Like trip to Eden I was au seul on this one but happy to try to get maximum from it. I was set to meet others so would have company. A four hour drive after setting out too late still got me there by mid-day and I had to overcome the usual systems hassles. Why are there always systems’ failures. Went in the main gate but had to go back to the first gate for the box office to get my tickets. Queued at the customers hatch for tickets. For twenty minutes. Got to the front to be told to go to another queue at the rear of the cabin. Kept calm. Got tickets and walked back to car. Then to gate . For queue. For wrist band and, finally, access to site!
Looked for friends. “Ah, easy, mobile in on each other”. But mobiles didn’t work, or mine didn’t. “What’s wrong with it? Stupid Nokia. Maybe something wrong with the contract.” “Emergency calls only”. “Cannot get through. Please try later.” I did find them eventually and we weaved a fun weekend in and out of each other’s company, all camped in a communal ring.
It’s good to be of a group because you can attend different gigs to feedback a complete picture, give each other tips on who to go see and solve the World’s problems, too. Some liked to get to the front of the crowds, others to stay at the rear with chair and binoculars. Some saw performances all through, others, like me, tended to sample gigs, to obtain as wide an experience of the fare as possible. I even went to the “Human Library” again for a half hour chat with a guy who, like me, thinks our ancestors abilities are very downplayed, under-rated. Talked of ley lines and cross global alignments of constructs. Me, I brought in collective consciousness and evolution of nationalities.
Afro-Cubism was a trans Atlantic fusion – West Africa to Latino, with Toumani and others as All Star Band. Didn’t work for me despite obvious competence and Toumani was too far back in the mix and the product generally. Aurelio, from Honduras, gave an inspired hour of the same mix which came from the heart and not just the head. And it showed, feeling relaxed and natural and not a construct. Welsh Mabon were clear, competent and Celtic – a ceighleigh band – and Dub Colossus an Eithiopia-UK hybrid attempt at true roots reggae. Up town top ranking goes home to Haille Selasse via Nik Page and Hackney. Hey, dat was cool.
But not in the same league as finale that night – Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal (Mali-France) a truly sublime marriage of Cora and Cello and souls in the best, musical, spiritual way. They stretched both instruments to their limits, coaxing out a range of new harmonic highs, leaving the audience often agape at the audacity and completeness of the sound. Inspired.
Some acts were pure and great but, well, quite hard to listen to. Such was Khaira Arby, Malian female vocals with sparse accompaniment. I sampled. Similarly Samuel Yirga, keyboards for Dub Colossus, who was a trainee Herbie Hancock but just technique and no soul or, sadly, relevance to the now. Lau, Scots folk trio, were entertaining and I liked them but still only sampled. Vieux Farka Toure, Mali, was compared with Hendrix in the programme. Hendrix he’s not.
OK, I was there for Baba Maal as he started, as were half the festival crowd, it seemed, but I soon moved off. He talked of returning to his earlier self and band so I dallied but, no, it never was my thing. Too bland for me, as in an insipid sound. Again, though, I had a highlight of the evening to look forward to. At around one o’clock, after severe sound problems , we finally got Le Trio Joubran. Three Palestinian brothers playing ouds made by the second brother. I’d seen them last year, when they were breathtaking but almost too fragile, too precious, that we were almost scared of the tension we had felt in the atmosphere. A kind of choking PC sickness. And this year we had persistent feedback on the lead brother’s oud. Pleasingly and perfectly the brothers had enlisted another Palestinian into the ensemble, a percussionist who provided warm, earthy grounding to the performance, strengthening the sound and their vitality. They would make it and they did. We enjoyed a breathtaking ninty minutes of aching music, full of heartbreak and optimism. Inspiring, once more, as the day’s finale.
After my regular morning yoga session, which carries another tale or two for another time, I set off with young Italian member of the group at his first ever festival to catch up with the others. We caught the end of The Savoy Family Cajun Band, who sounded competent and a bit cajoling. (But pretty melodic, too.) The grandly formal Dhols of Jaipur were just silly pomp and circumstance (Indian style), so we soon moved on. To Shunsuke Kimura and Etsuro Ono (any relation of Yoko?) a stark Japanese, traditional presentation with dark and fairly opaque but very present emotion in their music. Scratch combo of Hari Sivanesan with Omar Puente and others were sublime, performing wonderful tunes on sitar, fiddle and percussion. No encore, though, as they had no more sheet music!
Nidi D’Arac were an appropriate Italian band – I’d just commented that I’d seen none at Womad – and great fun, full of energy, imagination and tradition translated into a contemporary dynamic. Watched the whole set, shelving my plan to see the regrouped Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Sorry guys – another time, eh? Nidi were not to leave, full of colour – although all dressed in black – and providing the connection to the Arabic music we’d seen such as Le Trio Joubran. They gave a workshop later with a breathtaking courtship dance that resembled Capoeira for its stepping, interplay and scriptless, instinctive flow.
Blitz the Ambassador were Afro-Rap, with the rap element supporting and not dominating the sound. Like one instrument in a large orchestra, it helped reinforce the character and presence of the leader and allowed some excellent tunes and musicianship to leap out and hugely entertain and involve the happy audience.
Dissidenten, Moroccan chaperoned from Germany, were solid, ear-catching and exciting and played on the small BBC Radio Three stage, in the tranquil arboretum, whilst on the main Open Air Stage Gogol Bordello’s system was being set up. As, indeed, he himself was being jetted in from the States. Dissidenten done, I drifted upsite but could get nowhere near the Gogol, who was already in fullest flow. “Hi there, Detroit, HOW ARE YOU DOING?”
Actually, he sounded great and he did know where he was but it was VERY professional bonhomie. And rightly so, for a tight, joysome band, drawn, apparently, from the four corners of the Earth, as a truly World music event. So they were made loud background music as I shopped for souvenirs before my final appointment of the day – Feufollet. Like the first act of that morning, these are Cajun artists. Otherwise, though, they were streets apart and I found Feufollet far more beguiling as full of youthful exuberance and no little ability they soon had everyone jigging about in carefree manner. Jumping about, in fact, just like the fireflies of their name.
And I didn’t even hear Booker T Jones earlier or…….
August 2nd, 2011.