Sunday, March 25, 2007

WOMAD March 2007, Taranaki, New Zealand. Part two - Saturday.

Here's my review of day one of WOMAD, in case you haven't read it already.

On Friday night, after Lou, Jason and I left WOMAD, we settled down in our little 1970s rented-for-the-weekend house and worked our way through the programme for the rest of the weekend, with each of use deciding what we most wanted to see on Saturday. We also made a list of things we reallyreally needed in order to make the next two days in the Great Outdoors as comfortable as possible.

*sigh* you know you're getting older when you absolutely have to have something to sit on at a festival that isn't a piece of cardboard or a discarded plastic bag. Heh.

Saturday morning dawned ok-ish - but the rain was definitely threatening by the time we drove into town to get our supplies. I have written on the back of my programme the following:

Stuff to get:
- space blanket
- cushion
- memory cards - camera

- coat & inner
- blanket
- sunhat
- sunnies
- sunblock

I love the Warehouse! It always has such great (cheap) stuff. It's brilliant for nutty things you only need for festivals, for example. The New Plymouth Warehouse has obviously got this WOMAD thing completely sussed. Right at the front door was a great big display table with Welcome to WOMAD on it, just full of the weird and wonderful things you suddenly realise you desperately need but haven't brought with you.

Waterproof trousers in a little bag, glow-sticks, tarps - and the thing I was most keen on finding - little cushions that were small enough to fold up and put in your bag, big enough for your bum, nice and squashy without being too bulky, and kinda sorta waterproof, being covered with that classic stripey fabric you normally only get on 1950s camping gear.

They had space blankets too, but I decided that I wouldn't need one now I had my magic cushion. Two down, one to go.

I ended up getting a huge 1GB memory card for my camera. I figured that should keep me going for the whole festival, in addition to the bunch of smaller ones I already have. Funny thing - when I put the card into my camera it said I had 999 seconds of video recording time available, but the number didn't go down the entire time I was there. I wonder if my camera display can only show 3 figures, and I actually had way more time than this, but the number wouldn't have changed until I got below the last 999 secs?

Finally I decided to try and find something not on my list from the night before - a bigger daypack to put all my stuff in. The one I use all the time is quite small, and definitely not waterproof, and certainly isn't big enough for blankets, cushions, warm and waterproof clothes, sunhat, sunblock etc - and the zip's going, which is really annoying when you're dancing and not aware that the zip's come down and all your stuff is falling out all over the place.

I found the best most primo daypack in the entire world at some random surf/skate shop. It's absolutely huge, has about 10 different compartments including a chilly-bag one, and a completely waterproof one separated from the others where you can put your wet gear without getting everything else wet. Plus the whole bag is waterproof, including the zips. This was rather important, as will soon become apparent. Awesome!

By the time we'd got all our shit together it was time to head back to WOMAD, for Day Two. Yaay!

I'm a bit vague at this point on whom I saw what with. Sometimes I was with Lou and/or Jason, other times I was with Zef and/or Sarah and/or Toki and/or Zef & Sarah's kids Eesha and Esther, and sometimes I was by myself. It was very cool actually. By the end of Friday we'd figured out the layout of the festival site, and we all had our programmes and cellphones handy, so it was easy to decide on an individual basis who we wanted to see on Saturday, and to all head off in different directions, meeting up again later.

The cellphone companies must do a roaring trade with txt messaging at festivals. It seemed like everyone had their cellphone out - even the little old ladies and gents there were txting like crazy. Our most common msg was "Where u?".

How did we ever manage before cellphones? I'll tell you how. You had to stick with your mates for the entire festival, otherwise you'd lose them and never find them again. Or at least if you did venture off on your own you had to make darned sure you had a meeting-up-again-afterwards plan - and that you didn't stray one iota from the plan in case you ended up alone-in-the-midst-of-200,000-people.

Mind you, Glastonbury was quite famous for creating its own kind of meeting-up magic. I remember at one Glastonbury in the late 80s I had to get there separately from Sandra and Sean (we usually always went together, but that year I was working and couldn't get away until the Friday). We had a vague plan of where they would be camping, and an even vaguer plan to meet up at the message board at some time on Friday afternoon. I had just arrived, and was walking along the path towards the message board, and there was Sean, walking towards me. He'd totally forgotten about the meeting-up plan, but there he was anyway. Miraculous!

But I digress. Back to WOMAD 2007.

I figured it would be nice to start the day with some Tibetan monkish meditative chanting from the Gyuto Monks, so I headed off to the Pagoda Stage, near where their meeting tent was set up. I found a place to sit, settled down... and the first few drops of rain began to fall. D'oh! Of course, being sensible Kiwi folk, prepared for every weather condition known to exist (because you know that in a typical Kiwi day you're probably going to experience them all at least once), we all had our raingear, cushions, chairs, umbrellas, sunhats, sunnies, sunblock, warm clothes, cool T-shirts, woolly hats, warm blankets, tarps, space blankets... you name it, we had it.

Waterproof coats went on, umbrellas went up, and everyone continued doing whatever it was they were already doing. No wimping out and rushing to the nearest bit of shelter for us! (Not that there was much shelter to be had, but still...)

The Gyuto Monks were lovely. Their chanting was hypnotic, and uplifting, and included a fair bit of throat singing in with the humming. They did a piece called Sounds of Transformation which is a meditative puja - a powerful traditional chanting ritual designed to remove obstacles and problems encountered in everyday life, as a means of bringing about health, happiness and prosperity.

It was also supposed to make the rain go away. Hmmm. Well I suppose you could say they half-succeeded in that endeavour - it rained on and off all day, but there was lots of sunshine in between the showers. Here are the monks:

After their performance the monks began the creation of the sand mandala - the Lotus Mandala of Compassion - with a single bright blue spot in the centre of the table - laid by the Master monk to initiate the process. Each sand mandala represents the architectural layout of the entire palace of a specific deity.

They use a long cone-shaped metal tool (with a tiny hole at the pointy end of the cone) to place the brightly-coloured sand, grain by grain, exactly where it needs to go. A small amount of brightly-coloured sand is poured into the top, and a metal rod is scraped up and down across concentric ridges on the lower part of the cone. This vibration causes a tiny amount of sand to fall through the hole at the bottom of the cone, which can then be directed very accurately onto the table in just the right spot.

The mandala takes all weekend to complete, and after it's finished, it is deliberately destroyed. The Buddha's last words were "All things are impermanent, work out your salvation with diligence" and the destruction of the mandala upholds this principle that life is transient. The monks traditionally sweep up the mandala and place the sand in a river, lake, or ocean as an offering to purify the surrounding environment. Here's a fascinating look at the creation of a sand mandala.

After the monks I decided to head on over to the Gables Stage to see Shivkumar Sharma again - and I caught up with Zef, Sarah, Toki, Eesha and Esther for the first time that weekend. Yaay! Zef is an old hand at WOMAD - I think he's been to every WOMAD in NZ so far - and has been trying to get us to come along for years. This year he gave up asking - and this was the year that Lou and Jason decided to go, and to ask me along too. Wow! How can I have ignored your suggestion for so long, Zef? Crazy crazy crazy. WOMAD is awesome!!!!

I had a lovely time sitting in the (mostly) sun, digging Shivkumar, Rahul and Yogesh and watching Esther, Eesha, Zef and Toki making freaky animals from multicoloured bits of plasticine. I'm so glad I went to see Shivkumar again. Last night they were having problems with the sound levels, and I think it made them all a little tense. This performance was somehow more joyful, more uplifting, and even better than Friday's show. Yaay!

I'm so impressed by the fact that Zef and Sarah make the effort to come to WOMAD and bring the kids with them. It's not an easy task - in fact I think it has to be planned something like a military campaign [peaceful non-violent version of course] - but they do it so well, and with such enthusiasm. They had this really cool pair of waterproof-backed blankets to sit on, and a suitcase full of food already prepared, and a pushchair for Esther and all their rain gear, earplugs for the kids, warm clothes, sunhats - everything you could need.

They certainly weren't alone in bringing the kids to WOMAD - there were heaps of families ranging in age from babes-in-arms to happily rowdy teenagers who were allowed to go off in giggly groups to explore and dance on their own. In fact, I would have to say that the WOMAD audience was the most diverse I've ever seen at a festival. There was every age represented, from tiny babies to really really old people (complete with cellphones!), every nationality and skin tone you could imagine, and every "tribe" - from the dance party kids and hippies with dreadlocks to Mr and Mrs Straight NZ complete with folding chairs, picnic baskets, umbrellas and head-to-toe waterproofs. It was brilliant.

It was also one of the most well-behaved, well-mannered, safe and good-humoured festivals I've ever been to. It felt like The Gathering for Grownups in terms of the sheer smiliness of it. I don't think I saw a single grumpy face the whole weekend - even when it was raining everyone was still smiling and happy. And the loos (as I mentioned in Part One) were awesome too. What more could you wish for? Oh - and the music wasn't bad, either! :)

After Shivkumar we wandered back to the main stage to meet up with Lou and Jason again, and caught some of the show by Etran Finatawa from Niger. The group is made up of musicians from both the Tuareg and Wodaabe nomadic tribes, who together have created a new musical form - Nomad Desert Blues. Here's a nice description from the WOMAD website:
Wodaabe and Tuaregs share the same regions for living, but their music is very different. Wodaabe sing in a traditional matter, wearing traditional costumes and make up. They do not use any instruments but sing in a multivocal way while they dance in slow motion. Their dance, their costumes and their rhythm is unique in the world.

Tuareg people have always used instruments, violins and drums to animate their songs and dances. Since the 1970s the guitar has found its way into Tuareg music. This style is called Ichumar and is a part of Etran Finatawa's repertoire. Etran Finatawa combines the two rich cultures: Their songs are in two languages, Tuareg language (tamasheck) and Wodaabe language (fulfulde). The band instrumentalises the polyphonic songs of the Wodaabe people by means of traditional percussion like calebashes and tende, a traditional tuareg drum, with guitar-rhythm. The polyphonic choir of Wodaabe singers gives a special note to their music. Handclapping and the rich percussion leads the songs and invites people to dance.

Here's the crew gathered on the slope looking down onto the main stage as Etran Finatawa do a bit of tuning up. You'll see Jason, Lou, Esther, Sarah, Zef, Eesha, Toki and a few thousand other people. And my voice. And the fabulous venue that is WOMAD Taranaki. Lovely!

I didn't pay quite as much attention to Etran Finatawa as they deserved (we were socialising at the same time which is never conducive to complete and rapt musician-attention), but I really enjoyed them - enough to want to go and see them again on Sunday. I found it really interesting how many of the dance party kids were down the front dancing away, and I realised (not for the last time during WOMAD) just how much of an influence World Music has been on the creation and development of electronica. There really is a crystal-clear relationship between the two, and not just in ambient electronica either (although that genre probably displays the most obvious influential pathways).

I hadn't really thought about the hippies and the dance kids being into WOMAD - although I should certainly have realised that the hippies would be there - but somehow I thought the dance party kids would have been too cool to go to WOMAD. How silly of me! In fact throughout the weekend I kept on spotting people I used to know at The Gathering - 10 years older than they were then, and still dancing, full of joy and happiness. Awesome.

Here's more of Etran Finatawa:

And here are Sarah, Toki, Esther and Zef dancing to the final song - with Eesha not quite so sure about the whole dancing thing:

The next act (whom I was really excited to be seeing) was master jazz drummer Bill Cobham. He's played with all the greats during his 50-year career, including Thelonius Monk, Stan Getz, and Miles Davis. And as I'm all about the drumming... well, I just had to see him.

He did a master class in the afternoon on the Pagoda stage, and while we were waiting for him to get set up we got to hear the end of the dDub show on the Gables stage next door. Wow. They sounded awesome - and were received incredibly enthusiastically by their leaping, dancing audience. If I hadn't been waiting patiently for Bill I would have raced over there and got stuck in. Next time, next time...

To my surprise, Bill was joined onstage by an old friend of mine, Chris O'Connor. Hi Chris! I knew Chris when I was in the drumming/world music band Many Hands, and I seem to remember he even played with us once or twice. He was an awesome drummer then (I think we were all a bit in awe of him) and he's even better now (and quite famous, too, I think!) Anyway, Bill had co-opted him into his show a couple of hours earlier, which I guess was probably quite a thrill for Chris.

The point of the master class was for Bill (with the help of Chris) to show us some of the drumming techniques he uses, to try and break them down into their most basic patterns so that we could understand them, and to talk a little about how to drum, how to be a drummer, and how to be the best. They were helped in this regard by a lovely MC, who introduced them, suggested what they should show us, and who asked lots of questions such as "can you make it really simple so we get it?" which Bill proceeded to ignore almost completely. I don't think he can play "simple".

It was pretty cool watching Bill do his thing. His technique is truly amazing - he's so dexterous, so skillful, so fast - and his innate sense of rhythm is obviously so well-honed that he can hear (and play) the off-beats and the off-off beats without even thinking about it.

The thing is, he's so good, he's completely impossible to dance to. In fact it's even a challenge to sway along rhythmically when he's playing, because he's constantly changing the tempo and throwing in so many off-beats it's hard sometimes to even hold onto the bass beat. Before Bill, I had never met a drum rhythm I couldn't dance to - in fact I'd never met a drum rhythm that didn't pick me up by the scruff of my neck and force me to dance to it, but I think Bill managed to do what no-one else ever has. He stopped me in my tracks. Nice one, Bill! Here he is, together with Chris O'Connor and the nice MC:

After Bill, I raced down to the Dell Stage, which is in a sweet tree-embraced spot near the main stage, to catch the Huun Huur Tu workshop. Huun Huur Tu are traditional throat-singers from the south Siberian republic of Tuva, and they can produce two and sometimes three harmonious notes simultaneously. Here's how Wikipedia explains it. Throat singing is one of the most ancient musical forms anywhere in the world and ethnomusicologists see it as an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practiced today in Tuva.

It's the most weirdly wonderful and other-worldly sound, and I've loved it ever since I saw (and) heard throat singers at a WOMAD concert in Wellington, in the days before the WOMAD festival became a permanent fixture here. And then there was that awesome documentary, Genghis Blues, that screened at the Film Festival a few years ago. Still one of my favourite documentaries of all time. So really, seeing Huun Huur Tu's workshop was a must for me.

They had enlisted the help of their manager, a Russian who spoke great English, to help in the workshop. He explained the different types of throat singing, and the fact that it's intimately entwined with their expression of love for the land in which the Tuvans live - the deserts, steppes, forests and mountains. The animistic world view of this region identifies the spirituality of natural objects through the sounds htey make, as well as where they are and what they look like. Many of the sounds made by voice and traditional instruments in Tuvan music mimic the sounds of the landscape, and the birds and animals which live there, and the songs include lyrics that describe the Tuvan landscape and the way of life of the people.

There are also a lot of songs about horses. This is because (as the manager explained), when you live with your family in a yurt in the middle of a vast plain, and the nearest other family is 25km away in their yurt in the middle of the vast plain, and you're looking for love... you're gonna need your horse in order to go get you some of that lovin'. So love songs and horse songs are inextricably linked in the Tuvan culture. I'm sure they love their horses, too.

Except for (or maybe especially when) they need them to make instruments with, of course. Guitars covered in horse-skin, horse tail hairs used for making violin strings, drumskins made of horse - and the clip-cloppy percussion instruments that make a noise like a pair of horse's hooves when two are banged together? Are made out of a pair of horse's hooves. Obvious really - there aren't many coconut trees growing in Tuva. Heh.

Here are Huun Huur Tu with a lovely song about horses (which is now completely stuck in my head and won't go away. Not that I mind!). It includes examples of the Sygyt or whistling technique (reminiscent of birds singing and the gentle breezes of summer), as well as the Khoomei and Kargyraa styles:

After a song or two we were shown some of the different kinds of throat singing. Here's the Khoomei style. Khoomei is the Tuvan name for throat singing as a whole, but it also denotes a technique where the drone is in the middle-range of the voice, with harmonics between one and two octaves above. Singing in this style gives the impression of wind swirling among rocks:

And here's Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, the co-founder of Huun Huur Tu, demonstrating the deep-noted "undertone" technique of Kargyraa. I think this is the dag or "mountain" kargyraa, which is the lower of the two forms of kargyraa. This style can be described as the howling winds of winter or the plaintive cries of a mother camel after losing her calf:

See, this is something I love about WOMAD. Where else could you attend a master class from a master jazz drummer followed by a workshop demonstrating the most ancient form of singing in the world, followed by... a tango class in the rain, taught by the foremost exponents of Argentinian tango in Australasia? Just bloody brilliant.

One thing I would HIGHLY recommend at WOMAD is not to fill your daily calendar too full, and to go with the flow from time to time, and just wander along with your mates to see whoever they want to see. I discovered some real gems that way, including, back at the Dell Stage, Fabio Robles and Ana Andre's tango class.

Zef and Sarah were there already when I arrived, together with Eesha and Esther, so we all settled down to watch the show. Well, we started off by settling down. We weren't sat down for long, though.

Fabio and Ana. Fabio is this lovely, warm, handsome Argentinian with a hint of an Aussie accent, which is really rather endearing, and Ana is from Portugal. When she was introduced and walked out on stage a collective "ooh!" went up from the crowd because she was just.beautiful. Tall and incredibly slender, wearing a fantastically sexy dress that was slit right up the front as far as it would go (and then some!) - she was just a vision.

They began by dancing for us, and then they started the class. "Everyone up on their feet! Come on!" So we all dutifully stood up, and prepared to tango. It was raining quite heavily by this point, but it really didn't matter. We scooped up all our stuff into a pile on and around the pushchair, covered it with one of the waterproof blankets, waterproof side out, and each found a partner.

Initially Zef and Sarah were dancing together, and I was with Eesha, but she decided she'd rather tango with her dad, so we all swapped around and I ended up with Sarah (with Esther on her hip.) She danced the man to my woman, which was pretty funny, especially when Esther got thirsty and decided to head for the boobie. I never imagined I'd ever get the chance to tango with a womanfriend, in a glade, with 200 other people, in the rain, while she breastfeeds her baby at the same time as manoeuvering me around the dancefloor (glade). Classic!

Bit by bit we all learned the steps, practiced them separately and then put them all together, bit by bit. It was very funny, and heaps of fun, and we all got really wet, and no-one cared at all. Each time we learned a new step they'd pull another couple onto the stage with them until there were about 10 couples up there, all tangoing away with varying levels of success.

By the end of it we were all step-slide, step-slide, back, back, step-slide, step-slide, forwards, forwards, step in front-flick! front-flick! front-flick! front-flick! step behind-flick!, behind-flick!, behind-flick! behind-flick! and round-two-three-four-five-flick! change direction-two-three-four-five-flick! leg up and round behind the man's legs/bum, other leg up and over the first leg (jump!) and down again second leg, first leg... woohoo!

W00t! Once we'd (sorta, kinda) mastered it, Fabio made us all swap partners and dance with someone we didn't know. Hi new partner! Not having a babe-on-hip to contend with, my new partner was able to do the whole lifting thing at the end, so I actually did manage to do the leg-around-his-leg/bum and jump! thing, which made me very happy. And then Sarah gave Esther to Zef and we did it too - just to show we could. Brilliant!

I had quite a gap until the next show I really wanted to see, so I did a bit of shopping in the marketplace (I hardly ever shop! What came over me? It was lovely actually) and bought the most beautiful kitē (that's the Māori flax-woven bag/basket, not the flying-on-a-string thing) by Jasmine Clark from Kare Kare, aka seaweed. It's enormous, and so beautifully woven that it's a work of art more than simply a practical way of carrying your togs to the beach. I think I'll put it on my wall. Or have it on display somewhere. I left it at the stall, planning to pick it up later when it stopped raining, and then bought a lovely hand-painted shirt in shades of smoky mauve, blue and grey. It's that hippy costume thing again, you see.

Checked out the global food village, got something to eat (the food really was fab), wandered around some more and then headed off to the Pagoda Stage to see Bill Cobham's main performance. We had to wait quite a while - the Jonathan Crayford Project were still doing their thing on the Gables Stage next door, and we really couldn't begin until they had finished. They ended with this massive jam session and drumming thing that seemed to go on for about 15 minutes. It sounded pretty good, and again if I hadn't been waiting for Bill I'd have gone over and checked it out, but anyway...

Finally Bill did his thing - and he basically drummed without pause for 45 or 50 minutes. It was pretty amazing actually. Completely ambidexterous, sometimes with two sticks, sometimes with four (two in each hand, each playing a different drum). Here are two bits of it. You'll see why it's impossible to dance to, but very impressive, nonetheless:

After Bill, I met up with Lou and Jason, and we went over to the Brooklands stage to see Huun Huur Tu again. The dance party kids were out in force, dancing very happily at the front (in the rain once more) and I had the most lovely time, dancing by myself further back, occasionally worrying that the rain drifting blowily across the front of the stage was actually blowing onto the group and damaging their horse-y instruments. Lou and Jason sat on their portable stools nearby, and I hope they had a lovely time too.

Huun Huur Tu's melodies are quite amazing in that although they are so ancient, and come from such a long tradition, they are also somehow very recognisable. I found myself humming along with almost all their songs, even new ones they hadn't played at the workshop. Interesting. There were a few bands on Sunday where I felt like I knew the music before I knew it, too. I love it when that happens. It feels like there's an infinite connection between you and the musicians and their music. Maybe that's why the dance party kids (and I include myself in that group) are drawn to this kind of music.

One thing you have to be aware of when you go to any festival with a bunch of friends, is that everyone has their own body rhythm, and their own high- and low-energy points. Esther and Eesha had reached theirs sometime after the tango class, so Sarah took them home, while Zef stayed on. Lou reached hers sometime during Huun Huur Tu. I was more than a bit sad about that, but you have to practice the art of compromise when you do festivals together, so I reluctantly let them tear me away from my lovely throat singers, in preparation for going home.

I'd got a txt from Zef, who was grooving on down to Mr Scruff at the Dell Stage, so we headed back down there in the rainrainrain, to pick him and Toki up and give them a ride home. Oh my lordy was Mr Scruff playing some great grooves or WHAT? Jazzy, funky, reggae-ish - I just HAD to dance. Lou and Jason graciously practiced their art of compromise and agreed to stick around for a while - and because they didn't feel like dancing they looked after my bag while I headed into the heaving mass of soaking wet wildly-grinning people on the dancefloor. Thanks a million, guys!

We had so much fun, and all got completely soaking wet, which didn't matter because we were dancing so hard-out that our clothes were drying as fast as they were being rained on. I realise I haven't danced outdoors to a DJ in anything remotely resembling a field in FAR too long - and I truly miss it. I really have to do it more often. Welli has never really been much of an outdoor party place (apart from the ClearLight parties in the 90s) so I guess I'd have to venture down south to find them - maybe around ChCh or Dunners. Not that that's any hardship - I love the south island!

Eventually I got a txt from Jason saying "c u back at the car" and I figured this might possibly be a subtle hint that they really would like to go now please, so I gathered up the boys and we headed off, all completely determined to be back for Mr Scruff's entire set on Sunday night.

On the way home Toki demonstrated to us all that he can actually do throat-singing, which is pretty amazing (No bull! He can really do it!), especially as at the workshop we'd been told it's not really something you can learn, you just "know" (assuming you've been brought up in a yurt in Tuva, of course!)

What a brilliant day. More tomorrow.

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zef said...

Wow - you must have a photographic memory Ali! Awesome coverage. Glad you and friends could make it this time - was nice to share the experience. I'm pretty embrassed at seeing myself 'cazy dance' - but thanks for the recorded memories all the same. By the way 'Tuki' actually spells his name 'Toki' - he has just launched his blog and will be uploading his freaky cartoons soon -

webweaver said...

Heh. I think I do to some extent - but I also have to confess that my WOMAD programme came in very handy when I was writing this blog post!

I'm so happy we went this year - and extremely happy that we were able to hang out with you guys - that was just lovely.

Now don't be embarrassed by your 'crazy dance' Zef! It was v v cool...

Thanks for the note about how Toki spells his name - I've fixed it throughout. And I'll check out his blog, too!


Anonymous said...

Hey there, when you first posted this I went and bought some Shivkumar Sharma music - gorgeous stuff. I go to sleep by it every night (and if I don't sleep, then at least I have great music to be awake with).

Well, I just wanted to say that today I bought 2 more albums. I'm listening to one now. Fabulous!

Thanks so much for introducing his music.