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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Womad spirit defies rain and mud
By Martin Vennard
BBC News, Charlton Park, Wiltshire

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel marked Womad's anniversary with a show of his own
World music's biggest and best-known festival, Womad, was turned into Woe-mud at the weekend by the heavy rain earlier in the week.

But Womad, which quit its old home in Reading for a new site in Wiltshire this year, still managed to celebrate its 25th anniversary in the presence of thousands of appreciative fans, and include a headline gig by the festival's founder, Peter Gabriel.

It was something of a homecoming for the former Genesis star as his Real World studios are only just down the road, and he was joined on stage by family and friends. It was something of a greatest hits affair, with fans voting on his website for the songs they wanted to hear.

Blood of Eden, No Self Control, Sledgehammer and Solsbury Hill all made it onto the playlist.

He was accompanied by the "Cambodian Ray Charles", Kong Nay, for Lay Your Hands on Me. And he was also joined by Mauritania's Daby Touré for a rousing version of In Your Eyes.

The ground was turned into a thick chocolate sauce that had fans squelching in their wellies between the stages, but Womad lost none of its Bohemian qualities. The men's communal showers were opened to women as I was getting washed, while middle-aged people clomped about the site in fairy wings and tutus.

Slightly bemused
Mud at Womad
Conditions were difficult for some

It may have taken an hour-and-a-half to drive the few miles from the M4 motorway to the Charlton Park site but the reggae of Toots and the Maytals soon had smiles back on the faces of some stressed-out drivers.

Chambao are one of a crop of Spanish groups who have emerged in recent years by mixing traditional with modern. They performed flamenco with soul and rap, while Lila Downs wore her very long hair extensions and Mexican/American heritage with pride.

Her performances are what painter Frida Kahlo might have come up with if she had formed a mariachi band.

With a new location and the weather to compete with, the normally strict Womad timetable went awry several times, while Viscount Andover, who helped bring Womad to his Charlton Park estate home, was still getting to grips with the site.

He had to consult a map when asked the way to one of the stages.

 Cesaria Evora
The Womad crowd loved Cesaria Evora
Such was the expectation for Cesaria Evora that she was wildly applauded before even opening her mouth in the Siam Tent on Saturday. She seemed slightly bemused by the fuss.

Cape Verde's most famous export hardly spoke between her often sad and soulful songs, and she only really moved when she sat down to take a cigarette break while her band played on.

But by the time she finished with Besame Mucho she had certainly moved the audience.

Sea of mud

The contrast with Candi Staton could not have been greater. She had the tent singing and dancing as she switched from soul to gospel to disco, taking in her own Young Hearts Run Free and Elvis's In the Ghetto.

Dry islands started to appear in the sea of mud as the sun shone on Saturday, but the heavens had opened again by the time The Imagined Village premiered their live show in the evening.

Simon Emmerson of the Afro Celt Sound System had invited musicians such as Billy Bragg, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Johnny Kalsi of the Dhol Foundation and Sheila Chandra to reinterpret some traditional English folk music.

Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg reinterpreted English folk music for Womad
They were joined on a video screen by dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah for a reworking of the 15th Century poem Tam Lyn.

Isaac Hayes headlined in the pouring rain on the outdoor stage but his famous gravelly voice still managed to put some soul into the night.

Clube do Balanco from Brazil had people sambaing in their wellies on Sunday.

David D'Or from Israel set Jewish prayers to music, his powerful voice calling out to people around the site. And he had the crowd dancing en masse to the Jewish folk song Chava Nagila.

By the time local lad Jamie Cullen and his brother Ben made the short trip down the road from Malmesbury the skies had turned blue.

Jamie's jazzy, funky pop may not be traditional Womad fare but he and the crowd leapt to it. The brothers tried out some of their new material, including an improvised number called... Womad 2007.

The organisers said they left Reading because Womad had outgrown the site there. Charlton Park is certainly much bigger, but it needs the benefit of good weather before it can be properly judged.


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