Review: WOMAD artist line-up on day one shine through rain and politics

By Elliott Childs*

Review – Anyone who though that WOMAD 2024 had avoided the rain that had been forecast for Friday was given several nasty surprises during the course of the evening as we were subject to multiple, short downpours.

But music festivals and rain go hand in hand and when there is this much great music to enjoy, the weather no longer seems like such an issue.

To kick things off, Minister for Culture and Heritage Paul Goldmith’s speech at festival opening received a somewhat mixed response from the crowd but they were soon up on their feet when Zambian psych-rock band Witch took the stage.

Fresh from playing a show in Wellington the day before, this revived version of ’70s Zamrock legends was full of energy from the start.

Front man and sole remaining founder of the band Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda charged about the stage whilst his backing singers danced joyously behind him.

Moving over to the Brooklands Stage, the Generation X contingent of the crowd were out in force to see Strawpeople play their second ever live show.

Strawpeople perform at WOMAD 2024 on 15 March, in New Plymouth.

Lack of experience did not make them any less impressive with Paul Casserly appearing on stage in a face cover visor, slowly building the music up as the rest of the band joined him one by one.

Stephanie Tauevihi and Fiona McDonald were in fine voice, with the harmonies on tracks such as their cover of John Hiatt’s “Have a little Faith In Me” working perfectly.

They played to a clearly appreciative audience and even as the rain fell in to their craft beer and pad thai, the crowd stayed with them.

Pakistani musician Arooj Aftab.

Over on the Gables Stage, New York-based Pakistani musician Arooj Aftab played an evocative and haunting set.

Backed only by an acoustic guitarist and a double bassist, her music was sparse but full of emotion.

There was a hush to the crowd as she sang and, for once, the light rain that accompanied the performance only served to enhance the atmosphere.

I returned to the Brooklands Stage just in time to see one of the high points of the day, Ibibio Sound Machine.

Ibibio Sound Machine. Members are vocalist Eno Williams, guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman, percussionist Afla Sackey , drummer Joseph Amoako, bassist Philip PK Ambrose, trombonist/keyboardist Tony Hayden, trumpeter/keyboardist Scott Baylis and saxophonist/keyboardist Max Grunhard.

Formed in London in 2013, the band combines electronica, soul and West-African funk into an invigorating live sound.

Singer Eno Williams was full of energy, joy and praise for the crowd, greeting them in te reo Māori as well as English whilst guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerma and percussionist Afla Sacke proved, yet again that funk guitar and conga drums are a winning combination.

Later I was to learn that despite their near flawless performance, they were playing with a substitute bass player, Winston Blissett from Massive Attack who had been brought in last minute.

To end the night, I walked back to the Brooklands Bowl to see yet another minister for culture take the stage. This time, however, it was legendary Brazilian musician and former politician Gilberto Gil.

Brazilian singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil performing at WOMAD 2024 on 15 March, in New Plymouth.

Now in his 80s, Gil is still in able to sing with gusto and his guitar playing remains impeccable, yet despite having a band of highly skilled younger musicians to back him up, his set was perhaps not as lively as you would want in a closing act.

The band were all sat for the first half of the set and although Gil and the others got to their feet for a more vigorous second half, the energy still wasn’t quite there.

Yet, Gil can still play and his renditions of his more samba influenced music especially were really wonderful. The band also spent some time exploring Gil’s reggae influences with a cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” as well as a reggae infused version of “Girl from Ipanema”.

Perhaps a more chilled end to the day than expected but one that brought some Brazilian sunshine to cold, wet New Plymouth.

*Elliott Childs is RNZ’s Team Lead, Live Operations and a dedicated music fan.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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