WOMAD 2016 Review: Truly a Family Festival

WOMAD stage

WOMAD stage

Bags on Laps

A week after buying my first car, obviously the first long trip I should undertake as a lone driver had to be to WOMAD – and had to be packed with people. A big fan of car sharing and overcome with power at finally being the driver, I offered my three back seats on Blablacar.com and on the pasty connection (a facebook liftshare page aimed at Cornwelliens), with a total disregard to how much stuff people, and especially I, bring to festivals.

Early the next morning, Francis and I stared blearily at the boot of the car. There was no going back now – we had to leave in the next fifteen minutes, and the sandwiches we had planned for an on-route lunch still hadn’t been made, nor had the dodgy windscreen wiper been fixed.

“Well, they’ll just have to have bags on laps” I said resolutely, and tried to force the boot closed on the many clothes, wellies, camping seats, double blow up mattress, freezer box (what was I thinking?), and various other bits of tat that are just not totally necessary to get a bit drunk and watch some music in a colourful field. We picked up a very sweet girl in the next town over, whose bag did fit very comfortably beside her, but it was a whole new story when we reached our second pick up point and tried to jam two New Zealand girls and their many bags of clothes and perishable goods (I saw how much hummus you had) in too. Finally lodged in, and with circulation only just beginning to cut off below some of the knees in the back seats, we did eventually make it to Malmesbury reasonably unscathed.

World of Wellbeing

As the the first of the family to make it to the site, and pretty early on the Thursday too, the privilege of finding a good spot was delegated to us, and I think we did pretty well. Near to an entrance to the World of Wellbeing, which this year was incorporated into the main arena (something at first Francis and I scowled upon, imagining that it would mean we couldn’t wander round the beautifully lit forest after the main arena had closed, although it actually never affected us), we were close to the showers and toilets, but not close enough to smell or be affected by queues – the best camping spot in the park by my reckoning. Old hat at this particular tent, Francis and I stuffed in the poles and wandered around with it for a bit, constantly relocating while never quite pegging it in fully, and being those arses that somehow bagsy all the space around them, and then fill it with a large family of boisterous children (exactly what we did).

Thursday evening consisted of a reasonably large quantity of rum with the family before heading out to Asian Dub Foundation, a band that Francis and I found fantastic to dance to, although they earned themselves the classic description from his mum as “a bit angry”. With the rum loosening our joints, we swung our limbs all about (a task in wellies) at the edge of the crowd, to many an amused expression, before wiggling in just in time to hear Nathan “Flutebox” Lee create some seemingly-impossible beats with his flute. This was also the point at which we noticed Elizabeth, an absolute joy to my childish amusement, a very friendly-looking smiling woman, dressed in a teacherly, black-sweater, white-collar, black-smart-trousers outfit, bobbing happily to one side of the stage and signing out some extraordinarily angry and quickly spoken lyrics (“flutebox” being my favourite sign that she used, or possibly even created), a ray of calm in the midst of this flashing, tumultuous whirlwind of a performance.

Poi, Toddlers and Ibrahim Maalouf

Friday morning I was awakened by a short, sharp dump of freezing cold rain straight to the back of my thin pyjama top. Grumpy and squealing, and finding myself also partially on the floor as the unnecessary blow up bed had had enough of us, I stalked out to remember that as the forecast had been clear, we hadn’t bothered with most of the guy ropes, and therefore been dealt the consequence of a large puddle on the top of the tent, which had evidently sat there wavering for a good long time before dumping itself on my back (not quite such old hat). After a hot shower, with, to my astonishment, no queue (the bonus’ of arriving on the Thursday!), I discovered that actually we’d been pretty lucky – Francis’ sister had lost the rainfly to her tent, and had basically spent the night soaking wet, complete with her sleeping bag, clothes and food. It was time for a pick-me-up, and we were in exactly the right place. Armed with a bag of carrots to nibble on, we headed out to the Hip Yak Poetry Shak, and spent a solid couple of hours lazing as the day warmed up.


WOMAD Procession – Clara Salina

After returning to the tent for a (much drier) nap and to help some friends set up, it was time to watch Akala, a late but brilliant addition to the festival that Francis urged us along to. An extremely intelligent poet and rapper, with a focus on the political (a definite theme this year at WOMAD, with many of the acts performing music with direct references to the much-disturbed political scene of late, and speaking openly of their feelings towards it), Akala was definitely one to remember. Post- passioned hip-hop, we came across Francis’ family to one side of the Siam tent playing catch with some broken poi. A enthusiastic game of ‘wounded soldier’ ensued, gathering, in the end, a lot of interest, with people of all ages and sobriety joining the circle to competitively try and catch other players unaware. One particular addition was a very small, stripey-pyjamaed rascal, who toddled very suddenly up to the circle with mum in tow, and proceeded to hold out his hands to play, with no comprehension of moving to catch and a complete disregard for the rules. In the Siam tent played Ibrahim Maalouf, an absolutely incredible live act that totally changed my opinion of instrumental music: previously, I’d thought of it as nice in the background, but not something to concentrate on. Maalouf, his trumpet, and his band were something else entirely, a performance in the end that captivated our players and became the dissolution of the game (not to mention the little one suddenly turning round and toddling off into the crowd, the last that we ever saw of him or his mum). On reflection, I wish that I had bought Maalouf’s CD.

Pois put to good use and a new appreciation for instrumental music found, we headed off and bought some (WOMAD-award winning!) food at the Madras Cafe, a volunteer run charity serving delicious Indian vegetarian curry, before heading back for a reasonably early night. A cold had slightly dampened my spirits, and Saturday was the night to gear up for.

Nightmares, Chemtrails, and Embarrassing Ourselves

Saturday morning I stepped out of the tent to find the young and not so young of our group stretching in some early preparation for a very strenuous-looking workshop. Laughing yoga had in fact been something I’d wanted to try for the last three years at WOMAD, but had either not managed to cajole myself out of bed in time for, or had been nursing a serious hangover, to the extent where the thought of standing around laughing with a group of people at a totally mad man made me feel like crying. I’d also been childishly ashamed to go on my own before, and Francis definitely wasn’t up for it. This year was different though: no hangover, no issue of Francis holding on firmly to his dignity and refusing to accompany me, and a group of children to laugh with. Perfect!

The beginning of the downfall of laughing yoga had nothing to do with laughing yoga. With little breakfast in me, a real temper when I’m hungry, and the words of my dad hanging over me (“Just don’t ruin the tent!”), noticing a small rip in the tent and having no one to blame really cast a little dark cloud over me (as it would with anyone who’s ever recieved my father’s “you’ve let yourself down” face). With this on my mind, improper footwear, and a lot more audience participation than I could ever thought was necessary, I was firmly in the same boat as the children: “that man is mental!”. Nightmarish squeals, guffaws and the sound of one girl uncontrollably laugh/crying rang around a tightly filled area right in the center of the World of Wellbeing, drawing amused glances from passersby. At one point the entire, approximately fifty-strong group was encouraged to turn, point and boo at the children’s father for not wanting to “gather up all the laughs”: “shouldn’t they be free in the atmosphere?!”. Even a friend’s mum turned against him and booed, although she later claimed she was “caught up in the moment”. The children were scared, my bad mood had turned to fright, and I needed some lunch and never to hear fifty people eerily forcing themselves to laugh in a group around me again. In reality, it is a fabulous group of mad Cornish people encouraging exercise through laughter, but make sure you’re fully breakfasted first. And maybe have a small drink – or even a large one (I know it’s before midday, but that’s what festivals are for, right?!). Finally free from the nightmare, I rushed back to the tent, ate many snacks, and had a nap.

Ana Tijoux

Ana Tijoux – Adam Gasson

Upon waking, it was time to drink with Francis and his friend Charlie. Gently at first, and then more and more outrageously, until we were all in the right state of mind to head out, watch, and then praise Roots Manuva gushingly, before wandering about and chancing upon Ana Tijoux. I’ll be honest: I don’t actually remember much of her set (sorry Mum), but I’m told we all danced like crazy beasts, and when I listen back to her music now I can see why. Fast Spanish rap purring over hip-hop beats backed by a great orchestra, she’s up there alongside Ibrahim Maalouf and Akala as acts I’ll be pursuing now the festival’s ended. Suddenly, we were in the queue to ask her to sign a CD I seem to have bought (a CD that now resides faithfully in my new car stereo, for listening to at any time), where by some chance we met Ogla. A woman in her early forties, she had come by herself, and we engaged in a heated discussion regarding chemtrails, in which we agreed to disagree, and took her firmly under our wing. After what I imagine will turn out to be a horrendous picture of Francis, Charlie, Ogla, Ana Tijoux and I, all falling about and far too drunk (not Ana), and after embarrassing ourselves horribly by speaking far too loudly and quickly in a non-native tongue to her, we were released back out into the festival to do some dancing to George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic. A useful lesson I learned at this point was that if you ask the security between the stage and the audience for some water, they’ll always fill up a bottle for you; unfortunately this didn’t avert the nausea I was beginning to feel, and which wasn’t helped by learning that the children had gotten lost somewhere (they were found later, a little tired, but well). I sat outside the many dance tents and held my breath. Eventually, we said goodbye to Ogla, and Charlie and Francis agreed to go back to the tent… via Molly’s Bar. Stopping off at the xylophone and huge pan pipes along the way, they ended up drawing quite a crowd: in tune with each other, the instruments generally sound pretty nice, but with a group of six or seven people all working in time on them, and all of their friends gathered around, it felt just as good as some of the music performing professionally. Reaching Molly’s Bar, I’d had enough; I sat down outside, put my head in my hands, and had a quick dream-filled sleep before heading back to the tent.

Privacy International and Too Much Sass

Sunday we were awoken by Francis’ mum urging us to join her for a salsa bachata workshop, which we slowly did, before wandering into the Physics Pavilion at just the right time. An article on the realities of time travel was about to start. Francis and I found seats in the back row – luckily, it turned out. The physical explanation of it went too quickly over some of the more interesting points, and laboured on difficult details with little interest to them. An author read outloud his creative work on the subject (forefronted by a very long explanation of what was just about to happen in the story), at which point Francis’ head dropped onto my shoulder. After half an hour of reading, I realised something obvious and unusual for me: I didn’t actually have to be in this lecture! Shaking Francis awake, we quietly escaped back into the sun. In the Global Voices tent, an interesting panel Q&A session was being held by Privacy International about the Investigatory Powers Bill, an eye-opening and frank discussion on both UK and US privacy (or lack thereof). Something I love about WOMAD is the dearth of fear to mix politics with music or poetry, with discussions on global warming with time travel, exotic foods, art or salsa workshops.


WOMAD Sunset – Adam Gasson

Sunday evening called for dancing. A workshop on reggaeton, a term I wasn’t familiar with, was running, and Francis mum rounded the group to go together. Outrageous moves were all the range – it was a hair flicking, chest popping, bum wiggling, sassy extravaganza, hilarious in itself and greatly furthered by some girls with large pupils who turned up in front of me, talking to each other about the mushrooms they had taken and falling about crying with laughter at their inability to “hit it” right; “Imagine if my dad saw me now!” caused a real side-splitting teary sort of laughter and the semi collapse of both of them. We learned a short and impossibly quick dance, which the whole group of us later broke out a family party, to the hilarity of… well, everyone. After a huge dinner of some spicy Thai veg and rice followed by churros (the food at WOMAD is something else – no crappy burgers with a limp bit of fake cheese, just, you know, fantastic quality food from all over the world), we danced to St Germain, and were entranced by an Italian piano player, Federico Albanese, until midnight. With a long drive back the next morning, tired small children, and much packing to do, we headed back to the tent, earlier than a regular bedtime at home. I felt exhausted, but light – for once, a festival about playing and eating and learning, not our usual how many pills can we stuff into our faces/what’s my liver’s real tolerance. It felt good.

The drive home thankfully uneventful, and this time not packed with strangers, Francis and I reminisced on the festival. Strangely (for me), family orientated (Francis has been to WOMAD every year of his life with his family), it felt more of a holiday than a festival: relaxing, and surprisingly educational. Camping in the family section meant that every night I had a good night’s sleep, and having children around added a layer of fun that I’d never anticipated: teasing them about laughing yoga, throwing the poi around to the huge sounds of Ibrahim Maalouf’s trumpet and band, and watching them engage with the poetry made this year’s WOMAD more than just a festival for me. Reggaeton is a dance that I can’t wait to do again, and Akala, Ibrahim Maalouf, Ana Tijoux, Roots Manuva and Federico Albanese are all on the playlist for the car as we head onto our next festival extravaganza.

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