Every year since 2002, I have attended the WOMAD world music festival (it stands for ‘World of Music, Arts and Dance’) with my family and with friends. My wife runs children’s workshops at the festival, and for five days, at the end of July every year, we escape from the city and join the gathering of the tribes in a trouble-free version of the festival idyll that was first dreamt up by the counter-cultural pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s, and has since grown to appeal to — well, almost everyone, if Glastonbury’s success is anything to go by.
WOMAD had a capacity crowd this year for the first time since it moved to its current residence, Charlton Park in Wiltshire, from Reading in 2007. That meant that 40,000 people turned up to be hammered by the relentless sun and to be thrilled, entertained and moved by musicians who are not generally on the mainstream musical radar in the UK — with the exception of Sinead O’Connor, who stepped in at the last minute to replace the late Bobby Womack, and who was extraordinarily powerful, her unique mixture of vulnerability and anger bringing many in the crowd to tears, and not just during “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Sinead played many songs from her new album, “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” which promises to be excellent.
From further afield, I enjoyed Clinton Fearon from Jamaica, formerly of the roots reggae legends the Gladiators, the legendary Manu Dibango and the magisterial Youssou N’Dour, but WOMAD is also about making new discoveries, in my case Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba, Malians who lit up the first night, folk legends Martin Simpson and Dom Flemons, and — my favourites this year — Debademba, a very funky, rocking and soulful bunch of West African groovesters featuring the Malian griot singer Mohamed Diaby and guitarist Abdoulaye Traoré, who was born in Burkina Faso.
There is, of course, more than just the music at WOMAD. The festival has some great food, and there’s always great company, amongst the festival-goers in general, and, for me, in my own tribe of south Londoners. It was great to sing and play guitars in our camp — including some wonderful harmony singing on Saturday night — and it was refreshing to see such a diverse age range at the festival, where those attending have grown up together over the years, as young adults grow older, and their kids turn into teenagers and, in turn, young adults themselves.
I hope you enjoy my photos from the festival — and who knows? Perhaps it will inspire you to join us next year!
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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On Facebook, Ann Alexander wrote:
Thanks for sharing the photos, Andy. It all looks very colourful and bright.
Yes, an antidote to British dourness, Ann. I’m glad you enjoyed them. Your recent comment about looking forward to seeing them was what spurred me on to post them – especially as I failed to do so last year!
Ann Alexander wrote:
I’ve missed your photos, Andy. Seems a while since you posted any.
Yes, for most of the last 18 months or so, I’ve mostly only posted photos of various protests. However, I still take photos of London on a daily basis, and I’m slowly getting round to launching my new website, “The State of London,” featuring photos of London and essays about the city, where, of course, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow at an alarming rate. I fI can find the time, I’ll also post some other photos – of our trip to Mexico for example – but the London project is a big thing, and I think you’ll like it!
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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