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Michael Kingston



New Plymouth, March 16-18

WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) was founded in 1982 by Peter Gabriel, and has grown into the kind of festival where middle-aged mothers and their children dance freely alongside feral hippies. From humble beginnings in Auckland’s Western Springs Park, the NZ manifestation of WOMAD has become one of our biggest festivals.
This year, over 15,000 fans braved the rain in New Plymouth’s Brooklands Park. Performers from across the globe proved that everyone, everywhere, likes to dance. Musicians from Africa, China, Russia, Iran, America and beyond had audiences dancing, laughing and singing along – even learning to cook dishes from across the globe in ‘Taste the World’ workshops hosted by kitchen-savvy musicians. Despite rampaging armies of small children and the ongoing warfare between ‘Sitters’ and ‘Standers’, the underlying message was one of peace.
The music was fantastic and varied. WOMAD is an opportunity to experience musical forms and collaborations that would otherwise not be seen in New Zealand. Highlights included Gotan Project (France/Argentina electro-tango), Huun Huur (Tuvan throat singers), and Lila Downs (South American good times). The all-star jam saw Saeid Shanbehzadeh from Iran trading horn lines with New York’s Jay Rodriguez and jazz legend Bill Cobham drumming alongside Saeid’s 10 year old prodigy son Naghib.
As in past years, there was also a strong NZ/Aotearoa flavour. Wai, D-Dub, Hollie Smith and others gave audiences a taste of the local culture. Perhaps the only oversight in programming was this year’s absence of Celtic music – St Patrick’s day glided by virtually unnoticed.
Saturday night’s downpour failed to extinguish the fun. Audiences and musicians alike were soaked through, but continued to frolic. A bevy of sodden dancers partied into the morning, with English DJ Mr Scruff laying down the soundtrack.
Until now, WOMAD has been a biannual event – but the festival returns to Taranaki in 2008. Only 364 days till next time…