Festivals Reviews

Review: Womad 2019

World of Music, Arts & Dance | 25 – 28 July 2019

Fields, feathers and fancy festive delights; a festival like no other.

Over 39,000 people revelled in the blazing British sunshine this weekend as the 38th Womad UK saw temperatures reach a record-breaking high of 37°C. Luckily, Charlton Park hosts the perfect sun-filled festival with it’s luscious world of wellbeing area, full of sheltering trees and treatment tents.

Children playing in the grass | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

Family-friendly, with a voice on social and political issues. Womad has always demonstrated a strong standing in these arenas; providing a large children’s’ area full of arts, crafts, educational talks and even a ‘teenage-only’ tent.

This year saw a new partnership emerge with apolitical activists Extinction Rebellion:

“Extinction Rebellion is an international apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergency.” rebellion.earth

Sunday morning at the Ecotricity Stage presented one of this years highlighted discussions – The responsibility of businesses in tackling climate change, hosted by Natalie Fee. Ecotricity founder and green industrialist, Dale Vince OBE and Dr Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion addressed issues regarding climate change, presenting insightful and inspirational standpoints on today’s issues.

Ecotricity debate, hosted by Natalie Fee | Photo Credit Kate Field

Audience members posed challenging questions which were handled with an educated pause and response.

As well as the addition of XR to this year’s festival, repeat revellers would have also noticed changes to this years’ site map – most noticeably, the disappearance of the big red tent. In fact, the entire layout has changed. Additional thoroughfares have been added as well as a new under cover ‘dining area’ near the open air stage. That being said, it couldn’t help but feel a little oversold at points; during performances of Macy Gray and Ziggy Marley in particular. During these headline performances, various groups of older guests were left feeling somewhat out-of-place as younger members of the crowd provided very little respect for their fellow festival-goers.

Crowds stretch beyond the Siam Tent at Macy Gray | Photo Credit Garry Jones

An oversight on behalf of the organisers? Unfortunately, thousands of guests were left disappointed as the capacity limitations of the tentend performance meant many were left unfulfilled and left out of watching Macy Gray.

In previous years, Oxfam stewards were placed around the outskirts of all major performances in order to ensure the safety of the crowds. As well as this, they were present on all gates, crossings, fire-towers and camping sites. However, this year saw a dramatically lower number of stewards visible on-site.

Oxfam steward | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

Each and every steward and security guard we encountered was beyond friendly; from midday toilet attendants to 3am gate guards, we were met with greetings, smiles and small talk. Overall, this added to the general friendliness of this worldly festival.

A question I must have been asked a hundred times this year; where can I find the best coffee at Womad? Every year I say ‘Proper Coffee’. They have such amazing service, delivered by a super-friendly team and fair pricing. Last year I named them my favourite traders. However, this year, I was immensely impressed by the coffee at ‘Shelter Box’. A charity which provides disaster relief to those in desperate need.

They were advertising around the festival, that they had the best coffee around – period. Ordinarily, one would be forgiven for discarding this as lazy marketing; however, they really did have the best coffee. It was perfect in fact. Please do check these guys out if you see them at a festival or event; it’s great work and incredible coffee. Win win.

The Music

Kicking off on Thursday, the d&b Soundscapes stage presented Meute. Hailing from Hamburg, this 11-piece techno marching band provide an incredible ambience of horn-heavy euphoria. A reclamation of electronic music, removing the DJ from centre stage to bring audiovisual delights to this years’ Thursday arrivals. Even a power-cut couldn’t halt this energetic performance as they brought the performance into the crowd for the final half of their set.

Meute at the Siam Tent | Photo Credit Garry Jones

As Thursday enters full swing, Cuban legend Juan De Marcos González brings his live set Afro-Cuban All Stars to the Open Air Stage. His presence in the genre has been unrelenting, playing a key role in the development of Buenas Vista Social Club, touring with Sierra Mestra and stewarding the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Their music represents an incredible array of styles including chachachá, bolero, salsa, son montuno, guajira, danzón, abakua and rumba. A touching performance by González adorned the Womad main stage on Thursday evening, joined by his wife and daughter, the family surely did not disappoint.

Juan De Marcos González | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

From horn-heavy German techno to Cuban to heavy two-horn jazz-funk trio Moon Hooch.

The Charlie Gillett stage played host to the trio on Friday afternoon; all the way from New York, Moon Hooch throws away the ‘rule-book’ of classic jazz-funk. Their set is not for the faint-hearted and it has to be commented that many jazz enthusiasts found the young pioneers in poor taste for entering the stage half-clothed. Dresswear aside, they gave their blood, sweat and tears to their performance which unfortunately came up short. A few timing issues and consistent poor blending and transitioning made it difficult to award these Brooklyn boys top marks. A solid 3/5.

Moon Hooch at The Charlie Gillett Stage | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

Fellow Brooklynite Jojo Abot gave an incredible live performance just an hour later, on the other side of the festival. The tented performance took place on the Siam Stage at 4pm and couldn’t help but feel like it should have taken a prime position around 9pm. This being said, Abot gave an awe-inspiring show steeped in inspirational comment. As Jojo addressed the audience, she asked that they refuse to accept limitation and really internalise that they have the power to achieve anything. In her words, her music can be described as “afro-hypo-sonic” – it was definitely a one of a kind, rare and magical experience. One of our highlights from this years Womad!

Jojo Abot at the Siam Tent | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon[/

From Brooklyn to Tobago. The highlight of the weekend for us had to be one cheeky Calypso Rose.

Approaching her eighth decade on this planet, Miss Rose entertained thousands of festival attendees on Friday afternoon with her playful antics and satire. The sun shone heavy on us all and it felt as though Calypso Rose had managed to coax a smile out of every single member of the crowd; in all my life, I have never seen an audience won over so quickly.

Performing a range of songs, from a catalogue of almost 800 she has written in her lifetime, Calypso picked out her choice of young men from the crowd. In jest, she sang about finding a ‘young boy’ as she danced with the microphone in hand, throwing it from side to side. An extremely nervous stagehand could be seen eagle-eyed, watching Calypso, to ensure she was safe on stage. Despite her age, dancing continued, almost in defiance; at one point, Miss Rose decided to expose her bra to the audience. It couldn’t have been a more carefree expression of happiness and joy in life. Should the chance arise, you must see this lady, this legend, this idol perform live.

Calypso Rose at Open Air Stage | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

Thursday and Friday seemed to hold the majority of incredible acts this year. Saturday saw the likes of Soothsayers, bringing in their youth project ‘Youth-sayers’ as well as Womad favourites DakhaBraka.

DakhaBrakha at Siam Tent | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

Sunday lunch time was taken by storm, in the glistening sunshine, by Canadian band Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Their punky balkan brass and klezmer brought about dancing in the audience with the entire crowd getting involved with ordinarily unmet crowd participation.

Crowds dancing to Lemon Bucket Orkestra | Photo Credit Katie Field

Ushering in the end of this year’s Womad, was the incredible Orquesta Akokán. Performing in the Siam Tent, these mambo kings presented the audience with a seemingly un-needed excuse to dance. Their traditional mambo with a twist gave a high-energy finish with class – although not the last act of the evening, for us, this was the one we remembered most from Sunday evening. This music is delivered from the soul of the musicians and artists who perform it; it was clear that it came from a place of passion.

Orquesta Akokán at Siam Tent | Photo Credit Daniel Nixon

A great year overall, roll on 2020.

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