Photography by Tom Askew-Miller
The Saturday at WOMAD might have been a bit damp, but Seu Jeorge and Toko Tolo brought a bit of musical sunshine to the fields
The name of Toko Tolo from Madagascar means ‘Group of Three’. But sadly there were just two on stage at the BBC Charlie Gillett Stage on Saturday afternoon as accordionist Regis Gizavo died just two weeks ago, aged just 58. The remaining members, guitarist D’Gary, who plays with a quirky finger-picking style, and singer Monika Njava are both top artists in their own right. We think of Madagascar as Africa, but the stripped-down sound underlined its Indian Ocean qualities and its links to the east. Hearing their music, it’s no surprise to learn that the word for canoe is the same in Malagasy as Maori. Their performance was bold and ebullient, but it’s no insult to them to say Regis Gizavo’s absence was felt. His funeral was also on Saturday in Madagascar.
Ifriqiyya Electrique in the Big Red Tent solved in a powerful and innovative way the problem of putting ritual on stage. In this case it was the possession and trance ceremonies of the Banga in the south of Tunisia. Like the Gnawa in Morocco, this community of black African origin use trance as a healing force and guitarist François Cambuzat and bassist Gianna Greco spent months filming the rituals and perform on stage along with that film and three Banga musicians on drums and metal castanets. With Cambuzat’s punk sensibilities, sometimes it’s pure noise, but to powerful effect. You see flailing arms, contorting bodies, heads swaying back and forth; you hear spiritual songs, follow processions, catch a goat sacrifice and feel almost like you’ve witnessed these ceremonies for yourself. Talking to people in the audience afterwards, they were deeply moved by what they’d experienced. The music isn’t easy, the rituals are sometimes disturbing, but Ifriqiyya Electrique have a clear vision and integrity in what they’re doing.
I wish the same could be said for Lamomali, which features French rocker Matthieu Chedid with some stellar Malian musicians including vocalist Fatoumata Diawara and Toumani and Sidiki Diabate on koras. Chedid, better known in France as -M-, has a strikingly high voice thatsometimes blends rather effectively with the ten-strong group on stage, except he spends most of the time upstaging them with grungy electric guitar riffs and what look like triangular aluminium spectacles. While he jumps and prowls, attracting attention to himself, his musical contributions transform Malian gold into bland Europop. Quite an achievement. It’s been very successful in France and almost justifies Brexit.
Much more tasteful was Seu Jorge’s The Life Aquatic tribute to Bowie. The Siam tent was packed, because Bowie, who died in January last year, is a national hero, but also because it was the best place to get out of the heavy rain. Sitting alone on stage with his guitar, surrounded by Aquatic paraphernalia, he launched into ‘O Astronauta de Marmore’. Occasionally he would stop singing and the audience would take over: ‘There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us, But he thinks he’d blow our minds.’ Seu Jorge’s sweet voice made Bowie sound very Brazilian and the meeting of cultures – Bowie as a bridge between Britain and Brazil – unlike Lamomali, was very touching.
The evening ended with Portuguese fado singer Raquel Tavares. She’d performed the Songlines Fado Series on Friday night in London and reminded us that people fear coming to the UK because of terrorist attacks. Although she’s directly from the fado tradition, she wasn’t dressed in the customary black dress, but a One Love Manchester sweat shirt and leather trousers. She’s got a strong, deep voice and a playful manner on stage. After a set of fados, she ended with fado-like ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse proving, like Seu Jorge, that British pop is also world music.