it. The Irish music swirled and swooped and rampaged gustily as a wind on the moor and as only Irish music played well can. The Maori brought in the solemn, earthy dark elements where the mist slides slowly around the boles of the forest.
The words were all action, rending, tearing, honoring the male warrior using what sounded like the taking of a pair of scissors to the stories of both peoples. Cutting into short snippets and throwing them to the winds to fall where they will. Then take glue….
Quite who was responsible for that I don’t know but it was starkly represented in Glenn Colquhoun’s performance “poetry”. Good poetry should send shivers down the spine, this rendition, for rending it was, sent shivers up my digestive tract which I had difficulty keeping in. Sorry if this appears overly harsh but was what I felt, never mind thought.

The dance [ kapa haka] interwove as did the vocal pieces.

This was its first performance anywhere and to be fair was not the whole piece. There are 2 other movements I gather. I appreciated the music but it didn’t move me.
The words, the poetic, did move me. I was repulsed by it, it left me angry with the injustice it did to both cultures. I can dislike many things and feel ok. Just not for me but this I disliked with a passion which I put down to the Celt in me and therefore I have a right!
Everyone else seemed to think it was a great success. I managed to hold my peace with a simple “didn’t like it”.

Thankfully I had seen Martin Hayes [fiddle] and Dennis Cahill [gtr] at the Porirua museum auditorium in March as part of the International Arts Festival. Who by no means were traditional but what they brought to the music worked.

As I’ve littered elsewhere in this post I did some post writing research and hadn’t been aware that Green Fire Island introduced this piece at Wellington International Arts Festival.
So here’s a link to a review more positive than mine from the NZ Herald and a Dominion article pre performance which gives some background.


9pm Titi Robin Quintet – France
By this time getting to realize how the hell can we fit everything in. All the acts were on different stages. The acts played for 50 plus minutes and there was a fair hike to the next stage usually uphill it seemed and never down. Although when it was downhill the cynic in me could be heard grumbling ” only have to climb back up the bloody thing in an hour’s time “.
So big rush uphill, where’s the map. Which way is north? Which stage are they on? Hold the bloody map the right way up. Ahhh music that could be them …. this way.
I missed the first number and when arrived a mass of bodies was in front of the stage so had to stand a good way off and glimpse through bodies.
Titi Robin Quintet. Thierry ‘Titi’ Robin is from France and plays what is described as an interpretation of gypsy music. To my ear, he played what I might describe as indigenous music that stretched from Spain travelling East around the coast of the Mediterranean till it arrived back at the Pillars of Hercules. He apparently also includes India in his influences.
Titi plays bouzouki and guitar. Sadly his other band members did not get name credit but were more than accomplished musicians in their own right.
Accordion, bass guitar, percussion guitar, a vocalist.
Titi Robin Sextet are in line for the BBC world music awards 2008 – deservedly.

Any disappointment I felt so far was washed away. This was a tight band of accomplished musicians playing music that was fresh but streaked with nuances of “ahh, have I heard that before”. I felt like I was flying back and forth around the coast of the Mediterranean, with periods of soaring over North Africa.

Swore an oath to track down some CDs. [which I did]

10pm Toumani Diabante’s Symmetric Orchestra – Mali

Downhill for this one. Relief. But back up the hill for Mavis. Hush your moanin’ that’ll be more than worth it.

Now I’d heard these guys were good – had a rep but hadn’t heard anything of their music.

Toumani Diabate gets the kudos and no doubting that it’s deserved, but the first impression is the overall Orchestra. They don’t take any prisoners, they immediately bowl you over and then pick you up so the music can ride you – voodoo style.
It’s when I listen to polyrhythms such as those laid down by the Symmetric Orchestra that I truly believe we all did come out of Africa! My genes vibrate in harmony!

And then there is Diabate!. When the pace drops and the kora becomes a solo instrument rather than part of the ensemble, then one can value his artistry and the beauty of the instrument.

They also are up for BBC world music awards 2008 again and deservedly

Sworn to get more CD’s [I did]. The dilemma caused: will they sell out before I get there. When’s the next gap in the program when there isn’t a musician playing that I must hear.!!!!!!



So energized don’t even mind the bloody hill and at the top….. awaits Mavis…. Sorry, everyone but SHE is the reason I’m here.

11 pm Mavis Staples USA

There’s no other reason for me being here than to hear Mavis and pay homage to her, Pops, and the whole Memphis soul stable that particularly came out of Stax records. Was always Stax over Motown for me.

As with her recent CD, Mavis is looking back at those years with references to Pops and the Rev Martin Luther King. So we got mostly her latest cd and no complaints. Her band again not given any billing in literature was great and a superb guitarist who flew through styles with ease and played an electrifying solo.
But it was that great soul voice,; matured and bluesier perhaps with more than a nod to her gospel roots, that captured the audience.
In the end, we got a little sample of more to come. I’d heard that Sharon Jones was the new “queen” and Mavis pulled her on stage to do a short duet which suggested much promise.

The highlight of the evening … had to be … there was over 40 years of experience on that stage, distilled into a 50-minute performance. A brandy matured in 40-year oak! Just wish I could have sipped it more slowly.

What a night !!!!!!!

After writing this and later parts of the post I needed to do some research. Remembering that Mavis performed at the Wellington International Arts Festival I looked up the review. I didn’t go as knew I was seeing her here. Same set. Here’s the link for the Dominion newspapers review.


Saturday 15th March

Friday night had been packed for me so it was a bit of a relief that the first part of Saturday did not grab me with the same intensity. Time to wander, shop, eat.

Had to see the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. They were my bit of fun for the weekend and I was determined to learn something from them before heading home. The workshop would be later.

1pm Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra – Wellington NZ [but thinking Global]

And they are…. fun that is. They can play, one or two of them rather well! The repertoire is great plucked [their pun] from anywhere and everywhere.
It’s the harmonies that stand out. They can sing but not just that, the arrangements for Ukuleles harmonize as well.

And then there’s the humour. Considered in the sense of the music performance can’t help but draw some parallels with Flight Of The Concords.
Hey Bret, Jemaine write them into a TV script they could do a fourteenette “And next we take Manhattan” with you.




4pm Clube Do Blanco Brazil

Samba Rock.

Liked the band and its music mix of Brazilian samba jazz and soul. Real swing until the introduction of a singer who was clearly not bad in herself but her voice was submerged into the band and the pace and energy reduced to match her vocal style. Needed power, may have been more palatable at 2 am in a small club but 4pm on the main stage she was lost.

Despite that liked the sound and may follow up looking for CDs. [didnt]

Doing research for this post I remembered they had played in early March 2008 at the Wellington International Arts Festival. I swear I hadn’t seen this before writing the above and this bit is an editorial insert. The Dominion newspaper’s reviewer agreed with me. Here’s the link.



6pm Farafina – Burkina Faso

Been around in different line-ups since 1978. I remember them from Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert at Wembley Stadium.
Of interest added a female singer for the first time.
Traditional instruments in main. Musical challenges and dance being thrown around I think sort of call and response.

Thoroughly enjoyed.



8pm Beirut USA/France

See earlier comments. Something there just still wasn’t quite working for me and after a while the brass lines were all sounding the same.

10pm Mavis Staples USA

This time on the main stage. Mavis did exactly the same set. Would have been nice to see some variation but hey……..
Already said what can be said….

11pm Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra

What a way to finish Saturday night. To be truthful getting tired a bit jaded but the orchestra had my blood pumping in under 2 minutes.

Listening to the Mande variations as I write this.
Nothing can I add…


Sunday 16th March

Again a welcome slower start to the day. Today was for me a review day largely because that was the way the program panned out. A second sampling of many acts.

Ipm Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra

Just as good no disappointment and workshop still to come.

2pm Susana Baca – Peru

Afro-Peruvian music. Not given much recognition in or out of Peru compared to say Brazil. Appears has been a struggle for her to be recognized. Her lyrics are a collaboration with Latin American poets and the music is a mix of traditional and contemporary styles.
The backing band is acoustic; guitar, double bass, and traditional Peruvian percussion.

On the main stage which distanced her and the band. Needed a club or beach bar setting really and not a laid-back hot NZ Sunday afternoon.

Dressed in a white flowing dress with a long white scarf she twirled and floated across the stage during her performance enhanced by a gentle breeze off the water. So what may have been lost in intimacy was made up for by the look.

The blend of her voice with the band worked where Blanco hadn’t on the same stage. Soft breathy, sultry, but a voice that carried on the top of the band’s music. The sounds bossa noverish, flamenco.

Enjoyed their performance.

3pm Terem Quartet -Russia

Described as “injecting fresh life into traditional Russian folk music, Terem Quartet laces its performances with humor, theatrical showmanship, and vivacious energy while running the gamut from gypsy melodies to Tchaikovsky.”

Intriguing, and couldn’t fit them in till now.
Didn’t disappoint.
Focal point is a huge V-shaped double bass that almost has to be ridden to be played.
Stage presence, performance, and lots of humour. They clearly transpose lots of classical compositions.

Most enjoyable.

4pm Ukulele Orchestra workshop.

Clutching my dark purple Mahalo ukulele I slipped off early to get a good spot of grass close to the stage. People trooped in, all ages and sizes. Some had done a bit of twanging and plucking that was evident but the majority like me basically knew front from back and which way was up.

Well, we had fun. I got a reasonable hang of 2 of the 3 chords. The 3rd I later realized I was playing upside-down from trying to copy what they were doing on stage. Oh and tuning. Quickly obvious aren’t going to get anywhere unless one can tune.
Must have been 50 or 60 of us. The viral ukulele expansion rolls on.

7pm Titi Robin Quintet

Could they be any better,I believe they possibly were. Second time around when the male singer came on with, clearly Arabic influences to his delivery, they soared.

Brilliant Nuff said.

Cesaria Evora had a heart attack prior to the festival. As a last minute replacement Neil Finn stepped in. Could only happen in NZ and because Neil seems to be basing himself here more. So…….

8pm Neil Finn -New Zealand

Classic Neil acoustic performance. The guy can make a huge venue like the Brookland stage, water and all, seem like your local pub. Knack, talent, skill, personality, probably the whole lot. Basically, he’s a good bloke! A much more than competent musician and a bloody good songwriter!
Realize haven’t got anything of Neil’s in my collection and I should. Largely because I was never that enthusiastic about Split Enz. This omission is to be remedied.


9pm Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings- USA

New Plymouth – New Zealand yes that’s us. For the first 3 or so minutes that the Dap-Kings came on stage’ they TOLD you what you were going to GET They were going to GIVE you what you NEED, not caring what you may want. They were going to TAKE no prisoners.
New Zealand, you think so….. Nah This baby is Harlem… The Apollo Theatre or maybe somewhere on the Chittlin’ Circuit. Got that ’cause until you do… no Sharon!
The temperature at an outdoor evening event is rising. The band are warming up. No Sharon till she thinks they [the band] got it together until she thinks we deserve her.
Then she’s on. Immediately she nails the rules to your forebrain. Place, Time, Respect….. “You got it now”… “we got it, Sharon.”.
“Band you gonna get your shit together or what?” “They got it down now Sharon ….”
“Right let’s hit it! #Wham Bam Thank You Mam!”
and she precedes to nail your soul with the real stuff.
What more can you say. Hot band, authentic sound. A stage performance, as drama. James Brown was not the only one but the one we most likely have seen perform similarly. Almost ritual with roots right back to voodoo. Africa through Gospel into 60’s soul and 70’s funk. If you look you would see similarities between the moves Sharon makes on stage and a band such as Farfina.
Half a generation on from Mavis the funk rhythms of the ’70s and onwards are more evident than those of Hayes and Porter or Robinson, Mayfield or Gaye. Mavis’s latest CD where she recaps on her roots is a good contrast to Sharon, more blues more gospel. YET they are sisters no one should doubt it.
Soul is an attitude and both have it – Soul Sisters!

This really was the closing act of WOMAD 2008

There was a gala review directed by NZ’s Don McGlashan and it was good, it was very good, it may even have been described as stellar but hey we’d just witnessed a Super Nova!

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