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21 août 2007

Festival watch : Womad, Charlton Park, Wiltshire

They called it Womud: in all directions primordial mire and people wading through it, falling over, moving with deliberation around immovable objects, with kids in tow/a pint in each hand. Backstage, performers from Rajasthan to Senegal were taking photos of each other in funny English wellies or, when there were no boots left, plastic bags tied round their feet.

Two centimetres of rain in two hours on the eve of Womad's 25th-anniversary festival, and its lush new site in the grounds of a stately home in Wiltshire (farewell, Reading...), complete with friendly viscount and only one dissenter in the village, was deemed a health hazard by some, who baled out early. Others, however, slowly sinking on the spot, danced from the knees up.

Memorable moments included Mexico's Lila Downs (imagine Frida Kahlo on maracas) singing 'La Iguana', wiggling her elbows in the air in an uncanny lizard impersonation to a dizzy surge of harp; Cape Verde veteran Cesaria Evora's onstage fag-break; a new generation of the Zawose family from Tanzania, all polyphonies and thumb pianos, later reappearing in full ostrich-feathered splendour to thunderously close out 'The Rhythm of the Heat' for Peter Gabriel; and Baaba Maal, sailing upstage in priestly white and gold, backed by the serried ranks of his luxurious big African band and a big, bright moon.

Less, however, was often more; Tuareg rebel riffsters Tinariwen, with a line-up depleted due to malaria and a missed plane, nevertheless worked their sinuous magic on Sunday's sunstruck crowd. Some way down the billing, Bassekou Kouyate, one-time ngoni player for Ali Farka Toure, now fronting a fine band on the up, won many new admirers, shaking deep Malian blues out of an instrument that could double as a cricket bat. And with her four faithful accompanists seated behind and following her every syllable, possibly no one attracted more adoration than Mariza, Lisbon's peroxide fadista, a unique combination of charm and drama, statuesque in long black dress, inhabiting the world's most intense songs to the point of tears, wellies waiting in the wings.

The Observer, Carol McDaid, Sunday August 5, 2007

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