Review: Womadelaide, 2012

Timber and Steel are big fans of Womadelaide festival. The event takes place over 4 days during the March long weekend every year and brings dozens of the world’s best traditional musicians to the city for a romp of cultural celebration and unique performances. As a full time student and worker, the festival holds a strong significance in my life, as it surely does for tens of thousands of others as well. It’s the time of year that life slows down for a moment, the pressures of work and study are lifted, and curiosity and enjoyment take over. Its brilliance is that it has the power to make the most tightly wound folk feel like a carefree traveller, even if it’s only fleetingly before it all starts again. Testament to this is the fact that I can only get around to reviewing the festival a month after it took place. Even reflecting on it is somewhat soothing.

Whilst the previous year’s lineup was perhaps more folky in the sense of what we mostly write about here at Timber and Steel, 2012 had a lot to offer. The Friday opening night unfortunately clashed with Charles Bradley’s one and only performance at Barrio, so my Womadelaide did not begin until the Saturday afternoon. Penguin Cafe were the first act I crossed paths with, and I immediately recognised most of the tunes although never having listened to the band before. I could only describe it as the most fun you can have with classical music- verging on folk and pop. Apparently the band is really very famous and has been performing at Womad festivals for quite some time, which would explain why some of their songs seemed so familiar.

I spent some time checking out much-hyped Palestinian group Le Trio Joubran before stumbling across the highlight of my festival- The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Lined up in a row with an arsenal of varying ukuleles, this charming and cheeky bunch of fun loving Brits put on an amazing show with both crowd pleasing cover renditions of popular songs and mesmerizing feats of arrangement as they flawlessly recreate all manner of genres entirely with one instrument, my favourite being their foray into Dixieland. Check them out below.

First Aid Kit were probably the only act on the bill that we frequently write about on Timber and Steel, and they were next on the agenda. I listened to their debut album a lot and was very impressed with their title track and first single from the new album. For those unfamiliar, First Aid Kit are 2 very young Swedish sisters that truly embrace the sound of classic American folk music, and remind most of Laura Marling with Fleet Foxesesque harmonies. Live, the flawless harmonies they achieve are all the more impressive. It was gratifying to see the pair perform with such confidence and unreserved passion, showing they aren’t above head-banging in moments of intensity. First Aid Kit had some decent publicity prior to their performance and the crowd was correspondingly strong. The sisters spent a lot of their set introducing the new album, which was the first time I heard it and I must say I am pleased with their direction- veering further towards folk and country and further from indie-pop. Exhibit A- their recent ode to their favourite folk musicians below.

Saturday ended with a fantastic curry and eclectic performances from Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Bonobo and Dirty Three.

Sunday was my girlfriend’s birthday and I brought her along to enjoy an afternoon of decidedly French-flavoured music. French-Senegalese heartthrob Tété kicked off the day’s proceedings with a good set of his trademark acoustic-pop/delta-blues blend. The result is truly unique, I honestly can’t say I’ve heard anything like it before. His guitar work was impressive, as was his voice, but for me the acoustic-pop element of his songs verged too closely to the likes of Jason Mraz and were ultimately slightly too predictable for my liking. Decide for yourself below.

Next we checked out French violinist/looper Chapelier Fou, which translates to “mad hatter”. I heard  from others that he was a highlight of their festival, and he was a very impressive musician. I susppose the experimental nature of the music and the repetitiveness of the looping put me off somewhat because I didn’t make it through to the end of his set before I opted for a trip to the food precinct of the festival. That evening I was lucky enough to catch Gurrumul for the first time, whom I’d wanted to see for a long time. The seated show was amazingly well attended and I only managed to get a spot behind an unfortunately large and dense shrub. Since I couldn’t see anyway there really wasn’t much else to do than close my eyes and enjoy it. I quickly caught a bit of Chilean folk star Nano Stern before calling it a night.

I made it to the festival on Monday just in time to see local act and friends Bearded Gypsy Band take to the stage for their first Womadelaide show. The group of incredibly young and talented musicians are notorious in South Australia for providing an unlikely party atmosphere with their moving arrangements that draw influence from gypsy swing, jazz and folk. It was a warm day and the crowd was packed in like sardines to get close to the Zoo stage and witness the lads finally get their opportunity to spread their craft with a significant new audience. You never get tired of seeing the Bearded Gypsy Band, and it was lovely to see how much it meant to them to be playing the festival.

We stuck around the Zoo stage for a while and checked out a piece of roving Japanese theatre called Sivouplait before joining in on Ivorian songstress Dobet Gnahore’s vocal workshop, which was a lot of fun.

I was by myself for a lot of the festival as a lot of the friends that I usually go with were interstate or working and I still really enjoyed myself. I probably didn’t make the most of every day but it’s honestly that relaxing that I didn’t really feel the need to. It’s not going anywhere.  See you next year, Womadelaide.

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