Review: Womad UK 2016 @ Charlton Park (Malmesbury, 28th – 31st July 2016)

Two weeks have passed since the 34th edition of WOMAD UK, which was also the tenth anniversary of the festival’s residency at Charlton Park. We have finally unpacked our bags, ordered our thoughts, edited tons of pictures and are ready to sum it all up…

As WOMAD 2016 was unique and intensive, we want to focus on the line up and shows displayed throughout the four day event. The festival this year was as eclectic, diverse and wide-ranging than ever. In fact, never before has world music gone so comfortably hand in hand with electronic, dance, hip-hop, rock and pop. Never before have contemporary and urban sounds mingled so effectively with tradition and folk to present new horizons of well-established styles.

It was quite clear that something was going to be different from previous WOMADs on the first night, when Asian Dub Foundation performed one of their most cutting-edge sets. On Thursday evening the London band played its latest work entitled The Signal and the Noise almost in its entirety. Chandrasonic, Aktarv8r and partners amplified the album’s riotous elements with deeper bass, increased pace and plainspeaking songs, expressing their worries and thoughts on topics such as migrant conditions, rampant racism and the current political conditions in the UK.

If the initial impact of WOMAD 2016 was striking, the first full day was no less electrifying. Friday got into its groove in the early afternoon with two bands from opposite side of the earth, both expressing irresistible rhythmic energy. Amaraterra and La Mambanegra from Southern Italy and Southern Colombia played their traditional styles at full gallop. Meanwhile, on the BBC3 Charlie Gillett Stage the London-based Apulian ensemble unearthed its biting repertoire of tarantelle and pizziche with unadulterated Mediterranean flavours, and in the Siam tent La Mambanegra burst into an impassioned mix of salsa, funk and Latin influences from all over the South American continent.

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The day continued in style with an emotional and original tribute to Martyn Bennett’s artistry performed by the Grit Orchestra. The 50-strong plus ensemble reinterpreted the acclaimed album of the musician and composer who died in 2005 at the age of only 33. The performers honoured Bennett’s inventiveness and Scottish roots, reconstructing Grit using a lyrical and moving orchestral palette led by Greg Lawson.

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A few hours later it was again about strong emotions and outstanding musicianship. In fact, the late afternoon had some warm and soulful notes in store for the WOMAD audience, thanks to the expressive voice of Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, who led the crowd in a performance of the groovy, insistent and almost trance-inducing Bamba Wassoulou Groove.

To keep on with the emotional mood, Friday evening began with the temperamental flair of Buika. The unorthodox and hot-blooded flamenco diva fully legitimised her nickname “La Niña de Fuego” (The girl of fire), but also expressed her style and elegance during her performance on the Open Air Stage.

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Simultaneously, Hot 8 Brass Band nearly blew the Big Red Tent from its anchorings. The New Orleans big band played its lungs out, with instruments at full blast, treating fans with an impromptu parade through the WOMAD Arena.

Then it was the turn of Ibrahim Malouf to blow away the Siam Tent tent and its audience. The French-Lebanese trumpet player and his eight stage partners performed an exceptional and inventive set on the verges of jazz and funk, overflowing with improvisation and Middle Eastern traditional references, finding a perfect balance between solos and collective outbursts.

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Glaswegian DJ and producer Auntie Flo performed on the opening night, transforming the Big Red Tent into a dancefloor and triggering the first dances of the evening. His ability to mix world and traditional beats from South America and West Africa with electronic soundscapes sums up WOMAD 2016 well. The audience loved his set, spared no energy and danced throughout.