The vibrant orange hue of dusk dances between lush ferns as the sun sinks below the earth’s curve. I am surrounded by a sea of colour. A series of multi-ethnic flags are dancing in the wind above and even though a rainbow of people are around me, I feel in complete solitude and peace. An aroma of herbs, spices and incense float through the air and the band shakes the ground into a rhythm. This is it, the beginning of three days of freedom, new music, mouth-watering cuisines, colourful performances, workshops and surprises. Here we go, WOMAD New Zealand 2018 and I know it is going to be a colourful ride.
Held in the picturesque Bowl of Brooklands Park nestled between the Tasman Sea and a towering mountain that is often mistaken for Mount Fuji, WOMAD NZ is a three-day extravaganza that brings together people from all over the world to celebrate the many forms of music, art and dance.
Boasting a unique stage which rests on the edge of a lake overlooking a grassy amphitheatre, The Bowl of Brooklands is a world-class venue in Taranaki New Zealand surrounded by luscious native greenery and it has been home to the annual WOMAD NZ event for 14 years. This year certainly did not disappoint.
It is a true melting pot where all walks of life come together to celebrate and experience differences, similarities and quirks from a range of cultures. “I go to WOMAD to travel the world in three days” expressed Erin Strampel, a local who first went to WOMAD 14 years ago.
This year, performers, poets, artists, musicians and punters ventured from the likes of Ghana, Iceland, Chile, Australia, Jamaica, Canada and even further afield. It comes at a time when the world needs to embrace our multicultural society and have no fear. Coming together and sharing knowledge from each culture can really create special bonds.
“WOMAD is about diversity and embracing difference. I love going to discover new bands and artists”
said Tess Carter, a festival-lover who has attended some of the world’s biggest events such as Coachella and Glastonbury.
The pressure of opening an internationally-acclaimed, three-day festival on the main stage can be a heavy one, however, Brazilian 10-piece band Bixiga 70 lit up the first day with ease as they welcomed festival goers with a mix of funk, electronica, afro beats and sounds from their hometown.
Local Taranaki band The Slacks performed an energetic set bringing an earthy showmanship to the intimate Dell stage. Playing a mix of new and old Irish-Ska, folk-rock and blues, the homegrown authenticity to their performance was brought alive by Maori influences and stories.
Later in the day, Kiwi-duo Hopetoun Brown combined soul, blues, dance and stomp with unique raps, trumpets, trombones, saxophones and bass clarinets while Australasian Rock legends Dragon known for their top hits ‘Are You Old Enough’ and ‘April Sun in Cuba’ rocked the Main Stage at twilight where a heaving crowd echoed the lyrics across the park.
Canadian band Lemon Bucket Orchestra wowed groovers with ground-breaking beats once darkness fell. “They had everyone dancing. It was mayhem” said Saturday attendee Michael Tate.
Heavy-weight 14-piece legends Havana meets Kingston closed day two under a blanket of stars with their blend of roots reggae, dancehall, dub, rumba and soul, all influenced from living life on the golden shores of Cuba and Jamaica.
A different vibe descended on day three with most festival goers now completely drenched in their ethnic getups, face paint and henna tattoos. The chilled vibes radiated across the Gables Stage as Rahim Alhaj Trio from Iraq and the USA performed intricate compositions influenced by the pain of exile and hope of new beginnings.
Later in the afternoon, Ghana 70’s and 80’s musician Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band played an upbeat, energising set with afro-funk bangers.
Heavy-metal-loving Mexican guitarists Rodrigo Y Gabriela lit up the final night with electrifying rock classics from Metallica and Rage Against the Machine as well as their own hits before global fusionist Jojo Abot closed the festival with her unique blend of neo-soul, house and reggae.
There is much more to WOMAD than just the lyrical funkmasters who surprise the eardrums. “WOMAD is a treat to all of my senses. It is visually breathtaking, the variety of food is delicious and the music is captivating” said Saturday attendee Rosie James. From cooking classes hosted by musicians and performance workshops to face painting and jewellery stalls, WOMAD brings together all kinds of art forms.
“It’s the little surprises you experience along the way that make WOMAD magical”
“whether it be the food, the different people, the vibes and last but not least, the different music that you don’t get to hear anywhere else,” said Sophie Kelly.
Punters who wanted to express themselves in other ways dressed up as Zebras while others attended outdoor Zumba classes and swung hula hoops around their hips in the sunshine, “It is a place where you can let your inner self-come out with no worries” says Snoz O’Connor, a seasoned WOMAD attendee.
Nick Thomas who had just flown in that week said “It is different to mainstream festivals that people go to and therefore you get a different experience.”
“It is a great place to turn up with no knowledge of the artists and just wander from stage to stage to discover new, awesome music.”
It isn’t just the music that draws the crowd but also the sustainable village, living library, interactive kids zone, festive glamping area, Te Paepae stage where you can have a go with a glow in the dark poi, Garden of Brews craft beer section and upmarket wine tasting. It is all part of the experience where all walks of life at come together and just feel one love.
Walking out of the festival underneath the starry Sunday night sky, all I could feel was my body aching, my taste buds dancing with delight and my heart incredibly full. Even with the need of a long shower, a hairbrush, some sleep and a massage, by the end, I felt as if I could have done another day.
No matter what, it is never enough as the festival absorbs you, entrances you and holds you in a colourful, warm hug for weeks after you have left.
So how do you get over the after-WOMAD-blues? Get a ticket for next year!
Want to hear who played this year? Check out the WOMAD New Zealand Spotify playlists here.
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