16 Mar 2019

WOMAD festival: organisers explain why they chose not to cancel

From RNZ Music, 4:00 pm on 16 March 2019

Organisers of Taranaki’s three-day world music festival WOMAD, have explained their decision to go ahead with the event in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

WOMAD attendees dancing at the festival's main stage

WOMAD attendees dancing at the festival's main stage Photo: Tim Gruar / McKenzie Jennings-Gruar

"The very heart of why WOMAD exists, is the fight against racism," said Chris Smith, Director of Womad International, saying that's why they chose not to cancel the event.

Despite many other major events around the country being cancelled due to the heightened security risk, WOMAD organisers said it was important for them to go ahead.

They referred to a statement made by WOMAD international co-founder Peter Gabriel, who said, in response to the Christchurch attack: “We have to counter the force that pulls us apart with the only one that is stronger, that can pull us together and that is love.”

"Creating awareness of the worth and potential of a multicultural society has always been a core intention of WOMAD, today that ethos is more important than ever," Smith went on to say.

Heightened security measures are in place at the festival, including a "beefed-up" police and security presence, not just onsite, but at the racecourse campsite, the hotels that artists and staff are staying at, and around New Plymouth.

TAFT CEO Suzanne Porter, WOMAD Event Director Emere Wano, and WOMAD International Director Chris Smith

TAFT CEO Suzanne Porter, WOMAD Event Director Emere Wano, and WOMAD International Director Chris Smith Photo: Kirsten Johnstone

 “It’s heartbreaking it has happened here,” Smith said, reflecting on the events in Christchurch. He says it was the right decision to proceed and enable people to celebrate diverse cultures and a “one world community”.

Artist performing at the festival were said to be on board with the decision, with none having pulled out. Festival attendance has not been affected either.

CEO of Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT), Suzanne Porter, the organisation that oversees major events in the region, says measures have been put in place to protect artists, audiences, staff and volunteers’ welfare.

“WOMAD is the antithesis of what’s happened in Christchurch. We are going to carry on with what WOMAD is about,” she says. “The effect [of the attacks] has been profound.”

Day two of the festival began with minute’s silence and a karakia, which Event Director Emere Wano said "was about being thankful for what we have, and what we're about to do today."

  • Christchurch terror attack: Events cancelled around the country following shootings
  • WOMAD festival: diversity, tolerance and love
  • RNZ News live coverage of the Christchurch mosque attacks
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