WOMADelaide Day 1 - Friday 10 Mar

Womadelaide 2017Arts Projects Australia. Botanic Park. Fri Mar 10 – Mon Mar 13


There's nothing quite as daunting for a music journo than to begin writing a review of a WOMADelaide festival. With the event having grown into a juggernaut now spanning four days and hosting more artists than ever (both changes having good and bad aspects from a WOMAD veteran's perspective), it's difficult to know where to begin, even for me, who's attended the festival for half of its 25-year lifespan; which means I've been to well over half, since it was initially a bi-annual event.


With that in mind, I'll start somewhere entirely unexpected: Detroit Michigan, U.S.A! An odd place, yes, but I start there because, last year, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Detroit Jazz Festival while visiting the beautiful and underrated city as part of a motoring mecca pilgrimage of a classic motoring enthusiast. In many ways, the experience reminded me of my first forays into WOMADelaide: I didn't really know any bands that were there; I had an extensive interest in the music that would be on offer; and I became completely immersed in the event. Detroit Jazz Festival is like WOMAD on steroids – there is a bunch of stages spread across the city, participation of more food trucks than you can imagine, contributions from local businesses all around, and best of all, it is all free, so the patronage is through the roof (if there had been a roof - it's an open air affair!).


It is great fun to hang out with all those African American jazz aficionados and others grooving the nights away and definitely a grand experience that really took me back…

The highlight of the Jazz Festival for me was a New Orleans band called The Soul Rebels. Eight members strong, with all brass and percussion, they had an unbelievable urban sound that brought together culture and music from across the ages... it was definitely a blast, and the perfect segue into this years' WOMADelaide highlight for me, The Hot 8 Brass Band.


Also hailing from New Orleans, I was lucky enough to see these guys last time they were at WOMADelaide, and I was blown away. Needless to say, I've been hanging out to see them again, and they were my main motivation for attending this year.

They do not disappoint!


Kicking of early with these guys on Friday is truly brilliant. They play a bunch of tunes from their 20-year history, plus a few covers and interludes into other tunes too, and bring some real American culture to Adelaide. Of course, jazz is at the heart of what they do – a truly American art form – and these guys allow it to be fully expressed as they improvise and interweave solos with each other, building on each other’s vibe and that of the crowd.


But the Hot 8 isn’t just about jazz. There’s blues, African, soul and hip hop all thrown in for good measure. There are some great call-and-response moments, and some pretty good crowd participation too. Tunes like What’s My Name (Rock With The Hot 8) and Take It To The House, the latter from the band’s latest long player Tombstone, went down well (and lasted a good ten minutes each!). While covers of The Wailers’ Waiting In Vain, the Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing each produce the expected level of crowd satisfaction!

To round things off, the band comes out into the crowd for the last tune, instruments in tow, and goes all acoustic in the round! It is truly fantastic stuff, reminiscent of Ozomatli sambaing through the crowd way back at my first WOMADelaide.


It’s great to see this sort of thing still happening; it restores one’s faith in music. The Hot 8 Brass Band are brilliant, and I plan to try catching them again on Sunday.


For something completely different, I wander down to stage 3 to catch Argentinean band, Orquesta Tipica Fernández Fierro. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Argentina, and tasted plenty of local culture, including folkloric and traditional music. I’ve taken quite a shine to what the country offers.


Fernández Fierro are a massive 12-piece act who essentially play tango music, with a folkloric wistfulness. Argentinean music, much like its people, is passionate and emotive with a massive emotional flair that really tugs at the heart-strings. The Orquesta manage to capture all of that emotion and bottle it into a brilliant set. My Spanish is not too bad (Argentinean Spanish is hard to understand and singing makes it harder as you lose context and intonation) but some of the lyrical content was quite dark and almost depressive, with the singer pouring her soul into every word! Couple that with sharply staccato music that creates a sense of urgency and pain, and you have the makings of a great show.


The Orquesta consists mainly of violins (and a cello and bass) and accordions creating a sound that’s relatively unique in Australia, and enhancing the whole experience. On top of that, there is an excess of dry ice to heighten the atmosphere. This coupled with band members who could easily pass as heavy metal dudes and the set is very impressive indeed. It’s a shame the folks behind me wanted to chat so loudly, that is, until I asked them to be quiet!


From the heart of Argentina to the desert plains of Africa, my Friday is rounded out by the bluesy grooves of Malian musical queen Oumou Sangaré and her fine band. Malian music is a big part of any WOMADelaide line-up, and with a rich musical heritage to draw from it makes sense to showcase the West African sounds regularly.


Malian music is often described as ‘desert blues’, and it’s a fair description. The West African sounds, including those from Mali, form the basis of today’s blues and rock music. The Africans brought their musical culture with them to America during the times of the slave trade, and listening to the traditional sounds always provides an interesting allegory and comparison.


Things have come full circle too, with western instruments like guitars, bass, and keys featuring in many modern Malian acts. Oumou Sangaré is no exception and, joined by a kora player and some singers and dancers, the whole spectacle is something to behold. The music drones on, almost lulling you into a musical trance, and one can’t help but groove along. Oumou’s amazing, powerful voice cuts through it all, bringing a stark focus to the otherwise trance-inducing grooves.


Though I have visited Africa many times, West Africa remains absent from my list; despite not physically travelling there, listening to music like this takes me there spiritually.

So rounds out the first day of WOMADelaide for 2017. There’s plenty more in store throughout the weekend so stay tuned! To be continued…!


Luke Balzan


When: 10 to 13 Mar

Where: Botanic Park

Bookings: womadelaide.com.au

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