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My WomAdelaide

Friday 16th February 2001.

     The only criticism I have about the Friday night sessions at Womad, is that they start too early. The gates open at five and the first band is on at six , if one lives out of town in the suburbs -its just not possible to get to town in time to see the first act. So this year , we miss Flook and arrive at Stage One in time to see the Kaurna People open the festival with a dedication and a series of cool dances. We have of course , stopped off to have a beer, but at this stage the queues are minimal ( and they never get too bad the entire weekend - which is a tribute to the efficiency and hard work of the bar staff ). Beer is needed , because it is still pretty hot. Adelaide is in the draining process of enduring its hottest summer on record, a total of over 20 days with temperatures of over 35 centigrade- and although Friday only makes 27c -it is still fairly warm at 6:30 pm.

Apap and friend mash it up with the ASO

     Stage one is loaded to the gills with the full Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, there to accompany French violin maestro Giles Apap. Something of a tradition over the past few Womadelaide's, the Orchestra has played with the likes of Guo Yue and Liam O’Flynn. This years effort is probably one of the most successful , possibly due to the fact that Apap is playing works by Mozart and other masters ,with which the previous years effort - "The Voyage of the Brendan "could just not really compete .

    As we take our places near the stage , we note with some joy the presence of the cameras of that venerable public broadcaster -the A.B.C . Despite having its budget slashed by the Howard Government and suffering from a new director , who is busy hiring and firing myriads of major executives with a glee that would have put Ghengis Khan to shame , the Corporation has done the right thing by us World music freaks and turned up with the same extensive crew that they had provided in 1999. The crew films everything on stage one and two on Friday and Saturday- with a broadcast date over two days sometime in early April ! There are also ABC radio units next to stages one and two, who are still there on Sunday, and a number of the acts are broadcast on AM radio over the next year.

     Apap and the ASO are very good, for once the volume of the orchestra is sufficient for it to be heard consistently and although one commentator asserts they were under-rehearsed , they sound ok to me , ( but then , I'm not that familiar with the nuances of the classical pieces played ) . Regardless of whether the ASO played well , Apap is such a gifted player that he is capable of fixating ones attention to the exclusion of almost everything else . Visually , it is nice to see a soloist who isn't done up in a restricting penguin suit , as he is wearing a vivid red and blue tabard which stands out a mile . He has a nice sense of humour and is very relaxed in his presentation - although not in his playing by any means .

   The next act - over on the smallish stage 3 -is a total contrast - Soukous Ba Congo, an Afro-Australian outfit from the East Coast who proceed to work up a stormy set of high intensity percussion based Afro rock , which has the audience up and dancing from the first number of the set. There is plenty to like about their music, front man King Bell ( right ) is all over the stage, and with his shaven head and leopard skin robes, looks unusual enough to grab the audiences attention . The young white female vocalists do a good line in dancing , shakin' the booty with some aplomb - although one of them seems a bit uncertain about some of the dance moves on occasions during the Sunday show -casting more than a few looks at the other dancer to check if she is doing the right thang-and this may have been the case on Friday, but I am so busy dancing I do not really notice .


     Immediately after The Soukous show, we have to race over to the adjacent stage one to catch the start of Pato Bantons set. Pato gets a lot of flack from the Adelaide press for being such a lightweight -and it is true that his set is heavily loaded with other peoples numbers . However, I find his music entertaining , professional and occasionally inspiring . Ok ,he's not a roots legend , but he doesn't pretend to be, his band are tight and professional and it is nice to hear Bob Marley numbers such as Get Up Stand Up and Jammin' performed with such a degree of integrity . I would like to see a real dub or dub/rap crossover outfit on-stage , but perhaps this appearance will pave the way for a fully credentialled Reggae act to appear at Womad 2002, because Pato's positive crowd reception indicates that Reggae artists will do well in Australia if promoters will take the chance to book them for tours .

    The set is very similar to that of Sundays show -of which you can read a full review of here - lots of covers and " Positive vibrations " This is the show where Pato gets everyone to introduce themselves to the people around them and I must admit that I do this in spades , pumping the hands of those around me and wishing them a happy Womad -as the man said -"Positive vibrations, every time, every time - ! "Another nice touch is the freeze the band does at the very end of the set , whereupon a roadie comes on (the same guy who has been playing trombone earlier on I think ) , re-sets them in a different pose and then strolls off . Very theatrical.

   Bob Brozman is a total loony on-stage ( and I mean that in the nicest possible sense..) he's in constant motion, shifting , cracking jokes, keeping up a barrage of verbiage, all of which riveting .After he seats himself, almost immediately he apologises for America. Not just aspects of the country , but the whole thing !. In fact he stresses the point that if he wasn't a musician he would probably be out there blowing up Burger Kings and McDonalds. This is my sort of guy, he makes sense ! This is a theme he returns to throughout his performance , at one point he actually says he is trying to get to come to Australia .

   Perhaps he's not happy with the recent election of president shrub , certainly Brozman's world view does not strike me as a republican one . His material covers a very wide range, from country blues to the mixing of Hawaiian slide music and German marching bands, He treats his guitars like they are percussion devices, constantly shifting them, hitting them and coaxing a multitude of arcane noises from them that just weren't intended by their makers. This guy is one of a kind , a complete eccentric who is amusing, entertaining and enlightening all in one hit ! Go see him if he's in your area. !

     By now the arena is getting very crowded and the crowd around stage one has spilled way into the outer regions of the park. Attendance on Friday is the biggest ever in the history of the festival .Over 22.000 bods enter the area - that's almost as many as the total attendance for the Big Day Out -which is supposed to be a major , major musical event in Australia, with many high profile rock bands as a drawcard. Yet Womad outsells it , at least in Adelaide.

    We have a ramble up the back before we run over to see Papa Wemba and as we get near the main gate we come across a giant face projected onto a large Elm tree. It then proceeds to wink at us ! What impudence ! This event takes up a few minutes of concentrated grokking in wonder at the oddness of the projection and a few abortive attempts to try to take photos of it ( without tripod and very high speed film a near impossibility ) but then it is back into the fray to see the Papa .

           Papa Wemba is a last minute substitute for Femi Kuti , who fell ill a few days before he was due to fly to Australia. We are lucky that Papa Wemba and his excellent band are available to take his place at such short notice. I am not that impressed by the Papa during his last visit here in 1995, but his music has gone into a number of different directions since then and it has definitely become considerably more interesting from my perspective. His band is much stronger, in fact they are superb, near to the incredible outfit that accompanied Selif Keita on his epic , never to be forgotten visit to WomAdelaide in 1993 , although the material they perform is still not in quite of the same calibre as that of Keita. The Wemba voice has become more subtle and this is most noticeable on the slower numbers which both opened and closed his sets - but for a full review of his shows journey go to the review here

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