How is it that, after what was undoubtedly the best Womad I’ve ever attended both for content and for my scope for participation, I find I am at a loss to find words to describe the experience? I watched, listened and danced to overdoses of exuberance, of passion and of such diverse and exquisite skills and yet find difficulty in capturing the experience in mere words. Perhaps therein lies the answer because the whole three days – or was it a lifetime? – merged and took on its own, individual identity and took me to where it was, a separate place, a different plane, a spiritual location.
Yes, now I understand, so now I can sort it out for you – it was Mohammad, Mohammad Reza Mortasavi, who set it off. Well, him and Yogatree’s exquisite early morning Iyengar stretches. But Mohammad’s percussion session early on Friday evening was a sublime and transcendental transfusion of Iranian – Persian? – Daf and Tombak drumming into a dervish dance of complex, whirling counterhythms – and he had us playing them too! Sufist schools of Islam house this approach to achieving a trance state – ecstatic meditation, perhaps – and find themselves, shall we say, as a fringe to the more mainstream philosophies. Sadly often actually excluded, as is the case in Mohammad’s home of Iran, which country he has left, now pursuing his art based in Germany.
His first act on entering the marquee was to tell us all, through his interpreter, to bring our chairs right up close to the stage as we were also participants and there needed be a unity. At the front anyway, this left me just two metres from his playing and I was soon issued with a hearty jemba on which to play my part. I found members of drum circles around me, so felt at home.
Mohammad introduced us to the daf – like an Irish bodhran but with 200 or so small metal rings mounted inside the inner rim, so giving a sharp overtone to its use – and the tombak – made of dense mulberry wood and akin to the jemba. He then played just the daf and, with your eyes shut, you could have been listening to a Ginger Baker drum solo. Such a range of sound and such speed, attained using all his fingers, seemingly each independent of the others!
I do use such technique and so enjoyed it when we were brought in. As the pace increased I worked harder. And on and on until I could see my digits moving and hear the sound and know how insane the speed was but it’s intensity just drove me on and kept me there. Actually, when I think about it, I reckon I’m still there now, a week later!
“Love Syria” cried Oxfam all over the site. I told them I do and that I thought William Hague had gone off to join AlQuaeda. “Love the Arctic” echoed Greenpeace and I told them I do and that maybe we should work together on the trees front – my “Five Trillion Trees” they found persuasive and I find their North Polar nature reserve equally so.
But I was soon taken into my trance state and, although I timetabled each and every viewing and involvement carefully and studied the programme at length to devise the best available outcome, suffice to say, almost, that I achieved such. I was there, in Global oneness with the diverse musical enlightenments as they emanated from the Womadic ether.
Now I can recall incidents, highlights you could call them, such as Zimbabwe’s Makoomba, bashful and yet proud, singing harmonies in many languages from Victoria Falls and later, on the big open air stage, being a tight, confident African band. I can recall a fantastic hour dancing pizzica to tuition from members of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – the same dance we all watched two years ago performed by Nidi d’Arac’s splendid dueling duo. It was not easy and my patient partner perhaps felt lucky that she survived the encounter intact!
There was Iadoni, a Georgian, aged, military chorale but quite haunting at midnight in the Siam tent. Brazil provided flair and relaxed mastery in both Gilberto Gil and Flavia Coelho – samba, reggae, sunshine, that sort of stuff! The Malawi Mouse Boys, The Imperial Tiger Orchestra, Babylon Circus, Russian maestros Huun Huur Tu, Malouma, Le Vent du Nord, Kissmet, reggae legends the venerable Lee Perry and Max Romeo, Seun Kuti (“Junior”, seamlessly adopting his late, lamented father’s role at the head of Egypt 80) and so many others were further sources of sound and all were warm and wonderful.
But I don’t need to tell you that. And , if you wanted me to, I don’t think I could add much more, for now it all simply sits there, in my head, as a contented, inner glow – a Womadtrance or, perhaps, a Mohammadtrance.