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Last Updated: Monday, 1 August, 2005, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Rain fails to dampen Womad spirit
By Martin Vennard
BBC News

Kala Chethena Kathakali Company
Womad unites music, art and dance in its many global forms
The sight of several thousand people standing in a giant tent after midnight listening to Siberian throat-singing sums up the spirit of Womad.

It's about letting your hair down, or putting it up under a funny hat with dreadlocks attached, and generally doing other things you would not normally do.

The audience was transfixed by Huun-Huur-Tu's deep, guttural harmonising, and the Siberians were amazed by Womad. They seemed particularly impressed by the fact that there was a fun fair on the festival site.

For the music is not the only attraction at the World of Music Art and Dance by the River Thames in Reading.

It is a place for discovering groups like India's Kala Chethena Kathakali Company. They tell stories through minimalist theatre, wearing stunningly colourful costumes and make-up, while accompanied by percussionists.

Huun-Huur-Tu was one of the more unusual performers

It is also a place for rediscovering stars of the past.

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame was just one such artist. With his restrictions on photographers and production office he seemed a little bit too big for Womad.

But his extended version of Whole Lotta Love at the end of Friday night on the main stage reminded people why he was a star.

Another survivor from the '70s was Kiki Dee, who once famously duetted with Elton John.

Her audience may be suffering from middle-age spread, but her voice and figure are as good as ever. And accompanied by a guitarist and a backing singer she proved she has "still got the music in her".

Russia's Terem Quartet
Russian's Terem Quartet and their giant balalaika

Womad brings people together. There were Australians performing Bulgarian choir music, Armenians joining forces with Persians, and British Asians singing reggae.

The crowd is also part of the show.

One couple was having a joint stag and hen party in front of the main stage and, despite the rain, hosted a game of Twister for their guests.

But the strange sights are not limited to the audience.

Russia's Terem Quartet must have one of the world's biggest balalaikas. And they claimed that Bach had composed a piece especially for it.

The Fatback Band from the US impressed with their soul, rhythm and blues, while the singer had echoes of James Brown in his voice - and their diminutive guitarist's solos left listeners stunned.

Youssou N'Dour
Live 8 star Youssou N'Dour topped the bill on Saturday night

Youssou N'Dour and his group Super Etoile are archetypal Womad performers and, topping the bill on Saturday night, they did not disappoint.

The Senegalese superstar has as much energy as ever and his hit Seven Seconds Away had the crowd singing along.

Sunday is an altogether more relaxed day at Womad. If you have not already had the chance, it is the opportunity to wander around the dozens of stalls selling everything from hemp baseball caps to antique theatre costumes.

Richie Havens and his acoustic guitar are veterans of the festival circuit, going right back to Woodstock.

Toto La Momposina
Colombian star Toto La Momposina brought Latin beats to the festival

Sounding like a more avuncular Bob Dylan, he used his deep, rich voice to tell stories and perform songs such as All Along the Watchtower.

Colombia's Toto La Momposina and her band had people in the Siam tent moving to Latin beats that were perhaps less in evidence than in previous years.

When you see the procession of children and their adult helpers snaking its way around the site on Sunday evening, you know Womad is coming to an end for another year. The children had been making props at workshops.

Finally, the All-Star Gala Finale brought several of the Womad performers together on the main stage for a climatic version of Bob Marley's One Love.

Let's just hope it rains a bit less next year.


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