WOMAD @ Charlton Park, Wiltshire 27 - 29.07.12

With WOMAD festival celebrating its 30th birthday recently, traditional and contemporary musicians from across the world converged on the sun-soaked and picturesque grounds of Charlton Park in Wiltshire. Amongst the bewildering array of performances on offer - ranging from the ultra-traditional to the dynamically contemporary - I found a few artists you're unlikely to hear elsewhere and asked them what they're doing to develop their sound and why.

Jul 27th, 2012 at Charlton Park, Wiltshire / By Jon Mitchell
WOMAD @ Charlton Park, Wiltshire 27 - 29.07.12 One of the most traditional performances came courtesy of Justin Vali. His acoustic, relaxing Madagascan valiha music effortlessly trickled around the sprawled-out crowds. It seems luckily for Justin “The modern thing has kind of incorporated itself into his musical form rather than him compromising it the other way around,” Justin's collaborator, Paddy Bush told me afterwards.

Another act refusing to compromise are the rather dignified Nuba Nour group from Cairo. Dressed in white robes, their loosely hypnotic and shuffling style gently ebbed and flowed across the main stage, preserving their ancient Nubian roots intact with their simple call and response vocals over hand held-drums. They tell me later just what it meant for them to be here as it serves as a validation to their more modern contemporaries back home that their traditional music can have a place.

When we ask Donation Manu'asi, the leader of Narasirato, who provide the thumping and highly enjoyable pan-pipe music of the Solomon Islands heard across the weekend about his tradition, he tells me that they normally compose songs “about the creatures and animals, but nowadays the life is changing, the civilisation is upon us and our music has sort of changed.” And so in deepening their traditional pipes to create the 'stomping tube', they can respond to this with a more modern bass-heavy sound which goes a long way in under-pinning their joyous and celebratory style successfully.

Singer Nazaket Teymurova from Azerbaijan was somewhat more optimistic than most about the future of her traditional music; the classical mugham. “Despite the fact that the contemporary world is not such a good place for traditional music, there are enough people who will keep their love for it.” Her stunning vocal performance was full of heartbreak, dissolving and evaporating gracefully in the afternoon sun before building to the climactic finale. When asked of how her own brand of mugham might develop, just like Narasirato, she explained how they have already made steps, adding poetically that “because mugham is a big ocean each of us try to bring only one drop of our own contribution to it.”

One of the more experimental and engaging groups - and certainly one of the boldest - were the stunningly creative Ukrainian act DhakaBrakha (pictured). Unlike Nuba Nour, Narasirato and Nazaket Teymurova, DhakaBrakha are restoring their pre-Soviet, pre-Christian music in a style which aims to rise above mere representation. With sometimes startling traditional vocal harmonies - and with the addition of some punky cello and Nigerian rhythms - they still are aware of their roots as their interpreter tells me: “They are playing with pop music, they are not playing pop music.” Either way, they're well worth checking out.

The most encouraging developments of all came courtesy of a young Angolan / Portuguese DJ, Pedro Coquenão. With his group Batida, he's mixing retro decades-old Angolan pop with taught, brittle and dense 80's electronic Angolan kuduro music to great effect. With the help of MC's, laptops, dancers, whistles, live percussion and videos on stage it's a swirl of saturated neon colour and excitement. Pedro Coquenão has seemingly found a way to combine the traditional and the contemporary to much acclaim despite the fact that his contemporaries are doing it in a “more efficient, more pumping and 'clubby' way.” He's rightly excited about his future.

Perhaps the most ambitious performer of all however was the star of BBC Radio 3's World Routes Academy José Hernando Arias Noguera from London. His mostly acoustic Colombian vallenato and papayera hybrid music “is actually a combination between other Caribbean styles from Colombia like cumbia, chande and mapalé”. It's not what you would see in Colombia, but, with the help of the World Routes Academy, this is just the kind of thing you would expect at WOMAD. He's one of those musicians looking to develop their traditions, and for those that aren't, long may WOMAD continue to provide validation and opportunity for them to expose their traditions to a new crowd, which might just do it for them.