Blogging WOMAD: The Sounds of West Africa & Planeta Lem

Well this will be my final post from the festival itself, as I’ll be heading home shortly. But the music continues, and I may manage to catch a couple of acts on my way out, so this may not be my last update.

The first band I saw this morning were the aptly named The Sounds Of West Africa, who played with great skill and enthusiasm, really conjuring up the musical spirit of their West African homelands. I realised as I watched them that I had been camping next to some of them for the last few nights, I can confirm that they are not much less noisy off stage than they are on it.

Extraordinary skill on a variety of instruments, and frighteningly high kicking dancing – amazing stuff.

But then on to what I think I will class as my discovery of the weekend, Barcelona based band Planeta Lem. There’s more than a hint of Manu Chao about these guys, with a hefty dose of reggae and a backdrop of Latin rock, they pelt out numbers in their native Spanish, as well as French and English – or Spanglish. They’re a good deal younger that Chao of course, and nowhere near as iconic. But in terms of delivering a musical sensation which bears some comparison, they are the only ones who come close.Of course, coming from Barcelona they already have strong musical links with Manu, but just to cement them the bassist Chimbass used to play with Radio Bemba.  Frontman Aleko Capi was with the late great Go Lem System, as was guitarist Joni Botas.

I would reccomend these guys as a band to watch out for, they are only likely to get better. They play Nottingham’s Riverside festival on August 7th.

So that’s it from me for now… signing off.


Blogging WOMAD: Sunday has arrived

Sunday is the final day of the WOMAD weekend, and the perennial challenge when you have had a mass of incredible artists play already is how to follow them.

The answer apparently – is to deliver yet more incredible artists. Today’s offering includes a handful of artists who have already played this weekend, including Dobet Gnahore, Lepisto and Lehti, and Rango who will play the final hour in the main Siam Tent. There’s also Gilzene and the Blue Light Mento Band, who are playing a kind of music which came before Reggae, I missed them yesterday, so I’m looking forward to catching them today.

Perhaps the biggest ‘name’ to play today are the Afro Celt Sound System, who will put on a great show I’m sure, although sadly I’ll be gone before they come on. Imelda May, Gil Scott Heron, and Rolf Harris are among the many other acts which will grace the stages, but that’s enough for me, I’m off to listen to The Sounds of West Africa.

Blogging WOMAD: Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara; Orchestra National de Barbes; Sofrito Sound System; Dele Sosimi; Bibi Tanga; Salif Keita & Don Letts

Yeah, it was a busy evening.

Justin Adams and his Gambian counterpart Juldeh Camara played an amazing set in the large ‘Siam’ Tent, hugely bluesy but with a truly international feeling as Juldeh’s Riti playing took hold. Playing with the kind of bow that looks like it ought to shoot arrows, the ancient fiddle type instrument emitted sounds which were at once otherworldly, as well as deeply African.

A big clash for me was the Orchestra National de Barbes, with their joyous French African stylings, and the sonic assault of the Sofrito sound system crew, who kept dropping eclecticly selected international dance tracks, with the encouragement of the worlds most laid back MC. Judging by the rate they were getting through beer, they were probably all a bit laid back by the end of the set.

Publicists delight... WOMAD splash in the Sunday Times

Bibi Tanga & The Selenites played a set of mixed up funk and soul, with some hip hop sounds thrown in, a very cool sound owing quite a bit to some of the best acts of the last thirty years, but sounding deeply original too. Over at the Radio Three stage meanwhile, a hyperactive Dele Sosimi was demonstrating exactly why he had been an important part of the Afro Beat story back in the day. Based in London now, he plays his own brand of Afro Beat, which owes a lot to his formative years spent with Fela and then Femi Kuti.  A great sound, which was warmly received – speacially considering the fact that both bands were up against Imogen Heap and her all star guest line up.

For world music fans Salif Keita needs no introduction, he is now one of the key ‘elder statesmen’ of African music. Hailing from Mali he has racked up an impressive, even impeccable CV which has led him to world wide renown as a golden voiced singer with amazing vocal talents.

His spell binding set kept fans in rapt attentiveness and joyful abandon, while over on the other side of the arena site, another legend was hosting a punky reggae party – Don Letts was wacking out heavy heavy bass and rocking rhythms which kept the crowd on their feet and in party mood.

That wasnt all for the night, Cerys Matthews and a load of other acts kept the party going until the early hours, but that was enough for me – I was dead on my feet already. Lightweight – I know.

Blogging WOMAD: Is Angelique Kidjo the new Mama Africa?

It’s been a day for superlative introductions, but could this one stick? The original title of course belonged to Miriam Makeba, but with her passing comes the opportunity to hand on the title to another, and that could well be the tour de force that is Angelique Kidjo.

She commands the stage and the crowd with natural grace, and her powerful vocals, certainly make her a strong candidate for the crown. Certainly you’d be hard pushed to find another candidate as well qualified.

Her delivery is flawless and strong without being strident, powerful but never overpowering, which again reminds me of Miriam Makeba.

But then again she is very clearly her own woman, and any comparison, no matter how flattering is unworthy, Angelique Kidjo deserves to be taken on her own merits, and backed by a strong and solid four piece band she demonstrates plenty of merit.

Angelique Kidjo is no new kid on the block, she has earned her place in the pantheon of world music greats, and her performance here at WOMAD has shown exactly how.

Blogging WOMAD: Rango, Toubab All Stars, Doubet Gnahore and the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

Its amazing how much can be packed into a short period of time in a festival like this – and what a variety too.

The first act of the day were Rango, a  group who fuse ancient music and boisterous presentation, with a throbbing drum backdrop, and a variety of call and response type songs, they were billed as an early form of trance, although the only trance I was in any danger of falling into was due to passive dope smoking, I can still see the idea though. There’s a deep bass and drum line which carries right through to the core, and helped along by venerable and engaging musicians, they certainly were entrancing.

The Toubab All Stars were the first act of the day from the Barbes area of Paris, the other being the Ochestra National de Barbes who appear later this afternoon. Again there was a faint sense of wrong billing – they had been described as a ‘French Specials’, and while the ska runs strong with them, they are much more of a party band than the Specials were. Their lively banter cheered on a slightly sluggish crowd into a dancing throng, and reminded me how much we all do love Ska.

A rescheduling meant that African songstress Dobet Gnahore ended up head to head with the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, and both delivered great sets, in their own unique ways. Dobet has a sultry and mellifluous voice which is driven along by a powerful band, many of her lyrics were politicised too, which was very welcome.

Still to come today then – Angelique Kidjo and Salif Keita to name but two, its shaping up to be another excellent day.

Blogging WOMAD: Saturday line-up

Following on from an amazing line up of artists on Friday night, there’s a whole lot of musical goodness to come today here at WOMAD.

Highlights are going to include: Dobet Gnahore, Angelique Kidjo, Dele Sosimi and his Afrobeat Orchestra, Salif Keita and the punky reggae party man himself – Don Letts.

But one of the delights of WOMAD is stumbling on something great which you hadnt previously expected, so I’ll be looking out for other acts, including the Toubab All Stars (white Frenchmen playing pan african music) and Rango, who play a form of ancient Trance which has the reputation of reaching right down to your bones.

Imogen Heap and Cerys Matthews also grace the stages today, as does the rapper Ty, the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain and the Geata Krar Collective. Should be an amazing day!

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.