Blogging WOMAD – finishing off Friday with Tony Allen and Ska Cubano

Well Friday finished with a bang, or a series of bangs actually, rhythmic and structured, with a whole lot of music in-between.

First stop after the impressive and ‘tres tres fort’ Staff Benda Bilili was the living legend who is Tony Allen, the Afro-beat pioneer still plays heavy heavy african funk grooves, overlaid with jazz and rock grooves. Slightly beset with technical issues, the elder statesman of Afrobeat at times looked a little grouchy, but whenever he drawled into the microphone he seemed as cool and laid back as ever – ‘I don’t have anything to say right now’ he admitted ‘so let’s groove.’

Allen’s Afrobeat draws deep on the well of  Fela Kuti’s African sound, ‘everything we play… is Afrrobeat’ he intoned, before launching into yet another rhythm heavy funk groove.

How do you follow an act like that? Ozomatli had a good go, laying down a mixture of Salsa, Samba, Ska and rock’n’roll with a dusting of Soul. Fresh off the plane the seven piece threw everything into the mix, churning up politics and music in a heady mixture which thrilled the crowd.

Over in the club venue meanwhile Canadian DJ Poirier was laying down some very bassy grooves of his own, with the MC talents of Face T and drawing sounds from a wide range of glocal cultures, he just kept dropping heavy bass bomb after bomb.

But then in the more relaxed surroundings of Radio 3’s Arboretum home the party really got going with Ska Cubano, who along with Tony Allen were the act of the day for me. Their incredible mixture of Samba and Ska set the place alight, with a high tempo Cuban party which proved to be too much for World On Three presenter Lucy Duran to stop. Despite determined protestations that there was ‘just no way’ the band could come back for an encore, the crowd kept up such a racket that eventually she was forced to concede: ‘Oh give me a break guys… ok, well it looks like you won!’

Ska Cubano are the sort of act who deserve wider recognition, their music is so accessible and so good that there is no good reason for them to fail to draw huge crowds here or anywhere else.

Less immediate, but just as interesting and exciting are Hanggai, the Chinese rock band who take on the appearance and musical stylings of Mongolian Nomads. But Hanggai actually deliver something closer to stadium rock than the simple tunes of the sheep herders, as their electric guitars pick out ancient tunes, and with the whir of their throat singing drive a double decker bus through the gate marked ‘heavy heavy sound’.

This was such a strong day of music, and Saturday promises to be very good too, with the likes of Angelique Kidjo, Salif Keita, Don Letts and other wonderful acts all getting an outing.


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