Acts to watch at the 40th anniversary of the festival – featuring a rich and eclectic lineup of world music and alternative acts hailing from the region of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
The British music festival that continues to inspire the world music genre is turning 40. Held at Charlton Park in south-east London, the headliners of the festival to include US jazz artist Lianne La Havas, Beninese Grammy Award winner Angelique Kidjo, Brazil’s Gilberto Gil, to Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara, American alternative rock group The Flaming Lips.
Here are 10 acts of our selection to check out at WOMAD.
1. Gilberto Gil & Family
The godfather of Brazilian music. “We can’t be controlled by the traditional way of doing things forever,” Gilberto Gil once declared to The Guardian. “We have to look afresh at traditions, in the same way we have to look afresh at ourselves.” After eight decades on this planet, Gilberto remains a man who has always looked afresh at himself, at his place in a changing world.
His has been a life less ordinary: the counter-culture forced into exile from his native Brazil back in the ’60s; the troubadour who then fundamentally reshaped Brazilian music and became a worldwide star; the musician who took on a double life as minister of culture. Gilberto has always looked ahead, his gaze fixed on the horizon, but for this show –entitled ‘Nós a gente’, or ‘We the people’ –finds him in the company of his musically literate extended family, reflecting on the songs that turned a world on its axis.
2. Jasdeep Singh Degun
Having collaborated with the likes of Nitin Sawhney, Cerys Matthews, the Welsh National Opera, and the Orchestra of Opera North, as well as appearing at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, this Leeds native is continuing to establish himself as one of the foremost sitar players around with an interpretation of the classical style of northern India both soothing and soulful and shot through with grace and humility. Jasdeep makes his WOMAD debut shortly after the release of his first album, Anomaly, for our sister label Real World. It’s a beautiful recording, one that shows Jasdeep’s art is as much about feel as it is technique.
3. Rizwan Muazzam Qawwals
The princes of qawwali are now its kings. When the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan left this world in 1997, the world of qawwali –that distinctive style of Sufi devotional singing–lost its guiding light, its global star. Into the void, and despite their tender ages at the time, stepped his nephews Rizwan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan.
In the quarter-century since, the brothers have proved themselves to not only be faithful adherents to traditional qawwali, but also to cast an eye elsewhere –see here Peoples Colony No 1, their dub-heavy collaboration with Temple of Sound. They’re still in very fine voice, their twin vocal lines still soaring and interweaving, rising up through the air like duelling birds, and propelled further by tabla and harmonium. Live performance of qawwali can be a transformative, deeply spiritual experience, especially if the Rizwan and Muazzam are at the controls.
4. Gonne Choi
As an acoustic guitar-toting troubadour, Gonne Choi took a long and winding musical road to where she is today. From playing traditional Korean instruments as a child, she then entered the world of opera before joining a proper-job hardcore rock band. Now she’s exactly where she belongs. She understands the power and purity that the combination of an uncomplicated melody and a heart-melting voice can deliver. Clearly a student of Joni, Norah and Carole, her bell-clear vocals cut to the quick, offering vignettes of everyday life that speak to the universal. That she’s not writing these delicate gems in her first language just adds to their shine.
5. Lianne La Havas
Lianne is certainly keen not to be straightjacketed as just a soul singer. Certainly, her velvet-smooth voice oozes soul, but this is a singer-songwriter, with vintage guitar over her shoulder, who’s open to a wide landscape of sound, including folk, indie, jazz and pop. She’s been on tour with musicians as varied as Alicia Keys and indie-folkers Bon Iver, as well as performing alongside her great friend Prince (who once played a gig in the front room of her house in Leyton). Not bad for a daughter of Croydon who didn’t pick up a guitar until she was 18.
6. The Dhol Foundation
For several decades now, Johnny Kalsi has been the foremost proponent of this fearsome, thunderous instrument. He first came to attention as the lead percussionist in bhangra pioneers Alaap, before moving on to work with Transglobal Underground and subsequently becoming a key member of the Afro Celt Sound System. Throughout that time he’s also been the leader of the Dhol Foundation, the outfit that refreshes the parts other drum troupes can’t reach. And while their roots might be in bhangra, their live sets are nothing short of a globetrotting tour of duty, bouncing between India, Africa and Ireland –and many points in between.
Where folk tradition goes pop. As musical descriptions go, Korean shamanic folk-pop appears to have plenty of points of attraction. And this is the trade of the extraordinary nine-piece ADG7, more formally known as Ak Dan Gwang Chil. Their sound is properly ear-expanding, an unlikely amalgam of various Korean folk traditions and brightly coloured K-pop stylings.
On paper, it shouldn’t work, but on record and live, it most definitely does, thanks to the telepathy and chemistry between the group’s six traditional musicians and the three flamboyantly dressed singers. As the people behind the independent New Jersey radio station WFMU declared, “there’s a flowering folk-roots revival in South Korea, but no band combines virtuosity, charisma and pure energy like Ak Dan Gwang Chil”.
8. Angelique Kidjo ‘Remain In Light’
Reimagining of Talking Heads’ classic album. “As Remain In Light was influenced by the music of my continent, I want to pay back the homage and recreate my own African take on Talking Heads’ songs.” This was Angélique Kidjo’s motivation for disappearing into a recording studio to revisit that classic album from 1980.
Forty years on, Angélique –at the forefront of African crossover pop for the past three decades –completely reimagined it, ‘African-ising’ a record that already owed a significant debt to Fela Kuti (indeed, Fela’s drummer/first lieutenant Tony Allen lent Angélique his services). The Afrobeat flavour comes heavy on Crosseyed and Painless, while Once In A Lifetime gets a brass-heavy salsa re-rub. And now comes the live show, giving the whole project yet another layer of vitality and relevance. And David Byrne’s verdict? “It was incredibly flattering.”
9. Cheng Yu – Silk Breeze
With compositions with titles such as High Mountain and Flowing Water, it’s unsurprising that the music of Cheng Yu really connects with nature. So it made her, and her group Silk Breeze, the ideal guests to invite to contribute to the WOMAD At Home series of performances, the online, lockdown-friendly version of your favourite global music festival. Cheng Yu plays two instruments in particular –a four-string lute called the pipa and the gugin, a seven-string zither-like affair, which is China’s oldest stringed instrument.
10. YazzAhmed Quartet
In the company of her 11-strong ensemble, the celebrated Anglo-Bahraini jazz trumpeter presents an exclusive live version of ‘The Moon Has Become’, a WOMAD-commissioned work that also forms part of the festival’s art installation for 2022, Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon.
WOMAD 2022 Lineup as shown below.