Sunday, 25 March 2012

Womadelaide 2012

    Doortje and I set off from Melbourne on Monday 5th March and stayed overnight at the Robe Hotel right on the waterfront with balcony views of the bay, plus ensuite and spa!
    On Tuesday we motored along the Coorong and then on to Adelaide, where, at the Royal Coach Motor Inn on Dequetteville Terrace,  we met up with Alan and Kim, who'd flown down from Darwin, and Peter and June, flown down from Coolangatta.
    We rode the folding bikes through some of the parkland adjacent to the motel, but some paths had been blocked off by wire fencing for the motor race held the previous weekend, and there were also areas set aside for the Fringe Festival.
    On Wednesday we lunched on Norwood Parade and that night, we all went to John and Sue's for a beaut barbecue, and to belatedly celebrate Al's 60th birthday.
    On Thursday, we had lunch at the Austral Hotel in the city to celebrate my birthday.  The atmosphere was Fringe Festival!
    On Friday night, Womadelaide began.  I rode my bike to Botanic Park, while the others were able to walk.
    On arrival, we were greeted on the main stage by the Master Drummers of Burundi, a very colourful act, although I'm not generally a fan of unaccompanied whacking.
    A big treat was, after some difficulty finding the small stage, to see Shivakumar Sharma, a virtuoso santoor player (Indian dulcimer with 100 strings played with curved mallets).  He was accompanied by tabla and tanpura (sounds like the drone of a sitar).  The tabla player was brilliant, too, with flying fingers.
    Back to the main stage to see Staff Benda Bilili, a large group from the Congo playing music that reminded me of South African township music.  The group boasted four wheel chairs and a pair of crutches amongst their means of locomotion! (Apparently they were polio victims).
    We saw Chic somewhat briefly, but listened to their mixture of soul/funk/noise from the safety of the Coopers tent environs (beaut lawns and massive Moreton Bay fig trees).
    The final act for the opening night was Tinariwen, a group of Touareg rock stars (!) from Sudan, featuring traditional-style vocals with electric guitars.  The sound was mesmerising, and being familiar with their albums, I loved the live reproduction of their sound.
    On Saturday, we arrived through the gates to the sound of the Pascals, from Japan, playing toy instruments - didn't really command my attention.  However, at 1pm we saw Anda Union, from Mongolia, on stage 3.
    Their combination of stringed instruments and vocal skills, featuring throat singing, and colourful costumes, made a wonderful spectacle.  Some of their tunes imitated horses galloping, and the tops of their fiddles were decorated with wooden horses heads.
    Penguin Cafe followed on the main stage and we heard them in the distance as we got lunch and refreshments.  Falafels, shasliks and Indian curry were on the menu.
    Suitably nourished, we found good spots in the shade of the sound tent of stage 2 to watch Dobet Gnahore, a singer from Ivory Coast.  She has a wonderful voice, but I was hoping to hear her reproduce the acoustic music on the recordings I have, which feature acoustic guitar and female backing vocals.  Her backing in this concert included drums and keyboards.  The lack of intimacy was offset by her costume and animated dancing.
    Then we saw First Aid Kit, the Swedish girl duo that we had discussed with Monika's parents, Gunhild and Tjell.  They were disappointingly pop/country, so we rushed off to catch the workshop of the Brazilian accordionists Toninho Ferragutti and Bebe Kramer.  They played umpteen variations of the tango, but the playing was brilliant, intoxicating and they worked beautifully as a duo.
    In the evening we saw Tinariwen again, this time with a huge audience at the main stage.  The performance was similar to Friday's, with guest appearances from members of Lo'Jo.
    Alan and Kim decided to call it a day, but Doortje and I stayed on for the only appearance of Dirty Three.  To say that the drummer, Jim White and guitarist, Mick Turner, make a lot of noise is an understatement, but they are eclipsed by Warren Ellis and  his violin loops!  Warren was Helmy's music teacher at Bairnsdale High and now lives in Paris and plays with Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, etc.  He is a great entertainer who assaults the senses, and had us transfixed for an hour.  The music is very hard to listen to as recordings, but we were completely immersed in the live performance, and could see/hear how the layers were constructed.
    On Sunday, we were to meet Cameron and Trent outside Botanic Park, but I somehow missed them on my bike.  Jan had arrived from Port Pirie on Saturday afternoon with her foster-child, Ebony, and spent Sunday at Womadelaide, along with Peter and June.  There was such a big crowd and with the numerous venues, we only met up with each other a couple of times.  Thank goodness for the Coopers tent - our agreed rendezvous!
    First act to see was the Pigram Brothers on stage 3.  They should be Australian national treasures!  At the first familiar strains of Alan Pigram's mandolin riff in "Goin' Back Home", I was in tears.  Add to that Steve Pigram's voice, and the song-writing such as in "Johnny Walker's Shoes" - it's a great recipe for folk music!
    We followed this with Chris Finnen, the blues guitarist.  At the Zoo stage, we were sitting in the midday sun and it was far too hot for me, so off to the Coopers tent for lunch.  At 2 o'clock we saw Mahala Rai Banda, a Romanian gipsy group, combining brass with accordion and upbeat vocals to produce a really spirited performance.
    The afternoon was completed, first hidden in the moreton bays with an intimate workshop by Bunna Lawrie, the leader of Coloured Stone, who told stories, played didgeridoo and guitar; and then Gurrumul Yunipingu on the main stage, only seen in the distance with a huge crowd, and music just like the recordings.
    We had a break for a meal, met up with Ian and Rose from Mogareeka, and had a couple of cleansing ales.
    In the evening, Doortje and I went off to Speaker's Corner where there were two alternating stages.  This part of the park was christened by Al "Port Lincoln", being so far from everything else.  First we saw Le Trio Joubran, three brothers from Palestine who play the oud.  Their albums contain long brooding pieces which I imagine evoke what it is to be Palestinian, so I was a bit disappointed that they were possibly catering for westerners' short attention spans, playing short "party pieces".  This might be a bit harsh and reflect my own mood at the time.
    We followed this with the Penguin Cafe workshop which was similar to their concert but much better atmosphere.  Arthur Jeffes (son of deceased Simon) is carrying on the tradition.  He explained the background and technical details of some of the compositions and played multi-instruments.  They all were great musicians, the violinists being notable.
    Next was a one-man concert by Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen.  His costume (long flowing robe and pantaloons) backlit the whole time, and plenty of smoke machines, complemented the weird music.  He built layers with loops of his fingers producing percussion, vocal contortions, and of course the accordion.  The resulting soundscapes built up to massive crescendoes, reminiscent of Dirty Three.  We enjoyed the performance as a "total" experience.
    The night was rounded out by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, eight ukuleles of various sizes (although I would probably call a large bass ukulele something else!) and eight vocals having fun with well-known music and showing off their skills , eg a "Russian" rendition of "Leaning on a Lamp-post".
    There were lots of musical puns and skilful performances that had Alan and I engrossed, standing a few feet from the front of the stage with the groupies.  A standing ovation and no-one leaving forced a rare encore.
    We said goodbye to Pete and June, and Jan and Ebony on Monday morning, and headed off for the final day.
    First act we saw on the main stage was Narasirato, a group of Solomon Islanders in traditional costume.  Their instruments were pan pipes of various sizes including a large thong-phone made from the traditional PVC pipe.  They were very animated in their dancing.
    Doortje and I went back to the Moreton Bay stage to see Toninho Ferragutti and Bebe Kramer again.  We were able to sit through another hour of technical Brazilian rhythms and were very impressed by them.
    We had time for some lunch before the 4pm concert of Jinja Safari.  Because it was at the Moreton Bay stage I foolishly thought it would be an intimate sit-down show like the others that had been there.  But we were over-run by teenage girls and treated to a full-blown pop concert.  Standing only!  I was impressed by the musician-ship and tongue-twister compositions, the great sitar playing on "Peter Pan", and the energy!  Eat your heart out, Beatles!
    A hard act to follow, so we had a break for a feed with Johnny Clegg in the background on the main stage.  At 9pm we saw Baaba Maal on the main stage.  I was disappointed that the sparse acoustic sound of his recordings was not in evidence except for one song which was accompanied only by his own guitar.  The others had drums and over-production,  appropriate I suppose for the huge audience.
    Finally, to round off the four days, we watched a repeat performance by Anda Union.  The set was similar to the previous concert, featuring horse sounds.  I was very impressed by the bloke who could play his flute and sing at the same time, literally flute notes and vocal notes coming out at the same time, a variation on throat singing I suppose.
    Twenty four hours later, Doortje and I were back in Karingal!

Subject to further editing.

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