Adelaide, Tuesday March 11, 2014 – Womadelaide 2014 closed last night under cloudy skies that might well have been symbolic. If the Liberal Party wins next week’s State election they have promised to move the public holiday (for a horse race, no less) to later in the year. Womad organisers claim that this will kill off the fourth day of the festival. What they would make of the fire that destroyed some equipment in the backstage area is anyone’s guess.
There were other even more weighty matters being discussed in The Planet Talks tent as former Federal Minister Peter Garrett weighed in about Japanese whaling and the future of the world.
However, music is obviously the main focus of Womadelaide and Femi Kuti closed the show in his usual spectacular fashion on the mains stage, offering the smaller Monday crowd a taste of why he is one of the most important of the current crop of African musicians.
Billy Bragg, perhaps one of the most important of current crop of English musicians, preceded Kuti with a 90-minute set on stage two that contained his usual mix of political banter (mainly about Thatcherism), digs at Australians and – as he called it – his ‘hit’ (‘Sexuality’).
Bragg responded to a remark that Pokey Lafarge had made the day before, referring to the Englishman’s attitude to the Americana genre. Lafarge went even further this afternoon by holding up Bragg’s photo in front of his own face. This could be a storm in a teacup and it is all a bit of fun and gets people talking.
This evening Bragg asserted that many people had contributed to Americana and just to prove it he played what he said was ‘a prize piece of English Americana’ in The Rolling Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers’ (with CJ Hillman on pedal steel).
Bragg reminded us that he was now 56-years of age and it was a salient reminder of his substantial catalogue. Not only did he highlight his own songs – ‘Between The Wars,’ ‘There Is Power In A Union,’ ‘Great Leap Forward,’ he also delved into the Mermaid Avenue book for ‘Way Over Yonder’ and ‘California Stars’ as well as doing Woody Guthrie’s ‘ I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore.’
Later, Bragg joked that when Norah Guthrie had asked him to write some music for Woody Guthrie’s lyrics she had wanted a European perspective so he had asked the members of Kraftwerk to help out. He then launched into ‘A New England’ with an ‘Autobahn’ styled intro.
We wondered if Pokey Lafarge would get the joke? It is difficult to imagine that someone born Andrew Heissler in Illinois who has reinvented himself as a musician named ‘Pokey’ would be taking cheap shots at Billy Bragg. Someone referred to Lafarge as ‘Hokey’ and contrived but that is too harsh a judgment.
Lafarge had been on the same stage as Bragg several hours earlier and received another warm response to his old-timey music. It was not quite as an enthusiastic response as his first show on Sunday under the trees on the small stage 7 where he managed to get people dancing from the second song on but it was effusive nonetheless. Lafarge brings what appears to be a completely unself-conscious approach to music that is a throwback to another time, indeed another century. If his band did not play so well one gets the feeling that this would never work. (We were reminded of local bluesman CW Stoneking who has also reinvented himself in a similar, if more ‘authentic,’ fashion).
Makana sings and plays the Hawaiian slack-key guitar and has impressed enough to be invited to the White House. There were flashes of his virtuosity (he has studied with legends) but the show would have been more satisfying if it featured a lot more of this distinctive style.
If you were wondering if rap and hip-hop are better in a foreign language than Dub Inc from France might convince you that they are. The energetic show, with two lead singers, had the audience jumping from the start – despite the fact that not many would have had a clue what they were singing about.
One of the highlights of a hot Sunday afternoon was the appearance of Bunna Lawrie and his band Coloured Stone who brought a welcome Aboriginal perspective to proceedings. Still going after 37 years, Lawrie and his mob attracted a large audience to Stage Two for an excellent show.
Colombians La Chiva Gantiva were given two main stage slots – Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Their blend of rock, rap and soul achieved the desired effect at both shows – it got people dancing (one of the main activities of the festival audience).
On Sunday evening the Balenescu Quartet provided one of the great night shows to be seen at Womadelaide, paying tribute to Romanian singer Maria Tenase, who died in 1963, aged 50. The Quartet (two violins, cello and viola) led by Alexander Balenescu mixed fragments of Tenase’s recordings with original compositions in collaboration with a video by Austrian Klaus Obermaier. It was spectacular. (Their Monday afternoon performance on the smaller stage 3 was completely different but no less beautiful).
The penultimate evening was closed on the main stage by Algerian singer Rachid Taha who began his set with a version of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side.’ A very nice tribute indeed.
That set the tone for what was an enthusiastic hour during which Taha threw himself into the performance, which would no doubt draw approval from one of his admirers Mick Jones of The Clash. (He has recorded ‘Rock The Casbah’).