Arts Projects Australia. Botanic Park. Fri Mar 10 – Mon Mar 13
Well, it’s the final day of WOMADelaide for 2017, and although my feet have seen plenty of dancing hours clocked up, day four still has plenty to offer.
There are a whole load of bands putting on only one show for the whole weekend, many who are playing today, but my main focus is with some acts I’ve seen earlier in the proceedings, and whose performances are once again fantastic!
First up is a bit of Korean percussive fun with TAGO. As a quick aside, the name is particularly poignant for me, as a classic car restorer in my spare time, the nickname we use for fellow Valiant fanatics is TAVO – Tight-Arse-Valiant-Owners, and when I see TAGO, that’s all I can think of… thankfully, seeing them play live is quite a different experience.
I’ve long been a fan of Japanese taiko drumming, but had not come across the Korean variety before. It’s certainly in a similar vein to the Japanese, but has subtle differences too. Importantly, the show is about more than just the music, so sitting way back and letting the drum beats waft over you is not quite enough; you really have to engross yourself in the whole audio/visual experience.
The drummers put on a theatrical show that’s every bit as dramatically impressive as their musical prowess. This style of drumming is as much about the way the drums are hit and the interplay between the characters as it is about the rhythms themselves. And it’s amazing to watch! There’s a comical aspect to it all, with an almost slapstick style to it, particularly as the guys run around the stage, dancing around their drums, and never once miss a beat. It’s an amazing spectacle to behold.
It goes beyond drums too, as the guys came out with gongs and symbols, and more importantly, fancy costumes to further enhance the visual aspects. There is a guy with a flower on his head that would open and close depending on how he nodded his head, and a bunch of guys with ribbons attached to sticks, also stuck on their heads. You know in the Olympics, where they gymnasts play around twirling ribbons (yeah, I don’t know how that’s classified as a sport either), well, this is kind of like that, but coupled with heavy-metal style head-banging, thumping rhythms, and smashing cymbals!
There is so much happening on stage and so much to watch and hear that it’s like seeing a theatre drama, a comedy, and a music performance all in one go! Brilliant stuff!
For an complete change of pace, I travel from Korea to Australia-Samoa-Jamaica for Natalii Rize, aka Natalie Pa’apa’a of Blue King Brown fame, who has brought her own unique solo show to the fore. She’s obviously overflowing with musical creativity during the downtime of her BKB band mates, and is happy to share that vibe with a willing audience. Natalii’s music is in the same vein as that we’ve come to love from Blue King Brown, but as a solo artist, she takes a slightly harder edge and a bit more dancehall influences add to the roots reggae sound.
She’s pretty politically motivated, which has always formed an important part of reggae, and while I regard myself as a political cynic these days (and thus found some things a little preachy – it seems odd to convey an anti-Babylon, anti-capitalist and anti-money message at a festival where people are paying nigh on half-a-grand to attend and pay more than what some people earn a month for a glass of beer, but like I said, I’m a pretty big cynic!), the message is there and is an important part of what Natalii does. The passion she has is clearly conveyed through the passion of her music. Despite my cynicism, the call for a change is there, and I only hope the cries in agreement from the crowd are more than hollow calls made in the moment from positions of privilege (and let’s face it, privilege is where most WOMAD people come from, which for me, coming from a working-class-immigrant-background-come-good-with-a-PhD, is very clear).
The roots grooves underpin the whole musical experience, with electronic influences giving a bit of a dub edge, and Natalii’s dancehall style vocals make the music sound familiar on many different levels. The messages, despite any irony or cynicism are strong and powerful ones, and even if it’s implemented in some small way then Natalii and her music have done their job. The blend of styles and grooving vocals make the whole thing very easy to get into! Natalii also gets back to her own musical roots, jamming it out on the djembe for a tune or two, which was great to see! Definitely very cool stuff from a very talented lady!
Just as talented is Colombian band La Mambanegra. These guys are a Latin American powerhouse, playing an infectious brand of highly danceable tunes. While the music itself isn’t traditional Colombian, it does mix in lots of Latin styles, erring heavily on cha and son, with an occasional cumbia for good measure. Most people would simply recognise it as salsa music (which is actually not music, but a dance… yet I digress!), and thus the dance element is an obvious and important component. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Colombia (a truly beautiful country, and very under-travelled despite improvements on the political and safety front – I definitely recommend checking it out if you get a chance), and this style of music, while not strictly traditional, is by far the most popular over there, and you find it everywhere in Colombian culture. Hearing this therefore takes me right back to eating coconut-curried fish and sipping Club Colombias or mojitos on the beaches of Colombia! Needless to say, La Mambanegra are on top of their game, and are a very tight band, well representing their nation. Even seeing the variation in the members (including black, white and in between – just be careful not to assume any races with a Colombian, as who they identify as may surprise you!) harkens to the amazing and varied culture of Colombia. These guys are definitely a highlight of the festival for me.
And with that, my WOMADelaide experience concludes for 2017. It’s been another great year, with lots of great memories. The crowd is interestingly mixed, though thankfully less pushy-and-shovey than the last few years. There’s still an air of privilege among patrons, and a few too many I’m-a-hippie-but-only-during-WOMAD types for my liking (kind of like fair-weather sports supporters), but nonetheless, the festival still continues as one of the best on offer, and I’m glad I’ve been a part of it.
Now, for 2018…
When: 10 to 13 Mar
Where: Botanic Park