My friends and I are waiting in Paddington Station but one of the group looks disgruntled. Finally he utters, “why exactly are we going to a World Music festival?” The correct answer was that we had failed to get tickets to Glastonbury, or any other festival for that matter, but this is still a touchy subject so instead I tried, “it’ll be fun?!”, adding, “there’ll be cider?”.He looks unconvinced and I could understand why.
World music doesn’t exactly have a great reputation. What usually springs to mind is a form of African drumming supported by an audience of alternative types who have non-specific media jobs, live in Shoreditch and wear vegetarian shoes.
On arrival our fears quickly vanish. There is a spirit of fun that permeates the entirety of Charlton Park, setting WOMAD apart from other festivals. The people are in high spirits, pleasant and friendly, plus the evenings were not accompanied with a feeling of unease familiar at so many other festivals. The music helps too; you just can’t fail to find enjoyment in Rolf Harris, or in a rendition of ‘Shaft’ by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. It is not all whimsical either. The appearance of the likes of DJ Don Letts or Angelique Kidjo ensures that the festival still had an edge.
The concept of world music is frankly misleading. The line up consisted of a multitude of terrific pop and soul acts that successfully draw on a variety of influences, that made me consider the Top 40 in dismay.
Furthermore the performances were of unbelievably high quality, with artists understanding how to entertain an audience whilst also commanding great technical skill. A particular highlight was Ska Cubano on the BBC Three stage, hidden amongst a wooded part of Charlton Park. Their mix of Cuban and Jamaican influences coupled with a real sense of rhythm and exuberance meant that I couldn’t help but smile and dance into the night.
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