Big Skies and Global Beats: WOMAD’s 30th Anniversary Festival (2/2), a set on Flickr.
Yesterday I published my first set of photos from this year’s WOMAD world music festival in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The product of a great flowering of interest in festivals, WOMAD, which began in 1982, as the brainchild of Peter Gabriel and five friends and colleagues, tapped into the thirst for festivals that Michael Eavis had identified at Glastonbury, when the modern era of Glastonbury began with the 1981 festival and a name change from the Glastonbury Fayre to the Glastonbury Festival.
Long-time readers of my work will know how much the festival culture that has since bloomed into a phenomenon that draws millions of people into fields every summer came out of the upheavals of the 1960s and free festival movement of the 1970s, and, at its best, drew on Utopian, cooperative, environmentally aware ideals that were ahead of their time. A trajectory of these counter-cultural movements, and their successors in the 1980s and 1990s, in the rave scene and the road protest movement, can be found in my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield.
Although those early festivals — and particularly the traveller-focused circuit of free festivals that homed in on Stonehenge every June — was eventually suppressed by Margaret Thatcher, it is a measure of the resonance of the movement that it has ended up achieving a success beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. However much it may have been watered down or commercialised, the Utopian desire to gather in fields, to mingle and to watch music has ended up appealing to a wide cross-section of society.
One of its best examples is WOMAD, based, for the last six years, at Charlton Park, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, whose organisers present extraordinary musicians every year without fail, at an event that is packed with children and teenagers, as well as catering to an aging population of world music aficionados, where the food is excellent, the sun mostly shines, the corporate involvement is close to non-existent (the Guardian are the festival’s main sponsors) and the original Utopian vibe of the festival pioneers continues to thrive
WOMAD also has a truly global reach, holding regular events in Spain (in Cáceres), the Canary Isles (Gran Canaria), Australia (Adelaide) and New Zealand, and since its founding in 1982, 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.
For myself, my family and a number of close friends, WOMAD is a high point of the calendar. Since 2002, my wife has been running children’s workshops for the Greenwich-based community arts organisation Emergency Exit Arts, and every year our big crew of workers and children — ten adults and eight children this year — gets to hang out together for five days. At the workshops, the children at the festival can take part in all kinds of wild and wonderful projects, and the culmination of the weekend is the children’s procession on the Sunday evening, when the whole festival stops to watch the children pass by, wearing or carrying what they have made, in a weaving, colourful procession that also features groups of drummers and huge sculptures made by the various community arts groups with the help of the children.
This second set of photos from this year’s WOMAD includes photos from the procession, featuring the Birdman, a winged spirit creature that was the centrepiece of the EEA presence, as well as various photos of the musicians, the site and the crowds.
I hope you enjoy them.
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.
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