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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Womad stars let it all hang out
By Martin Vennard
BBC News, Reading

Finnish trio Varttina entertained the Womad crowd
Thousands of fans of music from around the globe gathered in Reading at the weekend for world music's biggest and best-known festival, Womad.

This year's World of Music Arts and Dance festival was an even more eclectic mix of sights, sounds, tastes and smells, thanks to a few changes made by the organisers.

As well as the usual range of artists, they introduced a cookery workshop where some of the performers showed off their culinary skills to the crowd.

While African and Latino groups were well represented over the three days down by the Thames in Reading, it was a group of northern Europeans who produced one of the most original performances.

Nanci Griffith
EastEnders fan: Nanci Griffith was another Womad star
Finland's Varttina are led by a trio of female singers, who ran around the stage like three mischievous white witches. Backed with modern and traditional Finnish folk music, they teased and entertained the audience with tales of winter, ghosts and forbidden love.

Belly dancing

Another mould-breaker was that good ole country girl Nanci Griffith. Her sweet Texan voice hides a sharp sense of political and social awareness. And she also revealed that her ambition is to appear on TV in EastEnders.

The US-based Yerba Buena got things moving on the main, outdoor stage on Friday afternoon with their Latin fusion. They even had people belly dancing, which was an unnecessary encouragement for some to let it all hang out all weekend.

Salif Keita

One woman even ended up dancing topless on stage at Sunday's rousing climax concert by Angelique Kidjo from Benin.

Womad is the kind of place where anything goes. This year saw the reappearance of the man who spends all weekend in a black body suit. And a boy who was born on the site eight years ago was back celebrating his birthday.

Siyaya's mix of gospel-like singing and dancing showed that Zimbabweans are joyful people despite their problems. They had more luck than their compatriot Thomas Mapfumo, who was one of several performers who were unable to attend due to visa problems.

Etran Finatawa from Niger chanted hypnotically to an electric guitar accompaniment. They come from the Touareg and Wodaabe tribes, with the former wearing desert robes, and the latter with painted faces and feathered headdresses.

Ukulele covers

Yerba Buena
Yerba Buena brought belly-dancing to the Womad stage
With his cowboy hat and moustache, the singer from Mexico's Los de Abajo leapt around like a camp version of the spoof Kazakh journalist Borat. The band were joined on stage for their rap and Latino rock by a drummer from the Asian Dub Foundation.

The Sunshiners from Vanuatu used a ukulele and a tea chest to perform some of the most original covers ever of hits by The Cure, U2 and David Bowie.

Japanese humour was also on display in the form of the Pascals, a full orchestra who performed strange and beautiful music, with their front man playing a plastic whistle, while dressed in a bra and grass skirt.

Joyful performers: Zimbabwe's Siyaya
West Africa's Salif Keita and Femi Kuti headlined on Friday and Saturday respectively, while Sunday saw no let up for the legs or emotions.

The kids' food-themed procession wound its way round the site with the props they'd made at their workshops. Susana Baca made herself cry with the emotion she put into her Afro-Peruvian singing.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra had even the worst Salsa dancers strutting their stuff and Sharon Jones proved her soul credentials are more than just having grown up in the same town as James Brown.

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