Womad serves up heady mix of war, wet and wonder

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Every year Womad reliably serves up an embarrassment of musical riches. There’s a seemingly inexhaustible list of extraordinary and – to me at least – largely unknown musicians from around the globe to stumble across. And I mean stumble as this summer I arrived with a torn calf, so hugely frustratingly there was no wild abandoned dancing for me; rhythmic head nodding only – you could, perish the thought, easily have mistaken me for a jazz aficionado.

Of many highlights the peak this year was Dakh Daughters, a powerfully dark art-house collective from the Ukraine. The context of war added additional urgency to their intense, dramatic and moving set of course, but tragically the Ukraine is, as we know, far from the only country suffering conflict. Indeed many performers came from war-ravaged regions of the world. Most moving of all was Sahra Halgan from Somaliland, who cooked and sang for us on the beautifully intimate Taste the World stage. Her story of how – when medical supplies ran out in the hospital she worked in during the war there – she sang to the wounded to ease their pain brings tears to my eyes even as I write. Few of us have easy lives, but it’s humbling to acknowledge just how fortunate we are.

Other musical highlights over the long weekend included Leenalchi, Pongo, Kuunatic, Wiyaala and the Yagayagas, Horace Andy and Dub Asante Band, Polobi and the Gwo Masters and, well, I could go on, and on. Notably, and unsurprisingly as it’s a festival featuring world music, the majority of performers are people of colour. Perhaps less inevitable is the gender mix – Womad does a great job in featuring extraordinary women performers as well as men. 

This festival though is not only about music. There’s loads of activities put on to entertain kids and families, an exceptional healing area, a World of Words (books, talks and discussions), a physics tent – the traumas of my physics O’level mean I’ve never been near it, a not so brilliant cosmology dome, a funfair, a good number of retail stalls (many selling the usual festival tat of course but some not; I particularly like the Oxfam shop and other second hand outlets), and an exceptional selection of bars and food stalls. For the greedier among us festival food portions are never enough, but what’s new?  

I’ll stick my neck out and go as far as to say there is something for everyone at Womad. Everyone that is who is prepared to brave the increasingly-over-the-weekend gag-inducing environmentally friendly compost loos (the showers were warm, clean and reasonably plentiful though). Mind you, for a mere £60 you could use luxury loos throughout the weekend, or an oh-so-un-tempting £8 a poo. Where there’s muck there’s brass!

All said and done Womad is a very friendly and highly enjoyable festival. The 40,000 or so crowd is primarily but not exclusively middle-aged and middle class, albeit at night a pretty plentiful cool yoof creeps out to play from whatever cracks they’ve hidden in during daylight hours. There are at least four late night dance venues to keep them (and their elders) occupied, with Disco Bear the chock-full and sweaty favourite of the under 25s. 

Unfortunately, and it must be mentioned, this year the weather – a fair bit of rain and wind chill especially on the Sunday – was not kind to Womad, or Womud as an older lady and long-time Womad fan I got chatting to while huddling in a dry cafe coined it. She appeared so pleased with her play on words it lifted my flagging spirits. Nonetheless, as a lover of lounging around in the warmth the dodgy weather did make a difference for me, but overall it didn’t significantly dampen proceedings and, as ever, Womad was a joy. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

By Neil del Strother ndelstrother.co.uk

Published on 02 August 2023 by Neil del Strother

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