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26 March 2018

a weekend at womad new zealand

It’s Friday night, I have a wine in my hand, and I’m watching Aldous Harding’s reflection as she purses and licks her lips. 

WOMAD festival (World of Music, Art and Dance) began in 1982, and has since spread to 27 countries worldwide. I'm lucky enough to be at its New Zealand incarnation in New Plymouth’s Botanical Gardens, a beautiful spot which boasts a main stage framed by a moat-like pond.

The beauty of WOMAD is of course in its world music. On Saturday we enjoy Cameroon-born, Paris-based operatic Blick Bassey who proclaims that “love is in our DNA” before transcending the octaves with his love-inspired songs. Next is Afro-Cuban Dayme Arocena who has been mentored by Gilles Peterson, followed by an intimate show with Constantinople & Ablaye Cissoko, who sing in Farsi and Mandinka, a west African dialect, and play a variety of eclectic instruments such as the 21-stringed Chora and the Setar. 

Scandinavian duo My Bubba are like silk to the ears with their table harp and mix of Icelandic, Swedish and original folk songs. We sit in the sunshine and enjoy the soothing sounds. 

Thievery Corporation are one of my favourites, upping the tempo with their mix of dub, reggae and more, sealed with a medley of instrumentalists and vocalists – what a show. 

Representing New Zealand’s talent are bands like the Miltones, an Auckland based contemporary blues music with a lead singer resembling Stevie Nicks, and Hopetoun Brown, who enrapture their Sunday audience with their old-style brass melodies and bass clarinet free-styling (an interesting sentence to write!). We watch Aldous Harding for a second time on Saturday on the Gables Stage. Laying down on the grass, we let her unique brand of distinctly-delivered slow melodies glide over us. 

“If there is a party,” she rings out, “will you wait for me?” 

WOMAD isn’t as much of a night-time party as other festivals, but it is a place where families and music fans can coalesce and enjoy a weekend of lyrics accompanied by the likes of quacking ducks and independent food vendors. It makes me smile to overhear an exchange between a shop owner and a teenage girl, with the latter explaining how she made the top she's wearing to an inspired former. At another point we witness a Dad herding his family of all ages towards the sounds of Violin Barbares; “we got to get close to the action!” he says excitedly, baby strapped to his front.

It’s for everyone this festival, even for those who want an excuse to get out to explore. Because the location of the festival is right in the heart of New Plymouth, it means you can take a breather from the action and enjoy the city’s brunch spots, cultural capital, and even Mount Taranaki if you’re feeling adventurous. 

On Sunday morning we venture in for a cup of coffee and to visit the architecturally stunning Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Len Lye’s kinetic sculpture Blade is the centrepiece, the first performance I’ve ever seen of two inanimate objects that has the power to initiate applause from an audience.

We wander down to the waterfront and people-watch for a while. I like these pockets of calm in the weekend, another of which comes at the World of Words stage as poets like Apirana Taylor speak about their work. Taylor’s tales of taking his art to prisons and the camaraderie he found there is particularly touching.

If you’re looking to listen to music you wouldn’t usually, or simply fancy a break from your daily grind – let WOMAD NZ be your kind, worldly Summer/Autumn companion of next year. You can even bring your kayak along.


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