Live Review: WOMADelaide 2016: Day Four

16 March 2016 | 3:57 pm | Naomi Keyte

"Crazy, sexy, jungle, club music with a whole lot of bizarre, [NO ZU] was the perfect final frontier for what is an eclectic festival."

Heading down Frome Road, there was a calm-but-determined swarm of exhausted-but-happy looking, hat-wearing folk streaming towards the WOMADelaide entrance. Some barefoot, others carrying low-to-the-ground chairs, and most with cameras and calico bags full of warmer clothes for the coming cool of evening, strung over their shoulders. Literally thousands of bikes adorned the fences surrounding the flag-decorated gate. A huge festival map helped to locate the various stages, it was just a matter of weaving through stalls, Morten Bay fig trees, flocks of children and picnic rugs, to the main stage for the first act of the final day.  

Spiro are a four-piece instrumental band from Bristol in the UK. On first look, they typify a tradition folk group, with violin, mandolin, piano accordion and acoustic guitar. However this perception dissolved as they moved into their first piece. Delicate symmetrical layers came together to create a powerful harmonic wave, as the song weaved and ducked into darkness and then light. Pulsing with rapid rhythm, heightened by percussive techniques, it seemed almost impossible that there were no drums to be seen. The accordion player, Jason Sparkes, explained that many of the songs they play are based on tradition English music from the Northumbrian region, and while you can hear the lilt of a Gaelic melody, their arrangements resulted in an almost minimalist, classical flavour. This is refined, intelligent and ultimately touching music. If they come back to Australia, do not miss them.

Back across of the park was Surahn Sidhu, one of two acts from Adelaide playing the last day. There was a healthy home crowd gathered under the huge, bat-filled pines, ready and waiting. Surhan embodies many things but is ultimately a singer of love songs. Dripping in romance and slow grooves, his songs spoke of '80s pop and soul. Joined by a now iconic conglomeration of musicians that, with a little more finessing, have the potential to be a super band. Surahn relaxed into his performance and, once he put his guitar down, transformed into a classic, energetic frontman. With his sultry vibrato, breathy phrasing and a penchant for brilliant pop scatting, he drew the audience down onto a proverbial beach to watch the sun set and then rise. This is (intentional) schmaltz-core.

Next it was lunch, a broccoli and haloumi burger with onion relish and salad from Adelaide venture Let Them Eat, before heading over to listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For anyone who's a fan of Paul Simon's Graceland, this act was a must. This group of indigenous South African men, varying in age, singing a cappella, gets you right in the gut. Deep, warm, buoyant and rhythmical, Ladysmith Black Mambazo sang, sometimes in their native tongue and other times in mine, of the history and politics of their homeland. Ladysmith Black Mambazo's performance was joyful and cheeky with a good measure of high-kick-heavy dancing and brilliantly white smiles.

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Melbourne-based artist Ainslie Wills was programmed for just one performance, and people were intrigued. Having worked together for over six years, this band was so tight you never once doubted that they were totally in control. Playing a mixture of songs from their four releases, songs that particularly cut through were Never Know What To Say, Early Morning Light, Constellations and her closing track Drive. Wills' voice is innately powerful but she tastefully harnessed it with precise phrasing and an excellent use of dynamics. There was something about her energy, hand gestures and connectedness that made this performance feel like the only thing happening in the world. It was all embracing. The perfectly placed vocal harmonies from drummer Arron Light and keyboardist Nat Lewis, and the thoughtful use of technology from guitarist Lawrence Folvig, helped to lift these songs to a level of sophistication that is rare in Australian contemporary music. Wills seemed both excited and comfortable sharing her songs with what must have been hundreds of new listeners and they responded in an equally positive and natural way. If you haven't latched on yet, chop chop!

Also from Melbourne, NO ZU chartered completely different territory. Crazy, sexy, jungle, club music with a whole lot of bizarre, this seven-piece was the perfect final frontier for what is an eclectic festival. There is no way you could resist dancing to their frenetic, hugely rhythm-driven dance music. Tracks like High Gloss and XXX were particularly punchy and playful, and celebrated the playful speak/shout vocals of Daphne Camf, Becky Sui Zhen (who was particularly excellent!) and bandleader Nicolaas Oogjes. It all triggered comparisons to The B-52's, or something in that vein of iconic '80s dance-pop. Whatever is it they were doing, they knew exactly what it was. Trashy but clever, it's jungle fever in the suburbs, a long list of collocations was carefully pulled together into highly organised chaos. Fun!