WOMAD – exploring the world in 80 hours

Tony Rollinson
Thursday, 9th June 2011

Tony Rollinson previews this year's WOMAD festival where World Music takes centre stage

As ever this internationally celebrated festival, now in its 29th year in the UK, seeks to reinvent the term 'diverse' by presenting artists and musicians from every corner of the globe. Some you may have heard of, most you won't. But that's the beauty of WOMAD – you never know what you'll discover and experience. Every age of the family is welcomed at the festival as always, with countless activities, workshops and kid's spaces around the site.

WOMAD is as close as you come to the permaculture philosophy of fair shares. Performers hail from no fewer than six out of the seven continents on our planet (alas, no Antarctica), as does the food, workshops, art, hair and fashion.

For sure, WOMAD will bring out the best in the always magical and mighty Bellowhead. Those lucky enough to have tickets will be able to see why they were voted both best group and best live act at this year's BBC's Folk Awards... they really are that special. But there is so much else to enjoy and marvel at that we want to give you a little flavour.

Africa has always made a strong contribution to every WOMAD gathering. Representing the north African quarter is Moroccan master-musician Hassan Erraji. While, from Cote D'Ivoire, Alpha Blondy has ruled the African reggae roost for many years and his spiritually strong, politically edged songs continue to preach positivity. From Africa's east coast are a Dub Colossus, another band with a reggae impulse, and one that is gently reshaping Ethiopia's music traditions. Others offer convention-skewing mash-ups taking in dancehall, drum & bass, electronica, late-nite jazz, trip-hop and the beat of the moment dubstep

The festival will see the WOMAD debut of American banjo player and singer Abigail Washburn whose songs recall the days before country music had been invented, let alone given a name. Another stylistic throwback is CW Stoneking, the Australian blues savant who, behind the vintage clothing and Brylcreemed hair, makes music that drops you into another time, another place – most often, as with Abigail, it's the American South of the early 20th century.

Susheela Raman grew up in Australia but it's the music of her Tamil heritage (stirred together with jazz, rock and pop) that's earned her a Mercury Prize nomination. Her seductive songs will be perfect for the otherworldly environs of the arboretum-set Radio 3 stage. Indian traditions – both music and dance – are also upheld by the The Gotipuas, young dancers and acrobats from Orissa whose vivid live show reminds us that the 'D' in WOMAD stands for dance.

Photo credit: Matt CrossickMainland Europe has two heavyweight gypsy bands, Romanians Mahala Rai Banda and the multi-generational Taraf de Haidouks who have paved the way for all future gypsy bands' international success, while also managing to become Johnny Depp's favourite band.

Fiddles are always to the fore at WOMAD and the galloping tunes of Majorstuen, a five-strong fiddle super group from Norway will be a hidden treasure for fans of Celtic music. Meanwhile, a genuine pan-Celtic outfit, Jamie Smith's Mabon, will further cement their growing reputation with tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Jamie's homeland of Wales.

As one of our friends, Pete Ellington, who attends every year says: "Things I love about WOMAD are that Charlton Park is such a beautiful country setting, the camping is peaceful, the variety of music is distinct from any other festival, excellent food, party all night if you want (but not compulsory). WOMAD is for all ages and all cultures."

Inevitably, any festival with international artists has its carbon footprint. WOMAD has a set of green policies, particularly concerning transport to and from the festival, and festivalgoers and traders alike are given bags for recycling different forms of waste. These are then emptied by hand and wheelbarrows - so no trucks on site. Being an ecologically sensitive site, only grey wastewater is allowed to permeate the ground.

What WOMAD does provide, however, is a unique window on the musical world. One of the festival's claims is that you can 'explore the world in 80 hours' – I couldn't agree more, it's better to feel your heart sing and dance in a field than to discover everything on the internet.

Photo credit: Trevor Eales

WOMAD – The World's Festival
Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire 28-31 July 2011
Bookings: 01189 606 060
Online: www.womad.org

Do you have a favourite fair, festival or green event in your country? Share the event large or small with PM. Email tony [at] permaculture.co.uk with your story.