Photos of WOMAD 2019: Awareness of the Global Environmental Crisis Hovers Over Three Days of Sunshine and Great World Music


A few of my photos from this year’s WOMAD festival at Charlton Park in Wiltshire.

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Check out my WOMAD photos from this year here!

What a difference a year makes. Last summer the global environmental crisis was certainly on many people’s radar, but it hadn’t gone mainstream like it has in the last 12 months. The change has come about in particular because of the resonance of the global climate strikes by schoolchildren, initiated the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, and the actions of the campaigning group Extinction Rebellion, but the real trigger was the publication, last October, of a chilling report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warning that we have just 12 years to avert an unprecedented catastrophe caused by man-made climate change. 

Awareness of the unprecedented climate emergency was everywhere at WOMAD, as you would no doubt expect at a clued-up, globally-minded, middle class festival — and it certainly helped that the day most of the crew arrived, Wednesday, was the second hottest day ever in the UK, with temperatures reaching 38.1C (100.6F) in Cambridge. 

I had numerous discussions with people involved in the WOMAD organisation, in which we either briefly discussed the urgency of the environmental crisis, or alluded to it, although it wasn’t promoted specifically, except through the presence of Extinction Rebellion activists, and the conspicuous efforts to tackle waste and recycling issues. The most shocking example of out-of-control throwaway culture at festivals in recent years was, most notoriously, Glastonbury, whose aftermath was featured in truly shocking photos in 2015, but everywhere our casual addiction to plastic, and an enthusiasm for abandoning tents has led to the aftermath of festivals becoming a vivid and disturbing demonstration of how, collectively, we have become startlingly adept at turning everywhere into a vast dustbin. Even this year, at Glastonbury, where climate change and the environment were the festival’s theme, the sale of single-use plastic bottles was banned, and David Attenborough turned up to thank festival-goers for using less plastic, saying, “That is more than a million bottles of water that have not been drunk by you”, vast amounts of litter were still left behind.

At WOMAD this year, finally, plastic plates and cutlery were banned, and the transformation of the site was immediate and profound. There was also vastly less rubbish left behind in general in our crew campaign area, which was clearly the result of everyone suddenly becoming considerably more environmentally aware. This was a good start, but much more needs to be be done. Drinks, for example, were served in partly-recycled plastic glasses, whereas a friend told me that at the Shambala festival everyone has to bring their own drinking cups — and if we’re to take waste seriously then it really is time for us to carry our own cups and plates with us wherever we go.

Awareness of the significance of the climate emergency also quite naturally joined with other concerns that have been apparent at WOMAD over the last three years — specifically, the impact of the EU referendum, and the expansion of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” for immigrants into what I believe it would not be inappropriate to call the official transformation of the UK into a country that is actively hostile towards all outsiders. Since the EU referendum three years ago, as racism and xenophobia have become much more horribly pronounced in everyday British life, the British political establishment has begun enthusiastically treating EU citizens as second-class citizens, is actively trying to get rid of as many people who are not full British citizens as possible, and is doing all it can to discourage visitors from other countries visiting on business — unless they’re fabulously wealthy, of course, which most world music musicians are not.

At moments during this year’s WOMAD, when many of the performers spoke of love and solidarity, as those involved in world music so often do, it seemed clear that we were indeed all united as never before — by Brexit, by Donald Trump, by the rise of the far-right in general, and, not coincidentally, by the denial of climate change that is also part of this reactionary, backwards-looking worldview, as well as by a revulsion at how so much of the western world — and not just those on the right — are also opposed to immigration and the free movement of people, whether they are musicians, or, more gravely, refugees, asylum seekers, those driven to flee their homelands because of western wars or economic exploitation, or, increasingly, those fleeing the effects of catastrophic climate change that those in power in the west are still doing so much to deny, or to sideline, by earnestly declaring “climate emergencies”, but then doing nothing about it.

Musicians know all about this closing of borders, of course, and in the three years since the EU referendum it has become noticeably more difficult for artists from around the world — and it seems, Africa in particular — to be allowed to visit the UK to play — a situation that will only get worse if Boris Johnson somehow manages to succeed in his deranged plans for a no-deal Brexit. 

As Chris Smith, WOMAD’s director, explained in February, “It is harder to book artists because of Brexit … We are struggling to overcome it and let artists know they are welcome here and [that] people still want to experience their great music. Lots of artists are finding they can get to Europe but fear taking the next step to the UK, particularly if there is there is no passport union. It will become more complicated. When we are out of the EU the passport arrangements will change, so artists coming from wherever will get into Europe but worry they then won’t be able to cross the Channel.”

But while all this solidarity is quite meaningful in one sense, as the battle lines haven’t been so clearly drawn on racism and xenophobia since the last time fascism reared its ugly head — and, on the environment, we have no precedent whatsoever for the apocalyptic battleground in which we find ourselves — the uncomfortable truth is that WOMAD, like all festivals, remains part of a global capitalist business, with its stages, tour trucks and international travel, while the festival-goers themselves —- ourselves — are also primarily concerned with personal pleasure, and still caught up in a festival world that is a microcosm of the wider capitalist world. Our festival experiences are a litany of choices — which acts to see of the many, many dozens on offer on numerous stages, which food to eat from the plethora of individual businesses competing for our attention, and which shops to browse in in the festival’s hippie simulacrum of a high street.

I’m not singling out WOMAD for particular criticism; rather, I’m reflecting on the fact that, since I committed myself, in May, to the unprecedented requirement to actively get involved in trying to stop the worst effects of the catastrophic climate crisis we are already experiencing, I can’t help but see every aspect of our lives through that prism.

The blunt truth is that we have reached “peak everything” — that we consume too much, throw away too much, are enslaved by plastic, and by our interconnected devices that hoover up an ever-growing supply of climate-destructive electricity. Our world is swamped by billions of man-made things — an uncountable number of clothes, every type of food and drink imaginable that is flown around the world or driven in huge trucks from factories to networks of proliferating logistics hubs, and available whenever we feel like it, as though each of us is some sort of medieval monarch.

We’re also swamped by achingly clever devices, and by wonderfully designed but essentially unnecessary objects that speak to the drive for self-gratification that we are all told, relentlessly, is what we deserve — “because we’re worth it” — but that, fundamentally, are all part of the same grindingly destructive capitalist machine. We’re a clever race, but we’re also frustratingly easily distracted, and capitalism panders to us, and lies to us, working 24/7 to pretend to be our friend, when all it values is profit. Only a tiny fraction of our brainpower is devoted to ideas and products that make the world a better place, because there’s no profit to be made from that.

37 years ago, when WOMAD started, the carbon footprints of festival culture were minuscule compared to today — and the same can be said of almost every human endeavour at the time. When I first stumbled through a hedge to visit the Glastonbury Festival, in 1984, there were a handful of stages, and almost no food stalls or shops. I’d just come from the Stonehenge Free Festival, which basically operated on a subsistence level, and where money was almost peripheral. The free festivals had free food kitchens, DIY stages, and an ethos of “leaving no trace”, a far cry from the reckless disposability of today’s festival culture, which has only finally been challenged this year, and of the capitalist mantra that everyone must relentlessly be offered as much choice as possible as much of the time as possible — so long as they have the money to pay for it. The 21st century capitalist mantra, as I see it, is as follows: “Breathe In. Breathe out. Spend. Breathe in. Breathe out. Spend”, repeated ad infinitum.

I don’t have all the answers to the problems I’ve outlined above. Personally, I’d be happy to attend a WOMAD with, say, three stages, and one vegan, socialist food kitchen (rather like what the Madras Cafe has been doing for years), but that would probably be economic suicide. However, I find it inconceivable that the current state of affairs is sustainable. It really was a great WOMAD this year, and I hope you have time to check out my photos, but it felt like the days of partying like this are severely numbered — just as, in a few weeks’ time, when, with my wife, I’m visiting a friend for a week in southern Turkey, it will feel that the days of millions of us jetting to sunny foreign beaches whenever we feel like it are also numbered.

I hope you’re also starting to see the world the way I do. The more of us accept that we’ve reached “peak everything” and are running out of time, the more it will become feasible that we can actually make a difference — and although, to be blunt, it’s terrifying to consider how much damage we have already done to the world, the more people wake up, the more we can actually start using our brains to work on alternative ways of living that begin to undo all the damage we’ve caused with our all-consuming addiction to capitalism and its myriad appeals to our laziest self-gratifying impulses. 

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

27 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article (with a link to my photos), looking at this year’s WOMAD world music festival – three wonderful days of great music from around the world – through the prism of the unfolding environmental catastrophe that we’re all facing, and which, I confess, colours almost everything I look at these days.

    As the festival’s organisers took steps to cut waste and reduce plastic use, and featured Extinction Rebellion activists, I explain how, nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’ve reached “peak everything”, and that everything we’ve come to regard as reliable, and as something which we’re entitled to, is actually unsustainable – even our festivals. As I note, “I’d be happy to attend a WOMAD with, say, three stages, and one vegan, socialist food kitchen, but that would probably be economic suicide.”

    Please feel free to discuss!

  2. Anna says...

    Wow, the robot which I’d seen only in its most basic form came out great. Congratulations to Dot & Polly :-). And to the decision to de-plastify WOMAD. I’m finding all kinds of ways to do that at home, ranging from reusing any plastic bags as long as possible by taking old ones to the market for my shopping, never buying plastic-wrapped cucumbers or other supermarket nonsense (except the odd bacon, once in two years :-), to figuring out how to fill my general waste bin without juices running and the bin getting smelly long before the (plastic) bag is full and I can throw it away. And find that it is actually fun to have to be inventive, like back in the ’50s, when one had to do that because there simply was no plastic alternative.
    As for the visa shame, it was mentioned not long ago on AJE:
    Another deplorable result of outsourcing to private companies, it seems. I was shocked, didn’t know it was so bad. I did know such cases, but that was the US embassy in Kabul which would charge local people 200 USD for each interview, several of which might be required, not to mention other costs, and when the visa was refused – most of the cases – that money was not returned. 200 USD is a pretty good monthly salary over there.
    In other words, they can afford trillions to bomb Afghanistan, but not the staff salaries which would cover the cost of these interviews…

    But there you are, US ‘policies’ are creeping in everywhere in Europe, from building walls to other ways of ‘discouraging’ unwanted foreigners from even applying for a visa. Only to blame them later for trying to cross our borders illegally…
    Have a great time in Turkey and I’ll be following Edinburgh festival news, but with a few thousand performances it might be hoping for a miracle.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna. We certainly all need to be thinking and acting more responsibly as individuals, getting back to the “make do and mend” mentality that existed when I was younger, and that was definitely a hangover from wartime rationing and a general sense of the importance of frugality, something I suspect was helped by the UK’s dominant Puritanism.
    Now we’re godless, and collectively behaving as though liberated from some sort of oppression – perhaps capitalism’s greatest trick in these times, persuading people that rampant over-consumption and selfishness is somehow justified because the alternative – moderation, living within our means – is actually a form of oppression.
    Thanks for the link regarding visas. I’ll try and watch the programme, but I fear that it’s not just outsourcing that’s the problem; it’s also automation, entrusting decisions to AI and algorithms, as well as, of course, some pretty fundamental underlying racism.
    As for ‘Frankenstein’, hopefully it will stand out from the crowd in Edinburgh. It’s already listed as a ‘must-watch’ show by the BBC and the Independent!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    End times Andy End times

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    ‘Last days of Rome’ is one of my favourite bits of graffiti in Deptford, Tashi. We either change voluntarily or we’re in for a rude awakening …

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Andy I appreciate(d) your friendship.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Likewise, Tashi. That warning issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last October – that we have just 12 years (now 11) to avert an unprecedented catastrophe caused by man-made climate change is looking more conservative by the minute. I credit that report with mobilising people in significant numbers, and obliging many of our governments to declare various forms of “climate emergencies”, but all of them seem to be essentially toothless – demonstrating, above all, how our politicians are fundamentally the emptiest windbags imaginable. Hopefully, the global climate strike planned for September will attract massive support. I can’t see how we’re going to change anything without massive and concerted direct action:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    I believe the dawn has come, Andy…

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s already happening, Jan, which is extremely disconcerting for those untold millions of people who don’t want to acknowledge that every day we – as a species – fail to act is bringing us closer to irreversible damage. It seems that it will take huge man-made climate disasters before we can even contemplate seeing the paradigm shift in human consciousness that is required to begin making amends for our chronic over-consumption and selfishness over the last 40 years in particular. With so much ice melting this summer, I suspect that it might be the flooding of low-lying areas that properly sounds the alarm bells – like the flooding of Florida, perhaps. Here’s the Miami New Times from a few days ago, but the headline’s surely misleading. Instead of ‘Almost 800,000 South Florida Homes Could Be Flooded by 2100’, it really should read, ‘Almost 800,000 South Florida Homes Could Be Flooded Anytime Soon’, shouldn’t it?

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Tuesday wrote:

    Andy the IPCC is very conservative – if you think that every piece of research is peer reviewed by state and corporate nominated scientists. They include oil states and corporations, and the peer reviewers aren’t all climate scientists.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Hence the need for people to wake up promptly, Anita. I do think that pointing out a 12-year deadline was a powerful way of alerting people to the finite nature of our existence, but as you note that was a conservative estimate – not only because of the make-up of the IPCC, but also because we can’t predict how one element of the collapsing eco-sphere may have knock-on consequences that are far worse than previously imagined:

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    I keep referring to the situation as ‘The End of Days’.
    Sounds biblical, apocalyptic….it is.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    But so many people don’t want to know, Ruth. What’s most challenging, it seems to me, is for people to recognise that we’re already doing irreversible damage, which is why we need to stop all our insanely damaging activity now, to have a chance of mitigating the worst effects of what we’ve already set in motion, particularly over the last 30 years. Loads of us understand, and would willingly adapt to the extraordinary changes needed, but the people, in general, need leadership, which is sorely lacking. XR’s exhortation to “Tell the Truth” is quite powerful, but we need politicians and media prepared to do that, and we’re still stuck with shallow, self-serving and far too frequently deluded politicians, and media that, if they’re not right-wing lunatics, are still wedded to their absurd notions of objectivity and balance.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Tuesday wrote:

    I think we can identify the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There might be more than four.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    The Horsemen of the Apocalypse is surely one for Steve Bell, Anita. And yes, four isn’t even scratching the surface of the colossal number of powerful idiots failing to take any meaningful action – or in complete denial.

  16. Anna says...

    Friday 09/08 24:05
    This guy wants to try beatboxing. Hm, wonder what inspired him :- ).
    Totally agree with your scathing assessment of most politicians & press – not to mention the real rulers of this world, the corporate moguls. As for our personal input to reduce our own carbon & plastic footprint, I find that quite a few babies have been thrown out with the bathwater over the years.
    Take paper. We should not print too much, were it only newspapers. But old newspapers were used to wrap our fruits & veggies in the market, or to line our metal dustbins so that (wet) garbage would not get stuck to it. Such ‘collateral’ uses have been massively overlooked in agricultural development when quick & spectacular improvements were sought. One example is short-straw rice, which was to be the ultimate efficiency in rice varieties. Except that in many rural societies, that long straw which we considered pure waste, was used to thatch roofs, was incorporated in mud walls and served other basic purposes.
    It is virtually impossible for an average person to figure out what damages more : cutting trees (unless we use other raw material) and using water for paper production, or littering the world with micro particles from plastic bags. Wearing cotton whose production consumes dreadful amounts of water and agro-chemicals (upstream cotton production destroyed the Aral sea), or use artificial fabrics which when disintegrating or even machine-washed, spill micro particles into our sewage systems and eventually into the oceans? Wish more guidance was available for such basic dilemmas.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Nish Kumar’s very good. I wonder if he’s going to be with the Beatbox Academy, although I suspect he’ll be with a beatboxer called Shlomo, who’s also in Edinburgh.
    You make very interesting points about the various forms of damage caused by our consumption – and I appreciate your analysis of how additional uses of long-straw rice were overlooked by those promoting short-straw rice.
    Perhaps you should have a go at writing the guidance you seek!

  18. Anna says...

    I suppose you know .350 organisation ?
    If not, here’s a useful appeal from them to FB, to refuse fossil fuel adds :

    As for solutions for the plastic/warming crisis, there’s no way anyone can guide us all the way. I suppose the best we can do, is never to mindlessly follow any trend – no matter how positive at first sight – but always try to look at the problem from as many angles as possible. If cotton pollutes, rather than ditching cotton look for ways to produce it with less water (maybe slightly recycled waste water, after all we do not eat cotton?), instead of ditching garments made in Bangladesh and rob countless women of any income, improve their working conditions -> be willing to pay more for it – while making sure the ‘more’ does not go to the company shareholders. Oh dear, it is complicated, isn’t it :-).

  19. Damo says...

    God Womad sounds great good music good people great to meet new people or just sit listen and people watch heaven.. I think we’re all just feeling frazzled brain fried and exhausted by events out of our control at the moment and people are looking for ways to escape for sanctuaries which come in many different forms I think glastonbury is over in a way now it’s like the prides just corporate corporate corporate I mean what it’s gonna cost on average £500 to go ticket food travel etc I remember when glastonbury cost practically nothing I think we’re in unprecedented times and we’ve got to hold it together and fight back.. I think in a way we were all happier in simpler times

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the link, Anna. I hadn’t seen that before.
    “Never mindlessly follow any trend” would be a great T-shirt slogan!
    As for how complicated environmental responsibility is, I suppose in a fair world we’d have governments prepared to act on the climate emergency by including the environmental costs of every product – but then we’d still be plagued by corporate profiteering, so it really does seem that only the complete collapse of capitalism is the only viable was forward for the planet and our continued survival.
    It would help, I think, if broadcasters made programmes that spelled out clearly what the most polluting aspects of our current global culture are, showed how much of our products are based on fossil fuels, and asked what products we’d really like to not do without if we suddenly couldn’t transport anything from anywhere in the world – either by plane or by ship – because we were counting the environmental cost of all our transactions.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, Damo, that, years ago, the New Economics Foundation published a report that assessed national well-being via social, environmental and economic factors and not just GDP, and found that 1976 was Britains’s happiest year, in part because the gap between the rich and poor was at its smallest.
    The report’s here:
    And here’s a little update from 2017:

  22. Anna says...

    So, which beatboxers was it? Couldn’t watch as I’d have to agree to endless cookies and registering and heaven knows what else if I’d want to watch any BBC on line …

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t know, Anna. I haven’t had time to watch it:
    Perhaps someone else has checked it out? However, I don’t think it was the BAC Beatbox Academy, as no one ha mentioned it, and we saw them all yesterday – at a sold-out performance of ‘Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster’ at the Traverse Theatre, which was rather wonderful!

  24. Anna says...

    Seems there’s another Frankenstein (made in USA) in Edinburgh, but glad to hear that does not stop the Beatbox from being sold out :- ))).

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Dot and I saw Tyler today, Anna – poor love, he’s completely shattered right now – and he told us there are actually two other ‘Frankensteins’ at the festival.
    They (BAC Beatbox Academy) were featured in the Scotsman’s feature on the festival in Saturday’s paper – online here, helping ticket sales, I’m sure:

  26. Anna says...

    Great article and will keep hoping to see something about the One-&-Only-Real-Frankenstein 🙂 on my laptop screen. Hang in there Tyler, daily performances must be exhausting – but so great !

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    The five-star reviews for ‘Frankenstein’ keep coming, Anna. Found this one last night:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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