Live Review: WOMADelaide Festival 2016 Day One

12 March 2016 | 11:59 am | Tash Loh

"The skies have opened. The stars are shining. the sun is coming up. WOMAD has opened for another year."

WOMAD has always existed as a kind of enigma of a festival. Once assumed to be a festival for the "older" generation of sensible sandal-wearing, smooth-jazz listening folks (no disrespect to the sooth-jazz fans out there), the event has accumulated a pretty solid cult following over the past few years, including a spread to the younger demographic and the top-notch acts being brought to the main stage.

This year was no exception. Walking into the festival, we're greeted by  humble stage tucked beneath scenic trees and seemingly hidden inside a kind of fairy forest. The festival winds through the Botanic Park, boasting more food trucks than you can poke a stick at as well as a very impressive line of market stalls. Heading towards the main stage, the old-school sounds of Violent Femmes can be heard washing over a large early crowd. A few thousand people enthusiastically mumble the words to Blister In The Sun as the band whips out old classics like it's nothing. American Music makes an early appearance, as the vibe of the festival kicks off nice and ripe.

Wandering around the festival grounds we come across a giant bouncy castle shaped like Stonehenge - only at WOMAD. Making our way through barefoot hippies and small children doing somersaults in the grass, a quick stop off for a Byron Bay Organic Doughnut (magical) we end up at the Novatech stage to enjoy the sounds of Sydney outfit All Our Exes Live In Texas. The four-piece are an impressive mix, combining a piano accordion, a mandolin, a ukulele and an acoustic guitar along with their surreal harmonies. Their voices seem otherworldly as they blend in with each other as well as if they were perfectly-tuned instruments. Their banter is captivating, before blissfully taking us into their track Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow. the scene could almost rival that of Woodstock, with the feeling of free spiritedness and love in general absolutely drenching everything in sight.

Perusing the various characters attending the festival we stumbled upon the Spooky Men's Chorale, their hauntingly beautiful voices echoing throughout the audience. The harmonies were in full swing at the festival apparently. The eclectic mix of songs performed in Georgian as well as rearrangements of 70s classics was definitely an interesting cocktail of lyrics perfectly suited to the WOMAD vibe. There's something refreshing about being at a festival where people are perfectly content to sit in deck chairs and admire an act from afar. It's chill. It's easy. You don't need to crane your neck and your feet are in heaven. The music was chilling, namely an rendition of Boogie Wonderland which had people up and dancing in some sort of strange all-male-acapella-group-tribal dance. Ba'hari Ghibb was a strangely magical number that was eerily similar to the Bee Gee's Stayin Alive, much to the delight of the sizeable crowd who were grooving along. "Thanks for seeing us instead of the Violent Femmes." You're welcome, you beautifully harmonising men.

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The tent city is a novel little area of the festival, well-loved by WOMAD veterans who leave their stuff in a beach tent overnight while they dance barefoot in mud and dust all day A true homage to the trusting hippie spirit of the festival.

The main stage prepares itself for the bombshell that is Angelique Kidjo accompanied by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. "Africa's Diva" and multi Grammy award winner graces the stage, the epic runs of the orchestra creating the perfect accompaniment to her powerful voice. The moon rising over the back of the stage made for a truly magical experience, as if the earth itself had rotated to give her the most epic welcome to the festival ever. The seated crowd was appreciative as she performed numbers like Afrika and Summertime. It's easy to see why she's been regarded as one of the most inspiring women in the world: her performance is utterly captivating. She moulds to the orchestra as if their music was a part of herself, her vocals running beautifully through the speakers and across the attentive audience. It's mystical. It's ethereal. It's awesome.

Searching for food provides something of a mammoth task - not for a lack of variety, but rather far too much variety. It's overwhelming in the best kind of way. It wouldn't go astray to buy a four-day ticket to WOMAD just to try as many cuisines as possible. The food is an act in itself worthy of a few thousand word review, but we continue on.

Satisfied with a satay falafel wrap, we settle in for veterans of Australian Spanish-fusion funky rock The Cat Empire. Opening with recent single Wolves, the band have immediately captured the attention of seemingly everyone at the festival. Their gargantuan sound is a wall of noises crashing into your skull and forcing the happy out of you. The band is so refined that even their instrumental breaks are so totally not boring, pleasing hardcore fans and curious newcomers alike. Genre-defining bands like this come along once in a lifetime really, and it's a privilege to watch them perform live. Despite all their years on the scene they've managed to stay relevant, smashing out hits like Two Shoes and Still Young as well as new single Bulls. A plague infects the audience - a contagious bacterial infection that causes one to involuntarily wiggle their hips and nod their heads as if in enthusiastic agreeance with the band. Harry's trumpet shines through every song, while Felix's enthusiastic percussion sets the groove for the night.

The skies have opened. The stars are shining. the sun is coming up. WOMAD has opened for another year.