By Tim Kaye, Caroline Gilbert and Hazel (7) and Gwilym (5)
There is a very good reason why WOMAD is called ‘The World’s Festival’ it is like visiting 50 countries in one weekend.
This is our third foray into the many different sounds and experiences that are on offer here and it didn’t disappoint. The festival was notable again for being on the wet side but the organisation was strong throughout and despite a few near slippages outside the Siam tent we remained fairly mud free!
Getting in and Camping
As usual there was no problem getting into the site and we had lots of space at first. The site quickly filled up but it never felt too constrained.
There are lots of camping options to suit needs too. Family camping, campervan fields, disability access camping, glamping options and park and camp (although this camping is quite far from the festival site at least you can do the walking without all your camping gear).
Of course, the rain made some parts of the site a quagmire but there were regular consignments of wood chips and the main stage area was cleared and chipped at one point. Torrential rain you can’t really mitigate against but the WOMAD crew were very responsive to the downpours when they did arrive.
Toilets were regularly cleaned and stocked with toilet paper and hand gel and there is also the option of paying a little more to use the La di da Loos.
The site is so beautiful with all the colourful flags and it was kept looking great with teams of litter pickers keeping rubbish in check. Like many festivals now they are discouraging plastic so to help with this there are water taps dotted around the campsites and festival site.
World of Music
There are 9 stages featuring over 100 acts and although most of them were unknown to us there certainly wasn’t any disappointment.
The main stage opens on the Thursday night with the traditional feature of the local Malmesbury School orchestra who this year had teamed up with perennial crowd pleasers Sheelanagig. You know a festival wants families to attend when they open in brilliant fashion with local children performing. It was so inspiring for our children to watch other children not much older than themselves perform on stage with such aplomb.
With some drizzle, but the mood staying high we then listened to some Brazilian afrobeat sounds from Bixiga 70 at the Big Red Stage. There were 10 musicians with plenty of brass and beats and the kids thought it was great as did we (despite our aching shoulders from Hazel and Gwilym finding a good viewing point).
Friday didn’t feature much music as we concentrated on the World of Children but we did catch a few songs from the House Gospel Choir which seamlessly mixed, yep you guessed it, house music with gospel.
We also saw Kakatsitsi and the !Gubi Family and Bwiti teaming up for some fusion drumming. Some music is fairly unclassifiable though like the band Goat who I am told improvise heavily and no set sounds the same. They are also notable for wearing masks, although nothing like the likes of Slipknot.
The great thing about WOMAD is being able to take part in the music, whether it’s a dance workshop, beatboxing or African drumming there are plenty of chances to participate. Caroline chose to join in with the Ska Aerobics who had a huge following at Mollys Bar.
Saturday also featured the best band of the weekend in Lamomali. Comprising several big players in the world music scene they use kora and rock and pop/funk influences to create a sound that is authentic yet modern. When I asked in the tent for their record I was told it had sold out, such was their popularity. More familiar bands such as Afro-Celt soundsystem played later on that night and they were fantastic but I am afraid to say that festival weariness combined with a steady downpour sent us off to bed early.
The last day was a smorgasbord of delights beginning with Madadou Diadabe and percussion mania – a masterclass in drumming and great for our two who were inspired to pick up their djembes when they got home.
I watched ‘!!!’ do their punk/funk thing which I think I enjoyed while Caroline and the kids listened and danced to a set from Eliza Carthy which was described in the guardian as a perfect WOMAD set. We also caught a little of Ladysmith Black Mambazo who’s voices were just beautiful.
It is often the things you stumble upon at WOMAD that surprise you. When I was waiting patiently for pizza (half an hour at least) the crowd were going wild for Clap! Clap! an Italian producer who samples African music to make dance music and with a full band he sounded phenomenal. I had to get back with the pizza though so one to check out later. Meanwhile the rest of the family were busy dancing to Chico Trujillo who bring a rambunctious take on ska, reggae and rock with lots of horns and dancing from all around.
It was great to see that WOMAD try to make music accessible to everyone. Not only were there viewing platforms and accessible toilets near the stages but also many of the performances are BSL interpreted.
World of Children
WOMADS children area is a frenetic place and this year there was the usual delights of copious crafts, giant puppets, music shack and circus skills which are always popular.
They have expended the climbing this year with Aveling Adventure which you have to pay for, luckily my two thought it was more for older children (it’s not I am sure!!).
Teenagers are catered for fairly well I think with the Mayflower Project and Porthcawl rock club providing stimulation for the older years.
A new addition was an imaginative free play set with interlocking sections that kids could fit together and creating their own worlds. Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? However, our kids spent ages and I mean ages on it playing with friends. They also enjoyed playing violins and ukuleles at the Music Caravan.
Perhaps one of the simplest and most enjoyable activities was making paper planes. They aren’t just any old paper planes though you get a choice of three to make and they fly really well. You then get to fly the plane through a course. Some kids spent hours there!
Another thing our kids love is crafting, and yes there is a place for cutting and sticking and bringing back a load or materials that could have been recycled and now resemble a state whereby it is difficult to recycle them and they clutter up the room. But what is really great is when a kid’s field offers a proper craft and they can produce something that will stand the test of time. So, it was with the leather crafting with Brian. It kept both our children engrossed and they even wanted to get up early on the last day to get another chance to make a leather bracelet. They also had the chance to make their own flags by sewing on their own designs using old hand turned sewing machines.
Every year the World of Children have a theme for their carnival. This year the theme was earth, wind, air and fire and this transformed into the many amazing creatures on show for the parade. Children are invited to take part in the parade on the Sunday but our two just enjoyed watching all the amazing creations.
World of Food
Food at WOMAD is probably the best we have experienced, there is too much to choose from. Hazel and Gwilym decided that a stone baked pizza was enough for them but we opted for Jamaican jerk chicken and curried goat. It was a tough choice though as we could have gone Japanese, Italian, Indian, Tibetan, Vietnamese or French to name but a few.
The other item of food that was a necessity (despite the cold wet weather) was a Shepherds Ice-cream, not only is it made from sheep’s milk and is utterly delicious but it is also from our own village.
Price of food is quite variable between about £6 for some noodles up to £12 for a thali. Drinks at the bars are the festival standard of £4.50 a pint and a reusable cup system is in operation.
It isn’t just the vendors that offer an array of food, the Yalumba Taste the World stage hosts performers and cooks throughout the weekend. Although we didn’t get a chance to indulge too much at this venue we did catch a little bit of the Tanzania Albinism Collective who were delivering a session. This group of people afflicted by albinism had been castigated by society in their home land and have recently been persuaded to write and record music as a form of therapy in effect. It generated some in depth conversation with our children later in the day.
World of Wellbeing
Set in the relaxing arboretum the World of Wellbeing is a space where you can get a massage, gong bath or whittle a spoon. If you don’t want to do this it is a very nice way to get a break from the main arena (and the attendant mud that was accumulating). I took a break from cultural enlightenment to make a traditional survival bow.
Situated in this area is the Ecotricity tent where Buglife had put out a bee trail which we spent half an hour looking for trail signs. The children loved joining in with this and were very happy with their bee prizes afterwards.
Not everything needs to cost money at a festival and it’s great to see conservation organisations widening their appeal. Other workshops happen in this area as well such as the laughter workshop and tai-chi – it provides a real mind shift sometimes when it gets too much elsewhere.
World of Words – Hip Yak Poetry Shack
This is a stage that hosts poetry including open mic slots.
We only went to one show but in the end, it was the only show that mattered. Having seen John Hegley at Green Gathering 2015 we were keen to see him again. We thought the children would struggle to see it all so brought a host of snacks and drinks to keep them occupied. However, they said it was the best thing they saw all weekend and are still singing ‘Luton Bungalow’ and ‘I am a Guillemot, I like my fill a lot’ even now. You may have ascertained that he is funny and engaging, singing songs with a friend and his wit and stage craft are a marvel to watch. I even got a book signed for the kids by the man himself afterwards – thanks John for a great show!
A lot of other festivals are introducing science in a fun way to the masses and although WOMAD introduced this last year we never made it to any workshop.
Our friends suggested we go along to a light painting workshop by Andy O’ Rourke (not Andy Rourke former bassist with the Smiths). It was one of our highlights as we created pictures using a host of handheld lights and torches. I won’t go into how it’s done as I don’t understand it but hasten to say it was great fun and the results were astonishing.
A feast for the ears and eyes (and sometimes nose)
WOMAD is a real treat for us and is our family’s favourite festival.
The wealth of artists from around the world and the relaxed atmosphere make this a great place to take children. The World of Children is a draw but is only a part of what makes it amazing.
With around 35,000 people it is a larger festival but it isn’t overwhelming since it is so laid back. It also is pretty flat so although there is a fair bit of walking it is manageable.
Apparently the festival is guaranteed to stay at this lovely site till 2030 which is great news – try it you might just love it!