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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Womad dances through the rain
by Martin Vennard
BBC News Online

The height of British Summer
Festival-goers came prepared for the rain
The 21st Womad Festival took place in Reading at the weekend.

It never rains at Womad, so the saying goes, but sometimes it pours, and that is exactly what it did on Saturday night.

Normally the Womad - World of Music Arts and Dance - weekend in Reading is blessed with fine weather, but this was the year when the bubble and the clouds burst.

Once it started raining on Saturday afternoon it just got heavier and heavier, sending people running for the beer tent and turning the pathways into liquid chocolate.

But miraculously, when Jimmy Cliff - dressed in an orange suit - leapt on to the main stage and launched into You Can Get It If You Really Want, the rain had stopped.

He even did what is surely one of his most appropriate renditions of I Can See Clearly Now the Rain Has Gone, which brought a cheer from the crowd.

Like a ray of Jamaican sunshine, he turned his boundless energy from reggae hits - including Wonderful World Beautiful People - to a gospel version of By the Rivers of Babylon.

The Proclaimers
The Proclaimers were in fine voice
The performance by Sunday night's headliner, Khaled, was notably more restrained. The Algerian rai star arrived late and ended after an hour with a toned down version of his most famous hit, Aisha.

Perhaps it should have been The Proclaimers headlining on the final evening. The Reid brothers may look a bit older and heavier than when they first came to the public's attention in 1987, but they proved they have still got what it takes.

Craig, Charlie and their band showed they could rock with the best of them.

And you knew Womad had been right to invite them to its 21st birthday party when they got the whole of the main arena singing along in their best Scottish accents to Letter from America and I'- Gonna Be (500 miles).

The sun was back in its rightful place and the traditional procession snaked its way around the site with all the weird, wonderful and right-on creations made in the Womad workshops by the children and their big helpers.

Everything in the Womad world was right again.

Amampondo use their communal xylophone
It is surely one of the few places where you can find a stall called the Chai Chapel selling frankincense, myrrh and chocolate biscuits.

Manu Dibango may have turned 70, but when it comes to the sax he is still your man. Along with his fellow West African Ray Lema, he played some of the most laid back and relaxing jazz the psychedelic Siam tent has ever heard.

Barcelona's Ojos de Brujo also made a mark with their brand of flamenco, which combines rap and scratching with the Spanish guitar.

Traditional Spanish rhythms were also on the agenda on the now open-air Village Stage, where Mexican duo Rodrigo and Gabriela and their guitars were joined by a classical violinist.

Dressed in orange and numbering 17, Samba Sunda, from Java, looked and sounded stunning. As their name suggests, they have embraced South American music, but also reggae as well as traditional East Asian sounds and voices.

Another artist who looked and sounded great was Uzbekistan's Sevara Nazarkhan. Wearing a traditional green dress and jewellery, she managed to turn her voice from haunting Central Asian pieces to Western-sounding pop.

But of all the weird and wonderful sights at Womad, Brazil's Chico Cesar was one of the most striking. Wearing a red headband and a long black coat bearing a long, luminous trident, he and his band combined Brazilian rock with African sounds.

Amampondo, from South Africa, were one of several groups to bring huge xylophones with them and when six of the band gathered round to play it, it looked like they were beating a coffin lid.

Clave y Guaguanco were part of a traditionally large Cuban presence at Womad.

They performed a cappella versions of famous songs like No Woman No Cry and the joy on their faces suggested they could have carried on playing rumba and merengue for hours.

Joji Hirota comes from Japan while his Taiko Drummers come from places as far afield as High Wycombe and Wimbledon. The result of his challenge to the audience to sing in Japanese was mixed.

The only thing left now is for Womad to choose a weekend without rain for its 22nd edition.


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