Review: WOMADelaide 2020

WOMADelaide 2020

One week before the Australian Government banned gatherings of more than 500 people due to COVID-19, we were lucky to experience our yearly dose of incredible world music at WOMADelaide 2020, held in the beautiful Botanic Park.

On one hand, many international students in Adelaide would have felt a sense of familiarity hearing traditional music from all over the world. On the other hand, WOMADelaide is a new and unique universe of sounds, smells and art.

To begin proceedings, the Blind Boys of Alabama took the stage to deliver traditional Alabama gospel music. The vision-impaired group has been around since 1939, and is well-known for being behind the theme song for HBO’s The Wire. Impressively, even though most of them are well over 80 years old, they still sounded fantastic and delivered a range of tracks from their catalogue, including songs from their Grammy Award-winning album with Ben Harper.

As a festival with so many acts – many of which are relatively unknown – WOMADelaide is the perfect place to simply roam and discover new talent. Unlike other major festivals where the big acts provide a scaffolding for your day, people tend to go to WOMADelaide because they don’t know who anyone is. It’s the ultimate festival for the curious music fan.

With that in mind, I stumbled across Ngaiire, a glittering powerhouse of a performer from Papua New Guinea who takes pop music into all sorts of groundbreaking places, while ensuring the songs remain beautiful and soulful.

Los Amigos Invisibles, a Venezuelan acid jazz band, got thousands of people moving with their addictive Latin beats mixed with sample hooks. Many of their hooks come from songs you thought you had forgotten but, as it happens, have not – think Barbie Girl by Aqua!

Come dinner time, we stumbled across some fried dumplings from Parwana, an Afghan restaurant in Adelaide that had set up a stall at the festival. It was so good that I ate there again the next day! I am sure I will dream about those dumplings… 

Next up was Odette, a young Aussie singer and pianist who made a name for herself on Australia’s major youth radio station, Triple J (check out her incredible Like a Version cover to see what I’m talking about!). Odette showed that she is about to make a massive impact on the music scene with her understated setup. With just a keyboard and drummer, her powerful voice was felt by the crowd and stood out as the main event.

One of the weirdest (and most amazing) performances was that of Circolombia, a Colombian circus/hip-hop/Latin crew. One minute a guy was rapping at the front of the stage, and the next the girl behind him was being thrown through the air, only to land in the arms of four members standing on the other side of the stage!

Laura Marling, a UK folk singer who hasn’t released anything or played live in three years, captivated the crowd with her mesmerising vocals and lyrics that tend to rattle in your mind for days after.

As well, the undisputed king of African music and ‘The Golden Voice of Africa’, Salif Keita did not disappoint.

For me, though, the highlight was seeing Briggs, an Indigenous Australian hip-hop artist who doesn’t shy away from tackling issues like racism and social justice. His story is nothing short of impressive: around five years ago he was playing in small clubs, and now he’s a mature and strong performer, as well as a mainstream political icon.

If you’re thinking about heading to WOMADelaide next year, I highly recommend getting early bird tickets and blocking out the entire weekend. You won’t regret it!