Despite a range of visa issues for international artists, this year’s WOMAD Festival still hosted acts from over 126 countries across the weekend. Every year it paints an amazing picture of the world’s music, celebrating a wide variety of genres and styles, without relying too heavily on a nationalistic approach to booking. Its diverse spread of programming makes it one of the most exciting festivals in the world for seeing new music.
Every year we come back with a handful of artists we want to shout about. This year was no different. This year we found an Irish fiddler who is helping slow the pace of jaunty traditional Irish folk music, a group of Soweto spiritualists who preach gospel with a punk energy, and a solo harpist who sounds like he’s sparring with Squarepusher.
Here are seven of our favourite acts from this year’s WOMAD Festival.
Camille is a musician that most will be familiar with through the band Nouvelle Vague. Having made her early career in jazz clubs, she was picked up by Marc Collin, playing for a number of years with the band. Now having launched a successful solo career, she's begun touring her own music. Camille and her band perform draped in blue, the audience mesmerised under the wash of her voice. She is powerful yet playful, deep and shallow, experimental and ambitious. Closing with the accapella piece, 'Tout Dit', she provides us with one of favourite moments from this year's festival.
Caoimhin O Raghallaigh
Caiomhin O'Raghallagh took to the stage at WOMAD with considered delicacy. He swayed with his strokes and ushered ancient melodies. His ten-string fiddle is supplemented by a sampler, enabling O'Raghallagh to govern a cavernous tent with a sound rich with feeling. Coupling his mastery with modesty, between pieces, he speaks softly of 'home' in Dublin. In past interviews, he has spoken of music's capacity to transport listeners. Listening to O'Raghallagh certainly possesses this capacity. His music is thick with life, love and humility - perhaps a sentiment he holds from his Irish heritage.
Three years ago, no-one outside of South Africa had heard of BCUC. But through extensive touring all over Europe, the group are finally commanding the attention deserving of their energy. BCUC are a visionary collective based in Soweto, South Africa. The seven-piece band blends gospel, spirituals, and furious drum rhythms to create a super high adrenaline performance that’s infectious to anyone who see them. Half-visionary manifesto, half punk-project, BCUC were one of WOMAD’s highlight bands and there’s no doubt their popularity will continue to grow over the year.
KOKOKO! is the collaborative project of French producer Débruit and a number of musicians from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo. The group are another high-adrenaline group, who have secured massive support across Europe over the last two years. Using instruments made from found objects on the streets of Kinshasa, the group have found a way to make electronic music from acoustic instruments. The group rig up anything they can find to create a hypnotic buzz of brassy harmonics and heavy percussion. Instruments include everything from bin lids to plastic bottles strapped up to a pick up. It’s the percussive elements and improvised feeling of their shows that make them an exciting band to watch out for.
Awakening an audience from the slumber of mid-afternoon sun, Edmar Castañeda’s music is helping break the convention of a hard as a quiet and peaceful instrument. His set at WOMAD brings people to their feet, blending a striking take on composition that feels anything but a lullaby. At times aggressive and abrasive, Castañeda magically switches to moments of reflection and space. It's a joy to watch the Columbian musician work his way around his instrument, finding different ways to strum, pick, and prick the harp in a way that it is very rarely heard. He's rewarded for his work with a standing ovation.
Maalem Hamid El Kasri
A favourite among the WOMAD crowd, Hamid El Kasri and his band have been performing at the festival for a number of years. The music they play is 'gnawa', a form of North African music originating from migration routes across Morrocco and the Sahara. He is best watched up close, an experience we’re given during his set on the World Rhythms stage, a discussion space where WOMAD audiences can learn more about the musicians and socio-political side of the music featured on the line-up. Sat front and central, El Kasri plays this unique three-string lute with backing from singers playing krakebs (percussive castanets).
Mammal Hands music has helped provide a more diverse look at the British jazz scene. Hailing from Norwich, the three-piece released their third album 'Shadow Work' in 2017. Their music is wide reaching in the influences borrowing from sufi music to create trance like harmonies. Their set at WOMAD offered a precious lull into something calmer and soft in tone, between a number of high-adrenaline shows on the d&b Soundscape stage. Signed to Matthew Halsall's Godwana Records, the group join a whole host of are helping deepen the sound of British jazz.