WOMAD’s 30th Anniversary Festival, Wiltshire, July 2012 (1/2), a set on Flickr.
In the history of British music festivals — and especially those with an appeal that spreads beyond these shores — the behemoth that is Michael Eavis’s Glastonbury, with its roots in the free festival movement, may well be the best known, but also of great significance is WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance), the world music festival, founded by Peter Gabriel and five others, which began in Shepton Mallet in Somerset in 1982, and has since expanded to include regular events in Spain (in Cáceres), the Canary Isles (Gran Canaria), Australia (Adelaide) and New Zealand.
In the last 30 years, there have, in total, been more than 160 WOMAD festivals in twenty-seven countries including Abu Dhabi, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sardinia, Sicily, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey and the US, at which over a thousand artists from over a hundred different countries have appeared, entertaining over a million people.
I have been attending WOMAD — which, in the UK, runs from Thursday evening to Sunday on the last weekend in July — since 2002, when my wife, via Emergency Exit Arts, based in Greenwich, began working on the children’s workshops that are such an integral part of the WOMAD experience, culminating in a children’s procession throughout the entire festival site on the Sunday evening. For the first five years, these events were in Reading, by the River Thames, and since 2007 they have been in Charlton Park in Wiltshire, a much more spacious and beautiful site that survived its first year wobbles, when the entire site became a mudbath, and has gone on to become a perfect place for a festival — mostly open spaces, where the main stages, shops and food stalls are to be found, but also with an Arboretum, which provides a welcome respite from the sun, as well as a number of other stages and stalls.
In our ten years, we have been entertained by many hundreds of extraordinary musicians from around the world, and this year, as part of the photographic projects I am undertaking alongside my work as a freelance investigative journalist, I am delighted to publish photos I took at this year’s WOMAD — including photos of the site, and of the flags that are such a distinctive part of its presentation, photos of some of the performers that I was privileged to watch, and photos capturing the changes in the weather over the weekend, as well as a handful of photos that I took on the Thursday evening, before the crowds arrived, when the resident funfair was enchantingly empty.
I’ll be publishing a second set of photos tomorrow, and will then return to my ongoing project of photographing London by bike, as well as — of course — continuing to write about Guantánamo and the ongoing crimes committed by the US in its seemingly endless “war on terror,” as well as the dreadful state of politics in the UK, where the Tory-led neo-liberal coalition government continues to plunge the country into a terminal depression, while entertaining the world in the Olympic Park at the taxpayers’ expense.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Wonderful, Andy, thank you for sharing with us your experience. I just love your photos about Indian musicians.
Very glad you enjoyed the photos, Dejanka. The Manganiyar Seduction really was the most remarkable experience. I love Rajasthani music anyway – both the folk music and the Muslim musical tradition – after visiting India (and Rajasthan) 20 years ago. The music would have been excellent on its own, but this staging really draws in audiences, and has done a wonderful job for Indian music. Their conductor also had some ironic comments to make about how 40-plus Muslim musicians get treated when travelling around the world being detained as terrorists …
Anne Garage wrote:
I saw this – plus the rehearsal on the Thursday – awesome!
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I just shared this, Andy.
Thanks, George. Good to hear from you. And Anne, glad to hear from someone else who’s seen The Manganiyar Seduction. Truly extraordinary.
Louise Gordon wrote:
Those are beautiful!
Thanks, Louise. Glad you like them!
Ann Alexander wrote:
Looks like a great weekend and a fantastic festival, Andy. Love your photos.
Thanks, Ann. More tomorrow – or later today, depending on one’s location! Later today for me and you …
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