Festivals Reviews

WOMAD Festival 2019 Review

WOMAD Festival 2019 Review

WOMAD 2019 25th – 28th July

Whilst much of the country suffered the bad weather and other festivals were washed out, the sun shone on Charlton Park, Malmesbury. WOMAD shines a light on world music and from 25th-28th July the sun shined it’s light on WOMAD.

After being unable to attend last year, I was back once again at the World of Music, Arts, and Dance. Excited would be an understatement. This festival is one of discovery, discovering incredible acts from around the world, plus seeing a few more familiar faces. Some of the more well known acts performing this year included Robert Plant, Ziggy Marley, Macy Gray and Orbital. In this review as with my previous WOMAD reviews I’ll highlight some of my favourite acts from the weekend and hope that you will enjoy checking them out yourself.

Many visitors to the festival arrive on the Friday, but for those up for a bit more WOMAD times, a ticket can be purchased including Thursday entry. I would certainly recommend taking this option as you’ll have more choice in areas to camp, not that it becomes too busy. You’ll also get to see a small but great line-up of acts. Every year a different act teams up with the Malmesbury Schools Project, bringing local youths onto the open-air stage, this year it was the turn of the Bollywood Brass Band for an excellent performance.

We followed this up by checking out Meute. Hailing from Germany, this brass band doesn’t follow the more typical route of other brass bands, instead they pump out techno from their orchestral instruments. Check out their cover of Dennis Ferrer’s Hey Hey!

Our favourite act on the Thursday was probably Juan De Marcos’ Afro-Cuban All Stars, these guys got us up and dancing with their fantastic Latin grooves. I just need to make sure I get some Salsa Dancing classes before seeing them again!

Away from the music there is so much more for everyone to get involved in, from cooking classes hosted by acts playing over the weekend, to open mic poetry and story telling sessions. In the World of Wellbeing you can get lost amongst the many yurts offering various therapies, including massages, gong showers and more. The World of Wellbeing sn set in the fantastic Arboretum, full of trees, hundreds of years old and lots of interesting characters to meet and talk to. Also in the Arboretum is the World of Physics, with talks from experts in physics, astronomy and more and even sessions with actual astronauts! If glamping is more your thing its worth noting that for the “ultimate” experience you can get a WOMAD Spa ticket, with entry to the Spa allowing users to properly unwind, I haven’t taken this option yet but it is a popular one!

The famous WOMAD flags, each one different from the other.

On the Friday the whole site gets busier with more tents in the campsite and the arena brimming with people. It was busy day for us as we tried to take in lots of acts throughout the day. Whilst both Macy Gray and Ziggy Marley put in excellent performances, I’d like to bring some other acts to your attention. At 3.00pm the infectious band Santrofi took to the stage. From Ghana these guys were the first act that made me feel like I was back at home, at my favourite festival.  Brilliant, bright guitar riffs, accompanied by powerful percussion and beautiful brass accompaniments, they got everyone dancing, their own energy transferred to the crowd. At one point two members of the band dropped down to do a few press ups during the set, don’t think too many of us in the crowd could face joining them though! I even have a little video here taken at WOMAD of Santrofi! Just see how much they are enjoying themselves and picture the thousands listening who were buzzing along too!

Away from the main arena and on the edge of the campsite is one of my favourite stages, Molly’s Bar, this stage carries on late into the night with bands and DJs. On Friday night we indulged in some excellent swing music courtesy of Swingers Noir. Despite this being a family-orientated festival this stage played host to a few burlesque dancers who raised the excitement levels amongst the crowd! In fairness most of the kids had gone to bed by this point. Following Swingers Noir I took the opportunity to take myself backstage, to meet one of the next acts to perform. Far from his usual stomping ground of The Crucible, Snooker legend Steve Davis was preparing for DJ set alongside Kavus Torabi. As expected he was great to chat to, my “assistant” for the weekend started up a conversation about current and upcoming snooker players, I guess we should’ve been talking about music and his set but how can you not have a gab about Snooker when your with a 6 time world champion? We wished Steve and Kavus luck with their set and went back to join the crowd to take in their psychedelic set of dancefloor hits. It was an eclectic set and quite an experience to behold!

Snooker Loopy

Being the professionals we are, we obviously had to make the most of the festival experience; this meant that on the Saturday we didn’t see quite as many acts as we should have, as we nursed sore heads with some of the incredible food and a hair of the dog. One of my favourite things about WOMAD is the amazing array of food vendors, offering cuisines from all around the world. Over the weekend we delighted in Pad Thai and Massaman Curries, a few life savings breakfasts, great Greek dishes, proper good Paella, Tibetan delicacies and much more! Once again shout out to Greek Expectations, probably our groups’ favourite food stand this year as in previous years.

Molly’s Bar

From New York, The Klezmatics showed the WOMAD crowd at the Open-air stage what Klezmer music is all about. This fast paced traditional Eastern European music was a sight and sound to behold and The Klezmatics bring into it further Arabic, Latin and Balkan tones to boot.

Jungle By Night at d&b Soundscape Stage

In the 4 years I’ve attended WOMAD there has always been a stage dedicated to providing the best sound possible, through a certain sound company. This year d&b Soundscape took the reins again following their introduction last year. An act of note at this stage that we particularly enjoyed was Jungle By Night, though Amsterdam is their home, this instrumental group channels Afrobeat and Ethiopian Jazz. As I mentioned earlier the stage is all about providing a real experience through sound and I feel this stage did it more than it’s predecessors. With speakers positioned all the way around the tent, the sound engineers where able to direct the sound to different sections, more so than with a standard setup. The best though was when sound was panned around the tent like a Mexican wave of sound, a brilliant experience and I look forward to more of this in future years.

Check out Jungle By Night here:

After enjoying a set by Swinghoppers, a group fusing hip hop, swing music and beat box, I was fortunate enough to bump into their beat boxer, Pye. During a quick conversation he told me that he first came to WOMAD as a child and it was a dream of his to come back and play. Whilst WOMAD is mostly about international acts, its great to see local and homegrown talent getting the chance to perform in front of fantastically receptive audiences. Whilst I’m on this point, if any of WOMAD’s organisers are reading this, I’d love the chance to perform at WOMAD too, where do I sign up??

Sunday saw the sadness set in as we entered the final day of music at Charlton Park, we used the day well though, taking in a few more acts and doing a bit of retail therapy at some of the fantastic stalls. Okay there is a lot of the usual festival stalls but we also explored some excellent art selling stalls and tried out a few incredible musical instruments, this year I treated myself to a “talking” drum. I’ll try and get better at this drum than I am with the Saxaflute I bought a few years back there, but it was great to meet the man who sold me it once again, he gave us a quick refresher and demonstrated some of his latest creations.

Santrofi at the Open-Air Stage

Music wise we were looking forward to seeing the kraftwerk re:werk featuring the Army of Generals and the British Paraorchestra. We were a little late getting to the tent and this was big draw so we decided to bask in the sunshine outside and enjoy the impressive reimagining of Kraftwerk through orchestral instruments.

Afterwards we headed to the Charlie Gillett Stage to see Youtube sensation Brushy One String. This was one of our favourites of the weekend and served to cheer us up and distract us from throughts of heading home the next day. Performing his set solo and featuring a mix of originals and covers, Brushy fuses reggae, soulfulness and the good ole Delta blues on, you guessed it, a one string guitar. It’s fair to say he’s mastered its simplicity, managing to get so much out of the singular string and plenty of percussion out of the body of the guitar. Check out Brushy One String’s Chicken in the corn here:

It was a shame that as Sunday evening drew to a close we had to choose between two acts, in fairness these two acts are very different. Whilst dance music pioneers Orbital did their thing at the Open-Air stage on a rather impressive rig. Robert Plant was performing a much more chilled out set in the d&b Soundscape Stage. The Led Zeppelin frontman was performing as part of Saving Grace with Suzi Dian. This set featured tracks rooted more in roots than Heavy rock, as Plant continues to explore and immerse himself in a wide range of genres. It was an interesting set featuring a simple set up of stringed instruments and stripped back percussion. It was great to hear one of rocks most legendary voices. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to see more of Orbitals set taking place at the same time, but as is the way with music festivals, there will always be a few unfortunate clashes.

WOMAD is an environmentally conscious festival, with power provided by Green Energy supplier Ecotricity. On their stage, as with previous years, there were talks and discussions, as well as music performances. This year, Channel 4’s John Snow headed a debate on Veganism. Following the event, the environmental consciousness of the festival goers was shown. Unlike other large festivals, WOMAD’s campsite was left as it was before everyone arrived. The site was left free from rubbish, with no abandoned tents that regularly adorn other festival sites. I know a music festival is about the music, but these things are important to me and should be important to all. Throughout the weekend members of Extinction Rebellion where onsite to discuss their work and how people can get involved.

The Campsite area at 2:30 on Monday, free from all tents and rubbish, how it should be!

WOMAD is something I look forward to all year round, I’m intrigued to see what acts are announced for next year’s event but as this is a festival of discovery I’m more excited about discovering new acts from around the globe.

I’d like to leave you with a few comments from people we met over the weekend, here are their thoughts on WOMAD.

“It supports the environment”                                   “WOMAD is inviting to everyone!”

“30 years, magic! Everything you’d want to see or experience!”

“Good vibes, always peace, harmony, what else could you ask for?”

“Better than a 147 break” Sarah                                “Interesting” Steve Davis

“I love the people, everyone’s so open and friendly, I always come away with beautiful connections”

Tom Longman


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Tom Longman