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21 août 2007

Making a splash : Womad Singapore 2007

Out of Africa: Catch Senegalese Youssou N’Dour at Womad Singapore 2007 at Fort Canning Park.

When it rains, it pours. The weather aside, that oft-used phrase took an appealing twist this year when three world music festivals were scheduled within one-and-half-months in this region.

Two of them – the Rainforest World Music Festival in Santubong, Sarawak, and Penang World Music Festival – opened the floodgates last month. Those were tasty appetisers leading up to Womad Singapore 2007, which throws the celebration to end all celebrations with an uncompromising line-up for their 10th anniversary bash.

Grouses over the quality of Womad Singapore performers have been growing louder over the last few years – but despite the complaints the festival did attract a record crowd of over 19,600 last year.

For Womad Singapore 2007 at Fort Canning Park, there will be no issues over the jaw-dropping group of musicians assembled to light up the three-day world music jamboree from Aug 24 to Aug 26.

Youssou N'Dour and the Super Etoile de Dakar, Mahotella Queens, Asian Dub Foundation, Sheila Chandra, Daara J, Oki Dub Ainu Band, Etran Finatawa and Shooglenifty are joined by master drummer Johny Kalsi and BBC Radio 1 jocks Bobby Friction and Nihal in what is arguably a list nearing hall of fame proportions.

Great Scot!: Shooglenifty of Scotland.
There is finally a solid reason to stay back and soak it all in for the entire duration of Womad Singapore 2007 rather than picking the days to turn up at Fort Canning later this month. Those who have been ardently following Womad Singapore since the late 1990s would legitimately feel that it has degenerated into summer camps for the island’s expatriates and an assortment of tourists rather than a genuine avenue for outstanding music from around the planet.

Bagging the “Best Event Experience” gong in Singapore’s Tourism Awards in 2004 further underlined this shift in scope and while it has grown boundlessly (the team headed by Womad’s Regional Operations Director for Asia, Sarah Martin, deserves nothing but unstinting praise for its progress), the music side of the event appeared to have suffered in the process. By way of compensation – or pandering to the needs of its younger crowd if you insist on being a cynic – we have had late night sessions by renowned deejays and a longer roll of musicians for Womad.

A beneficial offshoot of Womad Singapore is the community outreach programmes that have been engaging schools and institutions of higher learning – which explains the larger turnout of students and undergraduates in recent years. Essentially, this project is to introduce the music of the world to the “download” generation, and gradually create a market segment that would help sustain Womad Singapore. This is a tough proposition in any demography, more so in a nation eagerly in search of a cultural identity.

The workshops – the enduring hallmark of all Womad festivals around the globe – have also moved up a notch. This year’s scheduling features potentially enlightening discussions helmed by such articulate and vocal musicians as Asian Dub Foundation’s Chandrasonic and veterans in the shape of Womad director and co-founder Thomas Brooman.

Master musicians: Daara J, an impressive West African hip hop act.
Elsewhere, Womad Singapore’s commitment towards arranging collaborations between participating musicians and their aspiring Singaporean counterparts continues with the National University of Singapore’s Chinese Orchestra’s alliance with Niger’s Etran Finawatra.

Their joint effort on Aug 26 is a coup that must not be underestimated and will hold us in suspense until its revelation, as this is probably the first serious Afro-Chinese venture at Womad Singapore.

We have a great deal to look forward to as the countdown begins to the premier world music festival in South-East Asia.

Asian Dub Foundation (ADF), in their second Womad Singapore appearance since their debut in 2000, will headline the opening day in a 90-minute one-off gig. Since their last studio album, Tank in 2005, the group has undergone changes to their membership and music, and Womad Singapore 2007 will see a fresh and re-energized ADF.

One-off gig: Asian Dub Foundation will add a touch of Anglo-Indian attitude to the proceedings.
Only three of ADF’s eight – Steve Chandra Savale aka Chandrasonic, John Pandit aka Pandit G and Sanjay Tailor – who appeared in Womad Singapore 2000 will return to conquer Fort Canning. It is uncertain whether Deedar Zaman (Master D), ADF’s charismatic former frontman and co-founder who recorded a new track for their first ever compilation album Timefreeze this year, will join the Anglo-Indian collective for the Asian leg of their tour. Regardless of which ADF version appears on stage, mayhem is guaranteed.

Sheila Chandra, the other British-based world beat revolutionary at Womad Singapore – and one for whom the term avant garde would not be a misnomer – is also slated for a one-night-only show which precedes ADF on the same day.

Sheila is respected for her ferocious independence in making music and her relentless focus on experimental albums and projects. Noted for the output through the Real World labe, three releases that features her haunting vocals in a setting that can only be described as futuristic, Sheila’s show is one of curiosity and promise.

Two of Africa’s major names and another two upcoming bands from the continent will also grace Womad Singapore 2007 and it is fair to say that the organisers have struck the right note in balancing the acts. Mahotella Queens are pioneers in blending traditional music of South Africa with homegrown jazz of the apartheid era.

Senegal’s Yousou N’Dour and the Super Etoile de Dakar – the masters of incorporating folk tunes and odes with Western pop – need no further introduction while their younger compatriots Daara J are reputed to be the amongst the leading hip-hop outfits in the continent, fusing hard-edged rap with politically conscious words. Etran Finawatra, a late “discovery” in the burgeoning Toureg music field and a name to be reckoned with, complete Africa’s involvement.

The grand finale for Womad Singapore 2007 will feature Mahotella Queens, N’Dour and his band plus Daara J in addition to Sheila and Dhol Foundation’s main man Johnny Kalsi. That final fling alone is worth the price of admission. This is undoubtedly the best party that the Womad Singapore organisers have put together and it is apt for a decade of good live outdoor music.

Details on the Womad Singapore 2007 schedule, packages, and more are available at

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