8 Mar 2018

Nine acts not to miss at WOMAD 2018

From Upbeat, 5:00 pm on 8 March 2018

The WOMAD festival is in its 14th year at New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands and it’s set to be a very special weekend. Trevor Reekie gives us the lowdown.

WOMAD 2014

Photo: Simon O'Connor

WOMAD is a three-day world music, arts and dance festival known for its exciting and diverse line-up. It’s a melting pot of folk, afro-funk, hip-hop, classical, jazz and even punk rock, performed on instruments as diverse as violins, ouds, kora and squeezeboxes.

The countries represented at this year’s festival include Canada, Chile, Iraq, Israel, Mauritania and more.

RNZ Music’s resident WOMAD aficionado Trevor Reekie joined Upbeat’s Eva Radich to share his picks for WOMAD 2018.

“WOMAD is a place of discovery and it’s a place where music and ethnicity have no borders or prejudice.”

Trevor says the biggest challenge for festival organisers is choosing who will play on the Bowl of Brooklands stage. With its iconic lake, it requires artists with a reasonably big sound, able to project across the water.

“If there’s a great degree of subtlety required, it’s probably not going to happen on that stage. But then again I have seen solo artists, for example, Neil Finn did a solo set on that particular stage … and he was massive.”

Reekie thinks Anoushka Shankar – the stand-out name of the 2018 festival, will perform on the Bowl stage.

1. Anoushka Shankar

She’s absolutely wonderful. I saw her in 2008 at the Auckland Town Hall and it was just a fabulous band, an enchanting evening of Indian, raga, jazz and classical influences. She’s a woman who’s totally at one with her instrument – she makes it look so easy.

She’s been playing sitar with her father, the late Ravi Shankar since the age of nine, made her first performance at the age of 13, she’s got a great diverse catalogue of solo recordings where she’s merged classical Indian music with elements of pop, electronica and multi-cultural collaborations.

Anyone would be crazy not to see her. Her music is formidable – she's just such an incredible woman.

2. Daymé Arocena

Afro-Cuban music has always gone down very well at WOMAD, and this year there's a young Cuban woman called Daymé Arocena. She’s regarded as one of Cuba's finest young female singers.

Arocena has a versatile style, which relies a lot on scat singing, but she stays close to her Cuban roots and she mixes Afro-Cuban dance rhythms with, other influences as well.

The Guardian recently described her as Cuba's finest vocalist. She's been mentored by the influential DJ and producer Gilles Peterson, and she won the prestigious JUNO award in 2015.

New Zealand audiences have always reacted well to Afro-Cuban music, so I think she's going to be a bit of a highlight.

3. Pat Thomas

On a sunny day, as it usually is down there, Pat Thomas and his, band from Ghana will have the audience up and dancing as well. Pat Thomas is one of Ghana's all-time greatest vocalists, and he was a mainstay of the '70s and '80s highlife music scene.

He's played with people like Ebo Taylor and Tony Allen, and he's still at the top of his game.

4. Rodrigo y Gabriela

Rodrigo and Gabriela are Mexican, but they spent eight years in Ireland from 1999 and got a break when they were discovered busking on the streets. These guys could stop traffic. They play a kind of hybrid acoustic metal, classical guitar, flamenco and Latin influences and they're both wonderful guitarists.

Their first album made it to number one on the Irish album charts and they've played festivals and concerts all around the world. They even performed for Barack Obama at the White House. And their style is just wonderful. They’re totally unique, and they've really found a little niche for themselves. People are going to love them.

5. Victoria Hanna

Victoria Hanna is from Israel and was raised in an ultra-Orthodox household in Jerusalem. She found a way to express herself and overcome her stutter, discovering secular music in the process. The result is really most unexpected.

She's a singer who performs hip-hop and wild, hypnotic rhythm raps, as well as ancient Hebrew texts. I actually think she's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but she's experimental, unpredictable, and she's been described as bewitching.

I think she's going to be something that's out of left field, but I think she'll be really well worth seeing.

6. Tinariwen

One of the other bands I'm looking forward to seeing is Tinariwen. They’re a Grammy Award-winning Tuareg master band of guitarists. They play desert blues, and their songs preach about peace and rebellion, sharing experiences of the struggle for freedom, as well as celebrating the beauty of their homeland [Mali].

It’s hypnotic, uplifting music, and their message is a message for difficult times.

There's something about Mali. They just have such a huge strike rate of incredible musicians, and a lot of them have come to WOMAD over the years, and they're always well worth checking out.

7. Rahim AlHaj

Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad and was once in prison for his activism under the reign of Saddam Hussein. He's now an American citizen who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He released an album this year, which is actually one of my favourite albums of this year – it’s called Letters From Iraq. It's played on oud, which is one of the world's most ancient instruments, and AlHaj has also incorporated a string quartet.

The album draws from the stories and experiences that were accounted to him by people in his native country after the U.S. invasion. I did an interview with him at the beginning of this year, and it was an extraordinary interview. He was just very candid and such an incredible performer. I'm really looking forward to seeing him.

Listen to Trevor’s interview with Rahim AlHaj (starts at 23.19”)

8. Violons Barbares

I think Violons Barbares are going be one of the surprise acts at the 2018 festival. [The French-Mongolian-Bulgarian group] actually met in France. They were working on the Silk Road project with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and they got together and formed their own band, searching out new sounds.

They used Mongolian violin, which is called a morin khurr, the Bulgarian gadulka, and percussion, and they sound like they produce an irresistible fusion of energetic rhythms and wonderful harmonies, and of course, a bit of throat singing, as well.

I think they're going to be one of the big discoveries of the weekend.

9. Dragon

Dragon are kind of a weird choice, but they've done the winery tours and they're wildly popular in New Zealand. Are they WOMAD material? I don't think it matters. What [the WOMAD organisers] are really doing is cementing the [WOMAD] brand, and people will just return, no matter who's on there.

In the past, they've had a lot of left-field choices that you really wouldn't consider as world music, but it's music from the world, for the world, in one respect, so I think they deserve to be there. And also, it will appeal to a particular demographic.

Hear Trevor Reekie's Worlds of Music every Saturday at 2pm on RNZ Concert then again on Tuesdays at 11pm on RNZ National.

What: WOMAD 2018

When: Friday, March 16 - Sunday, March 18

Where: Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth

More info: https://www.womad.co.nz/

Check out the rest of RNZ Music's WOMAD coverage.