Review: WOMAD Festival 2017 – A Record Breaking Turnout

Womad aligned its 35th year with a record 35,000 person turnout at the Wiltshire festival. Despite the usual arrangement of African, Asian and American performers, there was nothing conventional about the eclectic array of music showcased throughout the weekend.


West African singer Oumou Sangaré filled Friday’s 7pm slot at the Open Air Stage with a fervent funk that ignited the fully engaged crowd. Oumou wore an extravagant, turquoise fishtail flared tunic, with a matching half head turban that elegantly fused traditional Malinese dress with mainstream western design. An as active advocate for women’s rights, she spoke to the audience about the importance of motherhood – a key focus in her writing – using a mixture of French and English, both of which were equally well received (reflective of the educated crowd Womad pulls). The band’s empowering aura chimed with festival go-ers and had everyone on their toes, grooving at speed to the catchy Wassoulou rhythms of Moussolou and Yere Faga.

Womad - Oumou Sangare

If you’re not familiar with the band Goat, trying picturing a lion fish (here’s one) fused with a pair of horns jutting from a thickly adorned head-dress. Tassels, feathers, ropes and coins frame two eye holes concealing the true identity of lead singer Christian Johansson. Fellow band members also remain anonymous under masks and head-dresses that almost stir a chill within the audience. But this is all intentional. These incredibly creative costumes help to punctuate an alternative rock band who manage to mingle tambourines with flute pipes in between crashing drums, and somehow make it work. Their most popular track Come To Your Mama builds pace mid-set with the shaking of seedy maracas backing hypnotic war cries behind a steady tribal beat. The audience love it. Because it’s weird, it’s different and it sounds good.

Womad - GOAT - Mike massaro

Saturday hosted an especially impressive set of musicians across the main stages. The Bowers & Wilkins tent channelled ambient jazz from Portico Quartet, whose multi-dimensional sound assembly expertly ricocheted between speakers, much to the wonder of a tightly packed crowd.

Chicano band Las Cafeteras shone on Saturday with a double performance, first at the Taste The World stage – where half the band stood at audience level with the other half concocting traditional Mexican recipes in a staged kitchen – and later on again at the Ecotricity Stage. At their former show, the band entertained the crowd (who had been wine tasting prior, which can’t have hurt) with the story of how they formed in a cafe that didn’t serve coffee, what they stand for and their dating history together.

Las Cafeteras are based in LA but proudly – and incredibly effortlessly – fuse Latino, Folk, Arab and West African sounds together. Soft feminine vocals from Denise Carlos are undercut with focused, articulate rap from MC Daniel French who isn’t dissimilar to Macklemore in his delivery. The band performed If I Were President; one of their most catchy and thought provoking arrangements that closely links in with their collective pursuit to create music that inspires positive change. Give it a listen below.

Afro Celt Soundsystem took no prisoners during their powerful evening performance on the BBC 3 Stage. 22 years into their journey together, they are still dazzling crowds with the same feisty recipe. Celtic rhythms compete with West African drums, violins dance on stage and band members bounce with a frenzied and dedicated crowd who are ready to pump their arms into the air and chant on queue. Strings help to hold melody as tropical techno basslines pump out the speakers. The whole spectacle feels so close to unravelling but it never falters.

Joey Negro supplied late night disco house into the night. Although Womad is famous for being one of the most family friendly festivals in the UK, it was pleasing to see that organisers were also prepared to cater for the 16-25 year old crowd who are grateful for somewhere to lose themselves in the early hours. These people are the future of Womad, after all.

Also worth a mention…

The Lunched Out Lizards Chai Shop was a midway safe heaven for those heading back to the campsite in the early hours, or simply panic-dashing from the rain. Cosy and comforting with the promise of chai tea – what’s not to love?

And we can’t not acknowledge Loyle Carner‘s full power political tee that gave a shout out to Michelle Obama. Winner.

Womad - Photo by Mike Massaro - Loyle Carner