Womad, or the World of Music and Dance festival, has been happening all around the world since the early 1980s, and was the brain child of Peter Gabriel, amongst others. I will admit that I always thought it sounded quite hippy-ish and weird, and I imagined it to be filled with dreadlocked, smock-wearing spiritualists who sniff incense and chant about the earth mother. To be fair, there were definitely some people fitting that description there, but there was a really wide mix of people who show up to experience the music and instruments of different cultures. I always thought it sounded a wee bit intimidating and that I wasn’t enough of a hipster to go, but I have friends who go every year and I have after all undertaken a mission to improve my cultural education, so I thought it was about time I gave it a go for the one day at least.
What surprised me most about Womad was quite how much fun I had. I thought it would be interesting to experience so many different musical cultures, but I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did. I don’t recall seeing any dance displays advertised so I’m not quite sure where the dance aspect came into it, but there were workshops (both instrumental and spiritual), gamelan tents where you could have a tinker with the instruments, hundreds of stalls selling everything from jewellery to instruments and an enormous array of world cuisine, tea tents (which brought me great joy), poetry tents, massage and healing tents as well as a huge selection of live world music performed in a range of different arenas and tents – pretty much anything and everything you could imagine for a hippy festival, and spread between fields and woodlands.
Pretty much as soon as we arrived we stumbled across a laughter yoga workshop. Now I’ll be honest, I thought we’d stumbled into a funny farm or something because there were crowds of people walking around in absolute hysterics, laughing manically to themselves. It was a cross between hilarious and completely unnerving, and then I realised that it was actually planned and was running to some kind of order. The idea behind laughter yoga is to relieve everyday stress and unpleasant situations by running through a series of exercises in which you force yourself to laugh, because laughter is a great stress reliever and releases endorphins or something which makes you feel good. I felt like a bit of an idiot doing it at first, but it was actually really good fun and after a couple of minutes you realise that you’re actually not forcing yourself to laugh at all, you’re just laughing naturally because the whole thing is pretty surreal and hilarious and you’re surrounded by people laughing really enthusiastically and infectiously. I highly recommend it actually, it really does make you feel better and I think it’s probably even funnier when you’re doing it by yourself knowing that everyone else thinks you’re a little bit mad.
Next we paid a visit to the Hip Yak Poetry Shack, where a variety of different poets performed selections of their work. My absolute favourite was Jonny Fluffypunk, who appeared wearing a beret and braces, and with his face adorned by the most fabulous moustache I’ve seen in a long time. I quite liked all of his poems, but the highlight has got to be Bill Blake’s Birthday Cake which you can read on his website here. A poet named Muriel Lavender also made quite an impression, not only because she rather dubiously performed in her underwear and writhed saucily in front of a very young child while reciting a poem about sex, but because she had been asked to recite at the last minute, didn’t have her book with her and yet managed to remember a substantially long poem. (Plus her dyed pink and blue hair rather nicely matched the flowers she’d stuck in it).
When we weren’t trying on a variety of amusing hats or stuffing our faces with an even larger variety of different foods, we did actually have time to fit in a wee bit of music here and there. The first act we saw was a Japanese drumming group called Gocoo. They were quite mesmerising to watch while they frantically drummed in sync with each other and leapt about energetically, I was quite exhausted just watching them so goodness knows how they felt by the end. The front woman was especially hypnotic, she looked a bit like a fairy with a sparkly made-up face and a floaty white dress, but I really wished she’d just tie her hair back or something, I found it quite distractingly irritating how she kept having to flick it out of the way. (Bear with the video, it will come into focus!)
We also saw a Balkan brass band by the name of Fanfare Giocarlia, which was probably one of my highlights actually, I don’t really know how anyone resisted joining in with a boogie because it was all so catchy and feel good.
The next band we saw was a Ghanaian funk band called Konkoma. Now I will admit, it took me quite a long time to warm up to these guys, I didn’t really feel like it was my kind of thing and I couldn’t really get into it at all until a super enthusiastic man with the best dreadlocks I’ve ever seen got up on stage and led us in a fun dance routine to the music. I enjoyed dancing along to it because it was kind of funny and I was rather taken with the lovely dreadlocked man, but I didn’t enjoy the music anywhere near as much as Fanfare Giocarlia.
Finally we saw The Bookshop Band performing in the Hip Yak Poetry Shack. They’re quite local to the area and frequent Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, which is a book shop that I’ve never been to but I’m absolutely dying to visit because everything about it sounds wonderful. Every now and then they hold book signings and author talks and events where The Book Shop Band perform songs based around the books that are being discussed. I love the whole idea of The Bookshop Band, and they have such a large array of instruments considering that there’s only three of them in the band. At one point one of them was playing three different instruments in the same song, which was rather impressive. I really enjoyed all of their songs, but I think my favourite was The Paris Wife which is based on a book by the same name written by Paula McLain and is about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and her life with him in Paris. (The video was actually taken from last year’s Womad).
Womad was definitely a fun experience, and I would recommend going just for the food alone which really was very yummy (and boy was there a lot of it!) I think it’s safe to say that I was in food and tiny tea tent heaven, and the whole day was very enjoyable. When it comes to the music, the chances are you won’t have heard of any of the acts playing before, so it’s fun to turn up and just see what you stumble upon. I didn’t really have any acts in mind that I particularly wanted to see other than The Bookshop Band, but we came across some fun little gems without really knowing what it was we were going to see. I would have liked to have had a go playing a fun instrument, but sadly all of the workshops were fully booked very quickly. It was a nice day out though, full of lots of enjoyable surprises, and I would definitely consider going again.