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Live Photos + Review: WOMAD New Zealand 2019 Festival

Live Photos + Review: WOMAD New Zealand 2019 Festival

Photography and Review by Gareth Shute / Monday 18th March, 2019 4:22PM

There was a special weight upon the performances at WOMAD this year, with the tragic news from Christchurch filtering through. It at least provided some small counterweight to be at a festival that celebrates the cultures of the world and showcases the best of their music. It wasn’t enough to make you forget the horrors of the outside world, but at least it felt like a positive, communal celebration. Here’s the best of what I saw.

Nadia Reid

My first act of the day was a local - Nadia Reid - who seemed as shaken as all of us by the tragedy of earlier that day. Yet she soon found her groove, especially on newer tracks like the country-esq, ‘Are you high, are you lonely?’. She’s often thought of as a folk singer, but with a full band she can bring a full rock sound and it was helpful change of pace to grab the attention of the chattering crowd. I am enthused enough that I swing by the singing tent later to see if she has any merch and find her there talking to a fan. She only has tiny pink t-shirts for toddlers (or, as she points out, ‘they’d also fit a small dog). That’s a no then.


Nothing like a dose of Congolese funk to get the evening moving. Baloji drew the line from hip hop to Fela Kuti with a band that laid jumpy bass lines and grooving drums, under fast-paced trickles of guitar. Though there were synth lines and sampled sounds too, which provide a connecting line to Baloji’s wonderfully vowel-heavy rapping in French. He makes a joke about his music being like having sex with all of the audience and the 12 year old boys beside me say ‘ew!’ in unison, but it remains the perfect warm-up for the weekend.

The Correspondents

The energy ramps up with a always-in-motion performance by Correspondents lead singer, Mr Bruce. He acknowledges the tragedy of earlier in the day, but encourages the crowd to react to hate with kindness for each other and the set becomes a release of sorts, with the crowd feeding off his wild dances across the stage with a bouncing of joy of their own.

Angelique Kidjo at Taste The World

The great thing about WOMAD is not only do they have an impressive range of food from across the world on sale in their food area, they also get their artists to give cooking tutorials of their own. It’s a perfect forum for Angelique Kidjo, who talks with as much charisma as she sings. While she cooks up a dish, she makes fun of her kiwi assistants (“put more rice on the plate, don’t be stingy!”) and answers questions from the audience. We get a perspective on her home country of Benin, where many farmers have been moving to the city as the unpredictable rains in the era of climate change make growing crops untenable. The country moved to democracy without bloodshed, but the current head of state is trying to make changes to the constitution so people are protesting in the streets. So not only a cooking lesson then, but a window into life in a country that most of us haven’t even heard of.

Finn Andrews

For his new album, Finn Andrews has took a sharp turn away from the heavy beats and noises of his Total Depravity and instead recorded with a live band in a studio (working with most of the members that back Hollie Fullbrook in Tiny Ruins). This is reflected in his live show, which has him mostly sat at a piano with a band that includes a violinist and cellist. He told me later that piano was his father’s instrument (his dad was in XTC) so he was drawn more to guitar when he started but has finally come back around. The songs are carried beautifully, with a hint of Rufus Wainwright perhaps, though he is still able to switch the mood with a rendition of ‘Axolotl’ that has him banging low, ominous chords out of the piano. I liked it so much, I caught him the next day as well - where he wore his full suit in blazing sun and gave his fans a little treat by including a mellow version of ‘The Tide That Left And Never Came Back’ off his first album.

Maalem Hamid El Kasri

WOMAD offers up some great surprises on. I stumbled across Maalem Hamid El Kasri playing and was instantly captivated. He was Centre stage playing a guembri (a three-stringed bass lute) with a drummer and four backing singers, who also clapped rhythms or banged cymbals in fascinating, unexpected rhythms. I liked it so much, I caught him later that night giving a workshop, which is another way WOMAD gets its acts to explain the culture and background of their music. El Kasri’s manager explained that their music came from the black slaves who came through Morocco. Each song has its own colour that represents a theme - white (nature, flowers), blue (sea and sky), red (blood and sacrifice), black (forest and shadows), yellow (happiness), and orange (self awareness). He said that many of these associations align with ideas from the voodoo belief system that arose around the same time on the other side of the earth. Then they did a song based on black and I was INTO IT my friend, I cannot tell a lie. An audience member asked if they ever improvised songs and, if so, whether they would do one to react to the terrible event from the previous day El Kasri agreed, slowly finding a riff on his instrument and, although his music was Pagan not Islam-influenced, he sang ‘Salam alaikum’ to start off and then wished for us all to fight for peace.

The Black Seeds

One of the big acts of the night was the Black Seeds and it was another reminder of just how popular reggae is in this country. Though in fact, there were moments where they sounded more like a low-key funk band.

Dona Onete

If you’re a 72 year old singer from Brazil, then you probably aren’t going to win over the audience with your wild dancing. So Dona Onete took the opposite approach - sitting in what was almost a throne centre-stage, while her young band kept the energy up. The crowd danced up a storm regardless.

Angelique Kidjo

The big act of Saturday night was Angelique Kidjo, who mostly did songs from her remake of the Talking Heads album, Remain In Light. Her big voice filled the valley, especially on the epic rendition of ‘Once In A Lifetime.’ Also entertaining to see her telling off her band with the same humour as the kiwi cooking assistants of the night before, when the bass player and guitarist began dancing near her too early in the set. She was in charge of the stage and held the audience in her hand until the end.

Silkroad Ensemble / Maarja Nuut & Ruum

It was nice to catch a few chill acts to start the final day of WOMAD. Silkroad Ensemble mixed sounds from many cultures, but without weakening any of them. It is another joy of this event to hear some tracks that get beyond 4/4 into more interesting time signatures and they didn’t disappoint in this respect (though of course it was an Indian act, Imjad Ali Khan, that had me most lost when it comes to that).

This was followed by the equally mellow, Maarja Nuut & Ruum. The singer/violinist Nuut provided ethereal melodies that were laid over electronic atmospheres created by Ruum. Wonderful music to look out over the water, into the trees of the park that surrounds the venue, while you contemplate what to have for lunch...


Teeks was another act that delivered with his voice, rather than flashy movement or clothes. What a charming crooner this guy is and what a sweet voice. I was getting too relaxed - there was still another evening to get through!


Luckily Kora arrived to hype me up again. I really had to marvel at the odd music of genres spread the songs - reggae, metal, reggae and more. One minute, the singer would be delivering some soulful vocals over a slow groove, the next the guitars would be coated in distortion and the drummer (wearing a Metallica t-shirt) would be pounding all over the place. Somehow it worked though!

Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar

The easiest groove for a WOMAD audience to get down to is oom-pah lurch of gypsy-brass music. Local band, Niko Ne Zna, had picked up many new fans with this style earlier in the day (especially since they were essentially set up as a marching band and could do choreographed routines across the stage). Shantel took the sound and gave it even bass - his background as a DJ coming in handy in finding a sound that would move audiences (mixing in dub). It probably doesn’t sound that great on paper (and I wasn’t convinced by the recordings I’d heard before the festival) but man was it effective on the day. The hillside was bouncing with fans, enthusiastic until the end, open to any sound that would make their bodies move and not ready to get back to the dreadful realities presented by the news of the day. Dance on friends! … me, I’m going to bed … thanks WOMAD...

Click on the thumbnails below to view a gallery of Gareth Shute's snaps of WOMAD New Zealand 2019...

Teeks – Womad New Zealand 2019
Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar – Womad New Zealand 2019
Maarja Nuut & Ruum – Womad New Zealand 2019
Kora – Womad New Zealand 2019
Kora – Womad New Zealand 2019
Nadia Reid – Womad New Zealand 2019

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