“Think of looking out and seeing your face a million times, imagine what a nightmare that would be!” So says Angelique Kidjo, centre stage in a bold red dress, trying to conjure up a world without diversity.
She continues: “I am so happy to be back, celebrating our humanity.” Kidjo, from Benin West Africa via New York, probably attracted the biggest crowd of the weekend for what was billed as her African reinterpretation of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, but included highlights from throughout her long career.
This was the first WOMAD in the UK for three years and the enthusiasm and numbers of the audience felt like an exorcism of the pandemic. There were 39,000 at the last edition in 2019 and 40,000 this weekend, blessed with near ideal weather.
“For the planet to have a chance of surviving, global cooperation and bringing people together is more and more necessary,” said Gabriel in a discussion about 40 years of the festival. Those four decades have seen 300 festivals on six continents including 10,000 artists.
Since UK-based Afghan singer Elaha Soroor was booked for the (cancelled) 2020 festival, the Taliban have returned to power in her homeland making her songs of Afghan women even more urgent today. Most musicians who could flee the country have done so. “Music is quiet right now in Afghanistan,” she said, “Afghan women and Afghan musicians need your support.”
On the main stage the default lighting colours were blue and yellow in support of Ukraine. Of several Ukrainian tributes, the most spectacular was from South Korean group ADG7, one of the festival’s stand-out bands, with their playful take on Korean shamanic music. They stopped in the middle of their set to sing (in Ukrainian) the song Hey Rise Up, recently re-worked with a YouTube video by Pink Floyd.
Of last night’s headliners it was Brazil’s Gilberto Gil, the grandfather of tropicalismo, that made most impact. He was a political exile in London in the early Seventies, Brazil’s minister of culture from 2003 to2008 and now a bearded and reverent 80 year old, he’s the subject of Amazon Prime series At Home with the Gils.
A TV crew was onstage with 15 musicians from four generations of his family, the youngest, aged five, was only half the height of the conga drums next to which he was standing. Wielding his guitar and striding around the stage, Gil was in fine voice and the head of quite some dynasty.