WOMAD 2017: building bridges, not walls

WOMAD 2017

WOMAD 2017As a new list of beautiful artists, musicians and dancers is unrolled before our eyes, WOMAD 2017 is looking as diverse, celebratory, and eclectic as usual.

With the tagline “WOMAD 2017 builds bridges not walls”, the all-embracing festival has a clear message – and it plans to be just as inclusive as ever this year.

Between the 27th and 30th of July, the historic Charlton Park will once again open its gates to more than forty fantastic acts. From talented foodies, to enchanting musicians, to spiritual wellbeing teachers and dancers, people from all around the globe will assemble in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, proving that even in its thirty-fifth year, the World of Music, Arts and Dance festival is unrelenting in its search to bring together a multitude of tastes and sounds. As the organisers state, “WOMAD acts as a timely reminder that in troubled and uncertain moments, music has a unique power to bring people together”, and that’s certainly something I can’t wait for: the feeling of the crowd, held together, alert and haunted by a stunning sitar solo, or gripping hands and grinning with each other under the tall and beautiful trees at laughing yoga. Or at night, passing strangers ping-pong-like bats to play the outdoor PVC pipes, organising themselves by the light of the moon into an energising beat, drawing a crowd, people swapping in and out, holding the performers’ drinks and applauding the rhythmic lowing of these strange instruments. The creativity, the diversity, the multiculturalism: there’s not festival quite like it.

The best bit about WOMAD is undoubtedly the absolute relaxation that comes in varying degrees from all festivals – you’ve got the weekend off, you can drink as much as you like, and you’re with your closest friends – but is enhanced at WOMAD by the lack of inhospitable nutcases out of their faces on ketamine, lying in their own sick in the mud, or stumbling through your tent in the middle of the night. There’s no security guard shaking some poor guy’s shoulder in the middle of the night (“Tom, can you wake up for me please?”), no police cordons, no one weaving through the already-messy crowds shouting “Coke! Anyone want any coke?”, no one being aggressively naked. To put it simply, the attendees are generally pleasant, interested folks, happy to have a few pints and skank to Asian Dub Foundation, but equally content to lie back on the grass and listen to a classical cellist in the sun, or face a “talking book” one-to-one and ask them questions about their life as a mother, immigrant, disability-sufferer, or poet. It’s the most feel-good place in the world. When the night appears, I expect a lot of dancing – joyful, body-moving dancing, and not to chart music either – with no creeps being a little too close, and large groups of people on the grass, sitting around smoking or singing their own bumbling tune. As I’ve said to many a friend, if you want to try the festival experience for the first time and not be scarred, you’ve got to come to WOMAD (often followed by a chorus of “Yes, come with us!” and discussions of who’s bringing the paddling pool that year). From WOMAD, I expect to pick up friends we only see for the one night but have an unforgettable time with, I expect clean showers and clean bathrooms with a good amount of loo roll, and I expect to come away with a whole new playlist of artists I can’t wait to listen to some more. It’s the festival that always leaves me refreshed – that always leaves me immediately longing to go back.

As always, this year many of the acts will be unfamiliar, but unabashedly brilliant: one of the draws of this particular festival is coming across new favourites from all over the world. Highlights announced so far include Mali’s Oumou Sangaré, a fearless African role model looking out for women with her powerful voice; Sweden’s Afrobeat/psychedelic rock group (a timeless combination), Goat; and the UK’s Eliza Carthy with The Wayward Band bringing the fiddles at the rear. Sounds incredible already.

For more acts, announcements, and ticket details, visit https://festivalmag.com/festivals/womad/