The weather forecast announced a tropical cyclone for the weekend of the 14th of March 2014. It was the weekend of WOMAD– the World of Music, Art and Dance, a three-day open air festival in Taranaki. I had my bags packed, all set and ready to go but my friend and I were hesitant. Was it really a good idea to go all the way up to New Plymouth – a good five hour drive up north from Wellington? It was going to be my first three-day festival in New Zealand but also my very first tropical cyclone. We packed our gumboots and all the rain gear we had and decided to let the adventure begin. After a long, sunny drive, we arrived at the campsite, which was beautifully situated in the centre of a racecourse oval and the TSB stadium right in the shadow of Mount Taranaki. I set up my tent in a, what I hoped to be, sheltered spot and set out for the WOMAD venue. After a short walk through the lush surroundings of Brooklands Park, African drumming heightened my anticipation – and there it was. I arrived at the main stage, which was set up on a lake with palm trees and native bush in the background. I didn’t expect a festival site to be so beautiful.
Besides the six different stages there was a handcraft market, food stalls as well as workshops and artist dialogues. There are so many things to see and do at WOMAD that it seems impossible to fit it all into three days. But unlike most German festivals I have been, at WOMAD most bands play multiple times during the weekend – so in case of an overlap, you can see the artist sometime later during the weekend on a different stage.
Anyways, it felt like a rapid timetable at times when I was rushing from the passionate sound of Portuguese fado singer Carminho to the fascinating Tunisian protest singer Emel Mathloulthi followed by Afro Cuban Jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca who explored new sounds and dimensions by blending traditional acoustic instruments with elements of electronica. Mind-blowing was also Afrobeat star Femi Kuti from Nigeria, Mokoomba from Zimbabwe, Hawaiian guitarist Makana, La Chiva Gantiva from Colombia, Dub Inc from France, the outstanding singer Ane Brun from Norway or New Zealand artist Delaney Davidson with his distinctive take on country and blues.
My personal highlight was seeing The Balkanistas from Wellington on stage. They won the WOMAD band competition and got the last slot in the 2014-line up. The colourful Balkan groove orchestra mesmerised the audience with their rhythmic brass, dashing accordions and wailing melodies on voice and violin.
There was just one act that didn’t seem to fit in with the so far alternative, world music performances -in my opinion anyways- and that was Kiwi songstress Kimbra. Her energetic performance was definitely appreciated by thousands of festival-goers, especially from the teenage generation. If it was up to me, there would have probably been some New Zealand reggae or dub tunes like Trinity Roots or the Fat Freddy’s instead.
And what happened to the cyclone? It never hit. It rained a little at times and the wind picked up on Saturday night but we barely had to put on our rain coats and it was far from the mud bath the media had predicted. In case you still got dirty or freezing feet, you could just jump into the hot-shower unit on the camp site which for me was the most luxurious festival-camping-experience of all times.
All in all, WOMAD was a fantastic experience and one of the best festivals I’ve been to in New Zealand. The location was stunning, the music unique and inspiring and so was the entire atmosphere. I was amazed by the family-friendly, relaxed and exciting environment which was quite different to most festivals I went to in Europe. I’m already looking forward to WOMAD 2015. I’ll be there!