Womex 2013 is a trade fair/shindig for people who work in the world music industry to get together to swap tips, check each other out and, I imagine, like all these things slap each other on the back.
Each of the three days of the festival ends with about 15 acts playing a 45-minute set at one of five stages. Three are in the Millennium Centre in Cardiff’s Docks. Two are in the Pabell (tent) outside.
The timings mean you can only catch five acts per night. Night one was a cracker.
Cumbia All Stars
Peruvian grooves a go-go from middle-aged good time band. Great vibe. Great fun. Great shirts.
Picture doesn’t do them justice – pesky lights spoilt pretty much all my shots.
A great start. Though the guitarist (in shades) looked like Ronnie Corbett and didn’t smile much, the rest of the band grinned for South America.
You wouldn’t have thought a band running on stage like a latter-day Shalamar and blasting whistles to attract your attention would be much cop.
The whistles alone were nearly enough to make me wonder whether it was worth hanging around after Cumbia All Stars. Anyone who whistles this much is an attention-seeking berk, I figured.
I figured wrong.
This was Shangaan Electro, from South Africa. At the back, let’s call him ‘The Man’ – a podgy guy wearing a silly wig. Out in front, stage right, two young men, stage left, two young women, and, out in front, a lady of a certain age.
The men were elastic-limbed acrobatic dancers. The women were great harmonic singers who shugged and frugged across stage in a riot of belly-wobbling and butt-shaking in time to the beats.
All the while ‘The Man’ at the back urged us on in faux dance party style to worship at the shrine on 189 beats per minute.
Forty-five minutes of big smiles, huge energy and they mysterious man pulling strings with a nice mix of whistles, beeps and silly, silly wig. Oh it was silly – probably why I liked them so much.
Second best band I’ve seen this year after the wonderful Dakh Daughters in Ukraine. If anyone else at Womex 2013 is better than this motley, unkempt, but strangely enchanting and endearing bunch then they will be utterly incredible.
I’ve rarely seen any dancers expend so much energy as the two men. Steve remarked later: “They walked past the Glanfa stage afterwards, looking a bit tired.”
Orquestra Contemporaneo de Olinda
Brazilian big band, ten piece – very brassy and tight, with great percussion. Big favourites with my mate Steve who loved the brass blasts. He has a thing for orchestral-type stuff.
But weakish vocals and a bit too rocky for my taste although they’d be a good party band. They suffered by comparison with the Peruvians and South Africans.
Jacky Molard Quartet
Sax, double bass, violin, and accordion from Brittany, fusing folk with a jazz vibe.
Accordionist grimacing and wincing throughout the performance like a rock lead guitarist and a striking woman on the double bass.
On the last number she whacked out a great funky beat circa Miles Davis 1969 and the playing rose to a vibrant, powerful crescendo.
Good at meshing folk rhythms with a jazz mentality and making it swing.
Gipsy Burek Orkestar
Last band of the night on the Glanfa stage.
A wall of noise Phil Spector would have fancied . Ten of ’em – two tubas, euphonium, clarinet, sax, bass, guitar/bouzouki, walkabout drummer, two trumpets.
Six Bretons and four Macedonians make up this amazing band who aren’t so much in your face but rammed down your ear canals.
More brass to delight Steve’s ear. Early on, would have said too much brass, they were almost bombastic, squawking away like a rock band turning up to 11.
But it improved rapidly as my ears tuned in. The clarinettist was inspired, as was the sax. We even got a euphonium solo – a career first for this listener.
And, as ever with folk-ish music, the carefully planned build-up to an entertaining finale was impressive. Quite a blowing session.
* Earlier, me, Steve and his pal Mike were virtually the only paying customers at The Gate for an out-of-Womex show featuring Manchester-based world music.
Lack of effective publicity meant this event was held in a largely empty auditorium.
It featured flamenco from Calaita, July Julay from Dominican Republic with Latin dance sounds, Jali Kuyateh from Gambia on the kora and reggae from Golty Farabeau and the Jahmadou.
Good stuff – http://www.linguafrancamusic.co.uk/ is the place to find more on them.