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What is WOMAD? Before I took this journey, I’ll admit I had no idea what to expect from the festival.
All I knew was that those who have been once can’t stop raving about it. Now, having now experienced this crazy, magical festival, WOMAD-ness has won me over.
For me, the focus of WOMAD was the way every aspect of the arts worked together for the overall experience. From the lightshow at night, to the flags, to the costumes, the market place, everything worked in a visual and aural harmony to transport you to another world.
The weather turned out for Taranaki, with a couple scorching hot summer days we had been missing. Overwhelmed with so much to see and do, I suggest taking around the trusty guidebook to make sure you catch all the action you can possibly cram in the hours of the day.
What’s great about WOMAD is everyone is in a mood to give something new a go, step out of their comfort zone, but do so in a comfortable and supportive environment. Everyone is friendly, approachable, up for a chat or keen to talk about where you are from. It’s a whole new world where everyone and anyone are welcome to do their own thing and no one looks twice.
Below: Over 30,000 people are said to have attended this year’s WOMAD. As seen here the Bowl was packed, and the crowd are loving The Black Seeds on Sunday afternoon.
I was amazed that with over 30,000 people attending the festival, there was always a crowd but it never felt crowded. The TSB Bowl of Brooklands is the perfect arena. With over five stages of entertainment dotted around the venue, there was always something going on, something to see, and a crowd to do it with. You could never feel lonely at WOMAD. Initially, it felt overwhelming, the pressure to take in everything at once, to make sure we were seeing everything we wanted to see, but as we spent more time in the festival arena, we slipped into relaxation and just let is all wash over us. There is no way you can be uptight in an atmosphere like this.
With so much to see and do, I only saw a fraction of what I could have but what I saw opened by eyes to the world of culture and arts there are from around the globe. As an entertainment reporter, I was in my element.
Soul Brazilians from Wellington put on a great, interactive workshop demonstrating the Brazilian martial art of capoeira at the Dance Zone (DZ). Attracting a huge crowd, Monitor Perere lead the group through a series of kicks, sweeps, escapes and acrobatics commonly found in capoeira. It’s an interesting art form, and the beautiful sounds of capoeira music drew in a huge crowd.
From the DZ, to the WOMAD markets where there is literally everything you can think of – an abundance of saris, woven bracelets, hair braiding, vintage clothing, African drums and even Angry Birds polar fleece hats. To get into festival dress-code, I bought a woven bracelet and a rainbow ribbon on a stick. This became the centre of serious entertainment as the night went on and was the best $5 I ever spent.
WOMAD food court gave us a taste of culture, with delights from all over the world – Jamaican delicacies, French crepes, Hangi food, African meals and even wood-fried pizza. This was my personal favourite, and when I was done with my chicken pizza all that remained was charcoaled hands and a full stomach.
As the sun set, and the concert slipped into night mode, the wine began to flow and the night lights began to glow.
Creating a mythical fairy land, the Bowl transformed from amphitheatre by day to a playground of magic by night. With minimal theatre lighting, the trees were glowing in colour, fairy lights lead your way to the DJ booth in the dance zone and the rainbow ribbon made an appearance. My persona changed, and I instantly became this woodland creature. Rolling down the banks of the Bowl, dancing with no shoes, the festival mood had washed off on me and it was hard to ignore.
Below: These large flags, designed by Angus Watt, have been brought especially to NZ for the festival, and have been used at WOMAD events all over the world.
Day two, and cloud eased us into a hot afternoon. With a breakfast of camping bacon and eggs, a wee bit sunburnt and slightly hung-over, the Master Drummer of Burundi were possibly not a great way to start the day. But their energy was infectious – watching them defy gravity with their jumps was amazing and slightly nauseating but they revitalized our spirits and we were ready for day two.
Guidebook in hand, and feeling far more relaxed, we took in some workshops including some Samba skills in the dance zone - mine are terrible, I don’t have the shimmy for it – and spent a lot of the time chasing the artists of interest. Ash Grunwald, an Australian ‘bluegrass roots’ band, who actually brought the bowl down with their rock sound were electric, The Bombay Royale taught us hilarious ways to ‘dance Indian’ with their amusing love songs, and to end the day The Black Seeds sent us into a vibe of relaxation reminding me of the summer we didn’t have.
As we began the long drive home, we were exhausted but excited for the weekend spent in this mad crazy world. My first WOMAD was one I will never forget, filled with fun and festivities, experience cultures and music that I haven’t been exposed to before. Literally hidden away from the city, you forget where you are and immerse yourself in an enchanted forest-like world where chaos becomes normality.
The crowd pleaser:
The culture, the music, the visuals, the weather. WOMAD is a festival that isn’t easily recaptured in words, and is an adventure and an journey that everyone should experience.
The stage dive:
So much to do and so little time. I was only able to go for two of the three festival days but I suggest maximising your time and definitely take the programme around with you to know where and when everything is.
Final curtain call?
It was a weekend of WOMAD-ness (thanks to my friend for this term) where new friendships were made and proved to be a well-deserved step out of my comfort zone. Bring on next year.
Words and photos, Laura Weaser
20 March 2012