Before you enter the world of WOMAD at Charlton Park, you could be forgiven for thinking this was just like any other UK festival. A birds eye view would only confirm this misguided belief – big top tents, food and clothing stalls, camping areas and a wonderful white, bright Ferris Wheel stretching across a beautiful British fieldscape. Yet, WOMAD embodies so much more!
The moment that entry band is tightened to your wrist, an entirely different festival experience reveals itself. WOMAD has a unique feel, vested heavily in the idea of staging acts from across the globe. WOMAD embodies the different. It provides a stage to the worlds musical, artistic and dance communities – a chance to demonstrate something new to an otherwise predictable scene.
With most UK festivals, an arduous journey from the car park to the camping area proves challenging at best. Lugging what seems like a month’s worth of supplies for a few days in a field, often breaks the strongest among us. With WOMAD, we experienced a different start to our long weekend. Walking past the arboretum, along a concrete track, the festival had already begun. Pixies, fairies, lizards and even a young Spiderman danced past us; a drumming filled the walkways, the smell of churros and cinnamon filled the air – there was something special afoot.
Inclusivity seems to be the subtle, underlying theme across the entire festival, whether you are aware or unaware of this, it is everywhere!
The beauty of WOMAD can be seen in the people – untethered and free to explore music, arts and dance acts from around the world. This festival demonstrates a unity, strong and unbreakable during a time when this planet is so mightily stretched and tested.
If one artist could bare testament to this, it would have to be the incredible Aeham Ahmad – his tumultuous life story brought the British crowds to tears. Performing on the Ecotricity Stage in the Arboretum, Ahmad brought goosebumps to the arms and necks of the entire audience, commanding an unbreakable attention you so rarely witness at festivals. Born to a Palestinian family in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, Aeham defines his struggles with his identity as a refugee “you have no nationality and this is so incredibly hard to process internally”. His ‘song with no name’ captivated each and every human heart within an audible distance – singing from within, Ahmad provided a unique insight into what it means to sing from the heart.
When an artist like Aeham Ahmad opens your eyes to the cruel realities of this world, you may feel the urge to lay in the grass and contemplate your entire existence. This is where the Hip Yak Poetry Shack comes into play. At any one point of WOMAD 2018 you could find large groups of festival-goers doing just that.
We were fortunate enough to stumble across the witty Elvis McGonagall during his 30 minute set, spouting comic political rants and sarcastic impressions of British life.
Once you’ve pulled yourself together, there is always time to sample some preposterously delicious, overpriced festival fodder. WOMAD truly encourages an eclectic array of culinary offerings – our first experience, a delectable Vegan Bangkok Burger from Love Thai. Served on a sustainable, recycled, recyclable, bamboo pressed plate (of course) this burger cost £7.50 and we were not disappointed. Full of authentic flavor and served by an incredibly friendly team, it was well worth the price tag.
Then of course comes the search for that all important, lifesaving, miracle bean water we call coffee. Looking back a time when you would pay 99pence for a black filter coffee from a hungover 17 year-old working a burger van, because nowhere served alternatives to cow’s milk, seems a very distant memory. Luckily, festival coffee has drastically improved it’s game over the last five years, with some very interesting traders throwing themselves into the mix. For WOMAD, this was no different.
Our go-to coffee trader at this year’s WOMAD had to be Proper Coffee. Their slick and functional setup was impressive, a symmetrical ‘order ere’ and ‘collect ere’ design gave needed organization to an otherwise chaotic process. Their coffee service was efficient, speedy, friendly and above all else their coffee was delicious!
Once energised, what else to do but dance; where better to dance than a festival; where better a festival to dance than WOMAD?
Bring in London hip-hop heads The Herbalisers – featuring Rodney P, their set brought about an exciting invitation to move your body and dance. Originally an instrumental affair with soul, jazz, hip-hop and cinematic tendencies, their music was only re-enforced with the addition of Rodney P dropping some swift vocals. Overall, a great performance from some 90’s legends.
If it’s funky 90’s fashion you’re looking for, then look no further than the Oxfam charity shop at WOMAD. Without a doubt, this is the best charity shop in the UK and the only way to access it is with a WOMAD festival ticket. It is clear that the people of WOMAD are a diverse bunch – from babies in hemp slings to toddlers in hand carts to wacky shirts and crazy hats, everyone is here!
My Top Act of WOMAD 2018:
Mr Jukes – “When a musician wants to immerse themselves in a new project, there’s a strong tradition of heading to the countryside to get their head together. Not so Jack Steadman. After Bombay Bicycle Club called a hiatus a couple of years back, their frontman embarked on a round-the-world odyssey. When he reached Shanghai, he boarded a cargo ship bound for Canada, set up a studio in his cabin and got down to work. Over all that distance, and those wide-open horizons, he reinvented himself as Mr Jukes, shifting his focus from indie-pop to jazz, soul and funk.” www.womad.co.uk
Without a doubt, Mr Jukes was my top pick from this year’s WOMAD. His band was next level, performing such jazz classics as Strasbourg St Dennis by Roy Hargrove Quintet and Footprints by Wayne Shorter. Performing in the Siam Tent, Mr Jukes really amplified jazz and soul; with singer Omara Smith taking centre stage to absolutely boss Lauryn Hill’s That Thing.
WOMAD is a truly magnificent festival, one which creates such a unique atmosphere; whether you are here in Malmesbury or at WOMADelaide, Australia, you are going to experience that true WOMAD feeling.