Three days jam packed full of music a Womex review

From 24th to 27th October the hub team were at Womex, here is Matthew Linley’s  blog diary of the gigs the team saw…


It would have been wrong to start a womex in Wales without a harp.  But in front of a classic band set up of guitar, bass, drums Georgia Ruth seems to cut a lonely female figure.  Singing in both Welsh and English the music thrives on the  seeming disconnect between the delicate sounds of Ruth’s ravishing voice and harp and her bands driving rhythm. At times the band sits back, allowing Ruth voice to take centre stage at others they surge forward and take over.  It gives the set a thrilling contemporary edge, hinting at a darkness underneath the tenderness.

There s no hint of any darkness what so ever over at the tented twin stage.  You kind of know something is up when the whole back of the tent is gleefully salsaing a way.. Up front on stage  are the Cumbia All Stars, eight performers who must have a combined age of well over 460 but with all the energy of youth, and considerably more moves. Four percussionists drive the rhythm based set, with a front line of two guitarists (giving it that surf guitar feel), 1 bass and all topped off by the enigmatic Luis German Carrillo Boysset on vocals and, er, moves!.  Forty years ago the band members were, in their own right, founders of a genre of music now called Peruvian Cumbia. Today as they revisit the genre they may no longer be breaking any new musical ground,  but it’s joyous stuff as bright as the Haiwain shirts on show!

Sticking with the joy theme  Shanghaan Electro burst on stage in a flurry of colour and the sound of shrieks and whistles. Ladies and Gentlemen we are here to rumble announces Dj and vocalist Richard Mthetwa. And rumble they do combining retro beats, street dance,colour and that glorious South African choral sound …oh and 189 beats per minute.

Back on the horizons stage the mood was a little more sombre (I entered to the line `and we sunk his body low`). Fiona Hunter mines the traditional songs of Scotland, delivering them with a smile as wide as the Clyde. Faithful to the originals Hunter and her band bring a contemporary feel to each. There is a delicacy and subtlety in the arrangements (for tenor guitar, guitar,fiddle and double bass). Hunters voice is rich and full, often communicating the songs story through the sweep of her voice. It’s a beguiling tapestry of sound which leaves you wanting more.

Amira, like Fiona Hunter before explores the traditional songs of her home land… In this case the traditional Sevdah of the balkans. Songs which give poetic expression of life, love, loss and longing and which, according to Amira are sweet honey which reflect the true soul of the often misrepresented Balkans.

In Amira`s hands these songs of deep melancholy are given a meaning which transcends language backed by a contemporary jazz duo of piano and bass(I particularly enjoyed Bojan Z imaginative and expressive piano solos)  . As a trio they utterly communicate the pain at the heart of these songs.   Sad and mournful the material may be, but here they are also truly beautiful

Back in the bar the Jacky Molard Quartet are lightening the mood with an invigorating twist on  traditional tunes from Brittany. And then with little pause for breath it’s back up stairs for the final Horizons gig of the night.

Kan may be new but its members are already familiar, featuring as it does Brian Finnegan (Flook), Aidan O Rourke (Lau),Ian Stephenson (Baltic Crossing) and Jim Goodwin (LSO) . It’s fast paced, virtuosic stuff combining traditional reels, jigs and the like with the individual members own compositions. It goes without saying it’s thrilling, bold and breathtaking. Brian Finnegan`s pipes and flutes in particular had me flying high over far off oceans and for the second time this evening I feel compelled to dance.

That’s when you know its time to go back to the hotel!

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There are endless routes into a showcase evening but I doubt many can be as riotous as the collaboration between Trans Global Underground and Fanfara Tirana ,the brass band from Albania. Balkan brass meets dance trance in the first of many fusions  of the evening. It is, quite simply, a blast. My only regret… I didn’t get in their earlier and the mosh pit down the front simply didn’t do the band justice.

Heading for the main auditorium I’m stopped in my tracks. From Spain, fusing traditional sounds with beats and electronics Budino burst out of the bar stage and had me transfixed. In many ways a Spanish companion band to kan the night before they were spear headed by the man who lends the band his name (on gaita/ flutes) and Garcias exuberant violin. It’s difficult not to be carried away by the fiery performance… And i promise that wasnt just the sherry talking

Back to the studio to a band which captures in one room the melting point that is London. In essence an ensemble (keys, guitar, bass, drums, guitar. Tabla, brass and vocals an ensemble of 10 in all) which should not work. But it does – brilliantly. Mixing the street sounds of London with Cuba and Bangladesh Lokkhi Terra achieve a synergy which is utterly joyous and uplifting

And so back to the main house of the WMC for Gjazalaw a band which explores the commonality between Indian Ghazal and its welsh folk. Hearing essentially the same refrain sung in the Indian tradition and then in the welsh is surprisingly effective, revealing affinities which go right to the music’s heart. I loved seeing the two guitars on stage playing utterly different lines, one from each tradition. The welsh tradition lends Ghazalaw lyrical beauty, the Indian tradition a devotional, meditative feel. It’s a potent if, maybe yet, unfinished mix.


Over rising arppegios, the piri calls are answered by the gentle sound of a Korean xylophone. Another wind instrument, this time the saenghwang which resembles a hand held organ that Gaudi could have designed soars over the incessant rhythmic rumbling of the immense 25 string gayageum.

Su:m`s sound has a strangely filmic, all absorbing quality which feels appropriate for a group who want to express the essence of living through their music . Playing a combination of traditional wind, percussive and stringed instruments their compositions often start in a safe, reflective place before travelling into and through more troubled waters. The instruments themselves  are exquisite objects which would not look out of place as artefacts in a museum but the sound world Su:m creates with them is hypnotically fresh and vital.

Jambinai are another youthful band from Korea whose take is very different.  They combine traditional Korean instruments (in this case the piri, haegum and geomungo) with full on, wall of sound rock. The result is not exactly easy on the ear. Its dark, menacing….at times baffling ….but ultimately thrilling.

Back over in the off womex stage the diminutive <Nomfusi Gotyana wasn`t half giving it some welly as she inspired the crowd to come home with her to South Africa. Backed by a band with that big bass sound, jangling rhythm guitar and keyboards  which is  distinctly south African .   But the real star of this show is Nomfusi who demands your attention from the off. With a voice that owes as much to the gospel tradition as it does to Afro soul (theres even a hint of Tina Turner  in there) she belts out her own material with the kind of spirit and passion that couldn’t fail to bring a smile to your face.

A quick break in the bar leads to an accidental meeting with Peppery Productions (the home of world music in East Anglia). Peppery are just one of the real heroes of the world music industry…. Enthusiasts who make things happen in their locale for love and a belief in the work.

So to the lyric theatre for a performance which is part dj/vj set, part live performance. Filastine was certainly the only performance I saw over the weekend which had a supermarket trolley on stage, and deffinately the only one where the trolley became an instrument (an instrument which had been played by his father and his father before that).. Lit dimly, mainly in red, the performance was focused, equally,on the soundscapes and visuals.

Then it’s time for a change of pace as I head back into the Horizons stage for the last time. Having presented the band 9bach  (then a two piece) at home, Dartington I was looking forward to seeing the expanded line up of 7.  Lisa Jen`s lyrical voice remains, rightly, the focal point, the band now providing a richer, more nuanced, more varied and at times edgier backdrop to her voice. The material has developed too, to the reinterpretations of welsh ballads have been added original material , some of it inspired and developed following working with the indigenous Australian group The Black Arm Band Company. Enthralling, beautiful stuff.

And so the last gig of the night and of Womex13. Despite the fact that I can barely speak, my feet ache and my body is crying for my bed my soul can’t stop but summon up a final bop to the Ghanaian high life of veteranEbo Taylor. Its a suitably upbeat way to round off an incredible musical journey over the last three days in the land of song.