Event Review: Womad Festival (Chalton Park, Malmesbury; Thursday 25th July to Sunday 28th Jul 2019)

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Womad, the world’s festival, once again sparkled the Wiltshire countryside with an array of international musicians. In what was one of the driest Womads in recent years, highlights came from the headliners to the warm-up acts, creating an inclusive and illuminating festival.

The first thing of note was the changes to the festival; losing the Big Red tent and increasing the size of the d&b soundscape stage. It worked, but there were maybe one or two conflicts when it came to curation. KOKOROKO and similar artists would have traditionally played on the Big Red, but instead found themselves on a bespoke sound stage, and having a supreme sound-system behind any band is never a bad thing. There was a feeling that the intimacy had been lost; subtle Celtic folk and dark bassy electronics were as prevalent on the menu this year.

KOKOROKO – D&B Stage © BD

A personal highlight and possibly the best use of the d&b soundscape stage ever could be found on Sunday morning with the playback of a 1985 recording of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan playing Womad, which was designed to replicate the atmosphere and exceptionalism of the event. Using the 360-sound available in the tent, the space was transformed into a wet and windy night at the old site, Mersea Island, where an unsuspecting audience were graced with the presence of one of world music’s superstars. The sound was directed to recreate where each musician had been standing on stage back in 1985, with the applause and cheers of the audience played around the whole tent. It was a magical, immersive morning, which brought to life the special audiophile tent.

Macy Gray – Siam Stage @ Garry Jones Photography

Sometimes, when offered so much, it can be easy to ignore the big names and the headliners, who are playing more regularly at other festivals. However, this year Macy Gray took Womad by storm. Not scheduled on the main stage, The Siam was packed at least 30 minutes before she was due to come on. Her set was exhilarating and exciting, taking the audience through classics and new material. The buzz prior to her appearance set a tone of excitement that continued throughout her performance. And, of course, the extended version of ‘I Try’, with almost 100% audience participation, is an all-time Womad highlight and left many around me teary-eyed. A bold, but clever selection by Womad curators.

Les Filles De Illighadad – World Rhythms Stage © Garry Jones Photography

As always, the beauty was in those moments that you weren’t expecting, from Indian hip-hop collective Ta Dhom Project to female-led desert blues trio, Les Filles de Illighadad. At Womad, they seem to come more than anywhere else; it could be the first set of the day or the last set of the day; there are no rules as to when and where those moments will come. I am already excited for my weekend in Wiltshire next year.

Womad © Garry Jones Photography

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