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Live Photos + Review: WOMAD NZ 2024 Festival

Live Photos + Review: WOMAD NZ 2024 Festival

Review Gareth Shute / Photography by Mieko Edwards & Gareth Shute / Image: WITCH / Monday 18th March, 2024 12:23PM

This year’s WOMAD in Ngāmotu / New Plymouth had a tremendous lineup, with the local artists delivering sounds as fresh as the international acts. There were a few politically charged moments along the way, such as Paul Goldsmith’s introductory speech — rather than just saying the usual platitudes, he unwisely asked the crowd how they thought the first 100 days of government were going. Cue a roar of booing and jeering from all the lefties.

This was the polar opposite to the reaction to Angolan (via Portugal) rapper Pongo, who had the crowd onside from the start. She gave a dance on the first rainy night to a dozen or so tween kids, then brought them onstage during her actual performance, with the number growing exponentially. Pongo and her two dancers weren’t satisfied with this and left the stage so they could get into the throng and hype up the crowd from its centre.

The big acts of the weekend each brought a different mood. Gilberto Gil had a band made up of three of his sons and his granddaughter Flor, who can only have been around sixteen but gave a stunning version of ‘Moon River’ with him accompanying her on guitar. The dozens of Brazilians in the front row were a party unto themselves and brought back the energy after a rainy evening. Morcheeba were also a crowd favourite, reminding listeners song after song that they’d had quite a few shining hits in their day.

Then there was the controversial appearance of Ziggy Marley. In the lead-up to WOMAD, there’d been a petition to remove him from the lineup. His wife Orly is Israeli, so he has been supportive of Israel even through the current Gaza crisis and back in 2018 he attended a charity event for the Israel Defence Force. As he came onstage, security guards met up with a group of protestors that had come down the hill to voice their displeasure, though it was resolved peaceably. Marley had a contingent of Māori welcome him to the stage with a haka and then launched into his song ‘Shalom Salaam’ with its lyric ‘Gaza cries all the tears from her / Will there be no peace for the children of Palestine.’ This likely eased the mood of those who were on the fence about his presence, while those who were less impressed headed away up the hill.

Often it was the smaller stages that held the truly fiery performances. WITCH played their garage-y Zamrock with a funky backbeat and huge amounts of energy, which belied the age of octogenarian lead singer Jagari. New Zealand bands outdid themselves. Strawpeople reminded people of the strength of their catalogue and even when their power cut out, Fiona McDonald used her star power to carry off an acapella version of ‘George,’ her number one hit with Headless Chickens (her son Finn also did a fine job on bass). Anthonie Tonnon had a similar ability to draw all eyes to him, with a theatricality to his movements that made him come across like a homegrown David Byrne.

In previous years, the Aotearoa incarnation of WOMAD has sometimes felt disconnected from our place in the Pacific with few Māori and Pacific performers. Understandably, the event doesn’t want to replicate what is already happening at events like Te Matatini or Pasifika, so it’s fortunate that a new generation of artists have brought a fusion approach that works perfectly in the WOMAD context. Rei effortlessly peppered te reo throughout his set, even turning ‘Hoki Mai’ into a banger. Lady Shaka’s DJ set included Polynesian dancers and traditional Māori instruments, while from the same Filth scene came Half Queen, who performed solo but nonetheless provided a master class in how to keep the beat evolving so that each new drop came with another wave of excitement. There were some wonderful quieter moments too, with TE KAAHU providing a spine-tingling set in the middle of a beautifully sunny afternoon. The local acts as a whole provide a wonderful reflection of our own country’s uniqueness, ably showcasing our corner of the world of music.

Click on the thumbnail images below to view a gallery of WOMAD NZ 2024 photos by Mieko Edwards & Gareth Shute.

Mauskovic Dance Band with members of WITCH - Womad 2024
Morcheeba - Womad 2024
Bailey Wiley - Womad 2024
WITCH - Womad 2024
Pongo - Womad 2024
Pongo - Womad 2024

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