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01 août 2007

Global rockers make magic in the mud

Desert trance: Touareg band Tinariwen

If it had stayed at its Reading home, Womad's 25th anniversary would have been under water. But on the high ground of its new location in Wiltshire, the festival avoided the floods but found the mother of all quagmires. Some rechristened it Womud.

For the 100 artists from five continents appearing this year and for the man who started it all, Peter Gabriel, who gave a special performance to mark a quarter of a century of, as he put it, "introducing the world to the world", a little bit of wet earth wasn't going to stop the global party.

Gabriel's set was blinding: a dazzling light show matched by a supertight band. Gabriel confidently ran though some of his big hits - Solsbury Hill and Sledgehammer were enthusiastically received. And he enlisted some of the talent playing over the weekend to share the stage with him, including master Chinese flute player Guo Yue, who lent an emotional potency to the Blood of Eden.

There was an English folk tinge this year, too, with Billy Bragg singing an impromptu Jerusalem to the crowd, folk fiddle rocker Seth Lakeman pulling a huge number of punters with his energetic set and new folk project, the Imagined Village, from the makers of the Afro Celt Soundsystem, rebranding English traditional music. The ubiquitous Tinariwen - they played London's Lovebox and that other mudfest Glastonbury - were depleted by illness and missed flights, but those present spun out their trance guitar riffs from the desert, while their long Touareg robes skirted their mud-spattered wellies with a comic incongruity.

Senegal's Baaba Maal, who closed the festival, played a long, boring, repetitive set riven with energy yet lacking musical sensitivity. But even that proved Womad's unique strength: that its success doesn't rely on a headline act, but resides in its generous embrace of a world of music.

Mark Espiner, Evening Standard

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