ALBUM COMPILATION REVIEW
Dominic Valvona

Various ‘Live At WOMAD 1982’
(Real World Records) 29th July 2022

Chief among those promoting (what has become a problematic term in itself) “world music”, the WOMAD festival and organization took a punt forty years ago in treating those artists considered outside the rather myopic scope of Westernized music with equal validity and respect. Even now, as we like to believe our tastes are so much more eclectic, festivals struggle with giving parity to the stars of Africa, South America, and Asia. Glastonbury, that so called totem, consigns (for the most part) world music to its own stage and fringe.

These days of course all festivals need to balance commercial concerns with the creative. It’s a business after all, and anyone setting up such an enterprise has a litany of historical financial failures to jolt them from taking gambles on lineups: the extraordinary naïve but possibly musically, as well as diverse, benchmark being both Woodstock and the 1970 Isle Of Wight festivals, but in more recent times, the failure of many so-called boutique mini-festivals.

It does however seem that WOMAD remains the “allowable” alternative; although even they had to include some stellar pop, rock bands and artists on the bill at the inaugural event in 1982: The likes of a rising Simple Minds and the blossoming Echo And The Bunnymen, albeit with the sonorous galloping and clattering drum beat of WOMAD stars and stalwarts, the Drummers Of Burundi – appearing under the elevated Royal Burundi Drummers name in this case. 

Credit: Chris Greenwood

What could have seemed a vanity project for its main instigator Peter Gabriel became a mainstay of the international music festival circuit. That very first event, now celebrating its fortieth anniversary, was almost the last.

Creatively and collaboration wise an incredible success, WOMAD was an unmitigated financial disaster for Gabriel and his partners. Facing bankruptcy, personal physical violence, the former Genesis star turned soloist and producer, label boss was thankfully able to pay off the accrued debts when his former prog-rock band mates offered to play a benefit concert. With the sagacious advice of Harold and Barbara Pendleton, who’d created the relatively successful Reading Jazz And Blues Festival, and others the WOMAD ideal was saved from collapse and a minor footnote in Rock’s Back Pages.  

Arguably still one of the only avenues for world music, the WOMAD festival is one of the most cherished if not important events of its kind anywhere. But those early days in the idea incubator of Gabriel’s mind, it seemed pure madness to even conceive of such a thing. Being called mad or crazy was part of the course for Gabriel however, who not only saw it as a challenge but adopted such derisory language in his various projects: Syco being another one. And so “MAD” became part of the festival signature, appellation, though it also, when put together with the “WO” bit made up the World Of Music Arts Dance acronym. Corralled into this mad project, the young collective of post-punk tastemakers that made up The Bristol Recorder went from interviewing Gabriel for one of their magazines (with accompanying vinyl) to taking on the day-to-day running of what would be the first grand-scale festival of its kind dedicated to world music and its ilk. What might have surprised, or set a spark for Gabriel was the zine team’s mutual interest in eclectic music; a love for the Gamelan music of Bali and Java especially. They would also be pretty useful at sniffing out the talent and bringing attention to new sounds, new fusions, many of which featured in the very first WOMAD lineup. 

A benefit concert helped to ease WOMAD out of a financial blackout, and in the very beginning too, when announced to the press from a farmhouse north of Bath, Gabriel would have to release a charity album to help fund it. Music And Rhythm, as it was called, featured a rafter of the acts that appeared in 1982. In conjuring up the spirit of WOMAD, the Burundi Drummers would beat out a thunderous performance on the front lawn – so thunderous in fact that the local farmers were worried that it would upset the livestock grazing in this idyllic valley retreat. Overcoming such protests, a lack of support and any sponsors the tribal drummers and an international cast from over twenty countries appeared at the Royal Bath and West Showground near Shepton Mallet in Somerset in the July of 1982.

Photo Credit: Larry Fast

Now forty years later in the act of both preservation and celebration, Real World Records have retrieved and restored (including bonus material) nineteen live tracks from that event; many of which have never been heard before. Original programme notes, with even the times of performances, have also been included in this snapshot of not just WOMAD’s foundations but a changing post-punk scene; an age of fusions, collaborations and the increasing influence of world music on the Western cannon.

I could regale countless artists just before and after this event that would work with those from South Africa to Timbuktu; from Hispaniola to Southeastern Asia. But here were ensembles with atavistic and more contemporary heritages mixing it and existing on equal terms with rock bands in the West. As Gabriel would put it: “Our dream was not to sprinkle world music around a rock festival, but to prove that these great artists could be headliners in their own right.”

Ian McCulloch and his Bunnymen, riding high at the time in the indie scene and obviously a draw, appeared with the (already mentioned) Royal Burundi Drummers in one such meeting of alien cultures. A stirring emergence from the Gothic mists vision of ‘Zimbo’ is taken up a level of the exotic and moody by a deep lumbering of beaten drums; a union of Joy Division pain and authentic African tribal rhythms.

The familiar Drummers Of Burundi, who’s ranks could swell to thirty plus members but appeared in a reduced, but no less impactful, form at WOMAD, have their incredible floor-shaking front lawn performance ‘Kama K’iwacu’ included on this compilation. Due to the physicality of their performances these rousing bombastic drum initiations, rituals could only be played in short sets, and so during that three-day festival they appeared at least four times, across multiple stages.

In a similar mode, passed on through generations, compilation openers The Musicians Of The Nile brought an Upper Nile touch of the ancients to proceedings. The gypsy descendants from the age of the Pharaohs are represented by a mystical, mizmar-drone sandy embankment peregrination entitled ‘Taksim Arghul’ (which both by its name and sound has a real Turkish feel to it) and shorter, quickening tabla rhythmic sunrise introduction called ‘Tabla Iqae’

Staying in Africa, highlife doyen Prince Nico Mbarga, appearing with the actually London-based The Ivory Coasters, shines with a sun brilliance and life-affirming rendition of ‘Wayo In-Law’ – a bonus track and really worthy of inclusion; among my favourite turns on the whole album. The Cameroon-Nigerian star is famous for releasing one of the continent’s best-selling records of all time, ‘Sweet Mother’, and famously appeared with various versions of the Rocafil Jazz troupe. If you love the lilted South African leaning sounds of King Sunny Ade, then you’re in for a treat.

Travelling eastwards, the Chinese (though there’s no information to hand on the provenance of this group) Tian Jin Music And Dance Ensemble provided a peaceable Zen moment of blossom tree beautification, fluted and dulcet mallet atmospherics on the forked and bowed ‘Raindrops Pattering On Banana Leaves’. Representing the Gamelan sound, the twenty-five strong Sasono Mulyo ensemble of Javanese and Balinese musicians and dancers magnificently set out on a two-speed voyage of discovery.

Circumnavigating the Pacific, and to the Hispaniola and Americas, the Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Colombian and Dominican Republic troupe of NYC salsa stalwarts, Salsa de Hoy (notably playing with such luminaries as Oscar Hernandez and Tito Puenta) give a suitable Latin buzz of sauntering and horn paraded fun to the festival with their signature barroom jazz signature.

Showcasing a burgeoning world music infused spirit of diversity in the UK, as the transference from punk to post-punk was now complete, there’s a great, if looser and more dubby rendition of The Beat’s two-tone single ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ and a Mardi Gras, via Manu Dibango, and ska version of Pig Bag’s self-titled anthem. Evolving out of The Pop Group, picking up on the way a burgeoning Neneh Cherry and the Antiguan-British dub bassist/guitarist Jean Oliver, the eclectic Rip Rig & Panic serve up a sassy and pumped-up smorgasbord of Liquid Liquid no wave, neo-soul, Pablo dub and bleated, trilled lurching saxophone with ‘You’re My Kind Of Climate’. Previously of both groups, the pianist Mark Springer appears in his solo guise playing an electric-piano like flange-effected soulful, spiritual hymn ‘Key Release’ – actually, it has more than a semblance of Bill Withers too.

Photo Credit: Chris Greenwood

Despite the name Ekome were a Bristol dance and music company formed in the aftermath of a Ghanaian steel and skin-drumming workshop. Members appeared twice at WOMAD, rattling away to call and response trills and an Afro-Brazilian carnival feel on ‘Gahu’, and also in accompanying Gabriel on the Scottish-piped yearned cry of universal suffrage and apartheid anthem ‘Biko’ – a cry of lament for the late leading South African activist that has an air of both Marillion and Mission To Burma about it. Gabriel’s plaint proved a worthy and indeed poignant reminder of the festival’s platform in not only sharing the global community’s music but in shining a light on global issues, the crimes of world leaders, and in this case, the apartheid movement. This stirred rendition did a lot to raise the profile of detention deaths in South Africa, paying special homage to one of the leading activists of that struggle in the 70s, Steve Biko, who died in police custody five years previous to this event.

Gabriel, as much for his formative years steering Genesis as for his subsequent solo endeavours and collaborations, was of course one of the festival’s main attractions. And so he appears twice on this live collection; once with the already mentioned ‘Biko’ tribute and before that with a bittersweet irony, over a hammer and tongs electronic production, performing a pop-fusion version of ‘I Have The Touch’ – taken from his then current self-tilted album and a single in its own right.

From a similar orbit, Robert Fripp (at the time reforming King Crimson) offered up as almost Eno-esque, late Tangerine Dream classical-strained electronic suite; an ambient stirred anthem that gave a certain gravitas to the festival, named in its honour, ‘WOMAD II’.  Fripp’s solo recitals were self-confessed challenges to the audience, needing certain conditions, and restricted to smaller crowds of 150, and so hence the maverick’s higher number of performances across the three-day event.

Fellow former idiosyncratic prog-rocker Peter Hammill, of Van Der Graf Generator fame, is captured with a new age Cope and Gong-like version of the almost theatrical, giddy ‘A Ritual Mask’ – the opening meandered and building maelstrom from his twelve album, Loops And Reels.

No festival of its nature could be complete without the Irish, and the famous Dublin institution The Chieftains. Proving a popular choice, the Irish-Gaelic troupe (almost together for twenty years by this point), fiddle and clap a merry Celtic jigged version of the hoedown country standard ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ – the Emerald Isle goes West to Arkansas.

Still, just about in their infancy and most interesting period, a pre-arena anthem-hitting Simple Minds stand out as a usual choice. Their current at the time ‘Promised You A Miracle’ 12” is performed with professional clarity and vigor; a decent enough live version of the original anyway, sounding a bit in places like ABC. 

Taken as a whole this run-through of the inaugural WOMAD holds-up as a pretty unique, open and international experiment. Astonishing to think that despite barriers coming down, and with a supposedly easier than ever access to every music scene in every corner of the world, WOMAD remains the only real prominent and long-running celebration and showcase for such worldly wonders in the UK. That year, 1982, sounds pretty vibrant even now by recent standards. And this live album proves Gabriel and associates were right in fighting to keep it alive, no matter the cost, sniping and criticism that came their way. Not just a worthy album, but a global, polygenesis power house of sounds and energy that’s well worth the admission price. Live albums don’t come much more eclectic. Here’s to the next forty years. 

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona


 

Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’
Six Degrees Records, 2nd June 2017

If anyone is perturbed, fear not as the man behind this slightly ironically entitled White African Power album, guiding hand and producer extraordinaire Ian Brennan, puts us straight:

“As one of the most persecuted groups on the planet, when a member of the Albinism community in Tanzania – especially one who has been relocated by the government for his own physical protection – asserts his “power”, it should not be denied. And if anyone has earned the right for the use of irony, it is those that have suffered such atrocities and ostracism from birth, yet still manage to endure.”

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

As superstitions still prevail in many parts of east Africa, none more so than in Tanzania, the albino community are ghoulishly hunted down or ostracized. If they’re lucky, they make it to sanctuaries such as the Ukerewe Island retreat: dumped for their own safety by families and the government but also abandoned. If they’re unlucky than they will find a much more horrendous fate is in store for them, pursued, murdered and dismembered for their limbs by those who believe that an albino’s body parts have magical properties. However you look at it, albinos in Tanzania are shunned and persecuted: one of the most common insults being that they, “belong to the whites”, or worse, that they are demonic.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.





Though sung in the “discouraged and censored” (following unification in 1964) dialects of Kikirewe and Jeeta, the English translated song titles will leave you in no doubt as to each one’s message and lament: from disbelief at their treatment, on the Casio keyboard preset backed alternative 80s, sweet but troubled, The World Has Gone Mad, and the double-bass trembled Stop The Murders, to the hope and calls for normality on the mysterious sounding electric-guitar blues I Will Build A Home, Someday, and the harp-plucked music box serenaded Happiness.

Another indictment if needed on those perpetrators and a population that have harassed and murdered them, other titles sadly reflect tragic insights into their lives: Stigma Everywhere, They Gossiped When I Was Born, Standing Voices (Once, I Was Abandoned). And as though any right-thinking decent human being needed it, there’s a jolting reminder that Disability Is Not A Curse.

 

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

 

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory.

Released just ahead of the U.N.’s International Albinism Awareness Day on June 13th, the voices of White African Power can also be seen at this year’s WOMAD festival this summer (July 27-30th).


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