Thursday night and the festival is up and running with its least inspiring night of entertainment with the notable exceptions of Vieux Farka Tour?© and Eliades Ochoa. All was forgiven though as we were just warming up for greater musical delights to come and four nights of musical excitement might just have been too much for us to handle.
Avoiding the new folk of Spiro, critically lauded but just not my cuppa and the frankly dreary and lightweight Catalan pop rock of Manel, the night started with a Laura Vane taller (Spanish for workshop) which was held on the second of the large stages. Looking a lot more approachable and human than her vampish press shots she proceeded to explain, with the aid of a translator her musical inspirations, the myspace meeting with her backing band The Vipertones, the excitement at her fairly rapid rise to fame and her joy of being involved in Europe’s soul and funk scene. She followed this with a bit of audience participation breaking the crowd into three sections to help sing the chorus to one of her tracks, fun was had by all and she did herself a lot of favours with her cheery demeanour and enthusiasm.
Fortunately when we returned to the main stage Manel had been wheeled off and were probably already heading to the airport off to another audience anaesthetizing mission and Vieux Farka Tour?© and his group of splendidly attired musicians had started to liven up proceedings. With a great natural stage presence that so many African musicians possess he started off slowly hinting at the West African origins of the blues and a particularly memorable Afro reggae track before asking everyone “do you know how to dance?”. This was the cue for the bands tempo change, chorus singing from the crowd and general dance shenanigans to some fabulous Afroblues dance music.
This would have been one of my more memorable gigs of the year if it hadn’t have been for the most obtrusive camera work I have ever had the misfortune to witness. Linked to a big boom at the right of the stage the camera spent almost 50% of the concert hovering right in front of Mr. Toure, leaving only his legs on view. Also partially obscured were the guitar and drummer leaving only the percussionist and bass player visible to the majority of the audience.
Now I know Womad want to record the concerts for posterity and possibly to generate more revenue through DVD sales of the concerts but doing so at the expense of audience enjoyment is downright criminal. I’ve been to many concerts in my time that have made it to film but the camera work has always been discrete.
Despite audience calls and my personal protestation to the camera supervisor, which was waived away as insignificant with an arrogant indifference, the obstruction of half of the stage, admittedly to a slightly lesser extent, carried on into the following concert from the consumate Cuban ‘sonero’ Eliades Ochoa, one of the all time great Cuban vocalists.
Backed by his colour co-ordinated and neatly attired 8 piece band, Ochoa glided through his repertoire of son, guararcha, bolero, chang?ºi, and Afro-Cuban classics with an effortless, grace. The Cuban music found more favour with the enthusiastic audience due, I’m guessing, to the absence of a language barrier and more familiar rhythms and the crowd erupted into widespread dance move and it was a rousing and fitting end to the first night of the festival, it just would have been nice to see the artists as well as hear them.