Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 14:50 UK

Womad brings desert cultures together in Abu Dhabi

Womad brings its mix of world music to the United Arab Emirates at a free festival where Tuareg collective Tinariwen collaborate with New York scenesters TV On The Radio.

The Drummers of Burundi perform at Womad, Abu Dhabi
The Drummers of Burundi were one of the highlights at the three-day festival

By Ruth Barnes
BBC News, Abu Dhabi

In the taxi from Abu Dhabi airport, our driver swears loudly at a brand new snazzy station wagon that swerves across all three lanes, missing us by a hair's breadth.

"That's a local" he sighs, with disapproval.

Our driver, Sanjeet, is Indian, but has lived in Saudi Arabia for nineteen years, and in Abu Dhabi for two.

Eighty per cent of the population of this, one of the richest cities in the world, is expatriate. Many of them are the worker bees, slaving away to build the shimmering high rises that make up the ever-expanding skyline.

To this end, it's very satisfying to see some of the oil money spent on a Womad festival for the residents of Abu Dhabi and beyond.

Unlike the exclusive nature of festivals in the UK, this event is free, made possible by Womad working with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture And Heritage, which aims to make Abu Dhabi the "cultural centre" of the United Arab Emirates.

Desert Cultures

Tinariwen
We're based in the desert very far from anybody else, it is very important we work with musicians no matter where they are from
Eyadou Ag Leche, Tinariwen

Womad Abu Dhabi has as diverse a festival audience as you're ever going to get - mixing music fans, Sheikhs, curious locals, and random passers-by on the man-made beach front.

It's the first festival I've ever been to where an MC can shout: "Is anyone here from Persia?"

This happens just before The Chemirani's - a renowned Persian classical music ensemble - takes to the stage, and is greeted by a roar from the front of the crowd, where the group's fellow countrymen have camped out.

Alternative '"Rai" rocker Rachid Taha headlines for the Algerians in the audience; slide guitar guru Debashish Bhattacharya for the huge Indian contingent; spiritual collective Rango for any Egyptians or Sudanese... and the list goes on.

Desert Cultures is one of the themes of this year's festival and Womad asked leading world music producer Justin Adams to pick out bands to represent the "sound of the desert". He sums that sound up with one simple adjective: Remote.

"All that space and the slowness of time in a desert creates certain kind of atmospheres," he explains. "They [the musicians] can be guardians of cultures that have disappeared in cities."

'Stunned'

One of the bands Adams signed up was Tinariwen, a troupe of Tuareg desert blues-rockers who count the likes of Robert Plant, Thom Yorke and Bono and The Edge amongst their fans.

The band are keen collaborators. They've already worked with hip UK folksters Tunng and now, at Womad Abu Dhabi, they're collaborating with Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe from New Yorkers TV on the Radio - the cult indie-rockers whose 2008 album Dear Science topped several "best of" lists.

Tunde and Kyp from TV On The Radio (photograph by Ruth Barnes)
TV On The Radio are in the middle of a year-long hiatus

The band say they fell in love when they saw Tinariwen perform on Later... with Jools Holland back in 2006.

Tunde explains: "We were simultaneously stunned that we'd never heard of them before and amazed at how bad they made everyone else look!"

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the bands decided on a unique collaboration at Womad Abu Dhabi 2010.

As Tunde explains, the idea of collaboration is central to what TV On The Radio does: "When we started the band, our live performances consisted of inviting whoever was in the bar we were performing in onto the stage... not always the best idea!"

"Now it's nice to have the opportunity to do something with people whose works you actually admire, in an organised manner" he adds.

Eyadou Ag Leche, a young bass and calabash player, is one of the newer members of Tinariwen.

Womad 2010
The Abu Dhabi leg of Womad was held on the waterfront

Softly spoken in French, he tells me that collaboration is essential for the band: "We're based in the desert very far from anybody else, it is very important we work with musicians no matter where they are from - the UK, India, the States..."

And what is it about TV On The Radio that Eyadou feels fits with Tinariwen's style? The answer is simple: "The desert quality to Tunde's voice", he smiles.

The air travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud meant Kyp was a late arrival, and the bands had only a few hours on Saturday afternoon to share ideas and rehearse.

However, the result was still impressive, with Kyp jamming along to Tinariwen's bluesy guitar lines and Tunde lending his voice to the melodies as an instrument - looping and layering his vocal.

Perhaps not something Tinariwen or TV On The Radio would decide to release, but a one-off collaboration made possible by a one-off festival.

Womad is never short of surprises.



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