Tunes of Many Lands And a Bevy of Beats

Ethnic sounds mingle with pop and rock at WOMAD fest

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IF any event symbolizes the diversity and growing appeal of world music, it certainly would be WOMAD (World of Music, Arts & Dance).

The traveling festival, founded by musician-artist Peter Gabriel, is an all-day multicultural celebration, which has been held in more than a dozen countries during the past 12 years.

This year's six-city United States swing of the tour concluded last week at Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield, Mass. It was only the second time WOMAD had performed in the US.

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For nearly nine hours, two stages and a workshop tent offered audiences entertainment, exposure, and education. A ``global village'' featured international crafts and foods.

Although WOMAD includes art and dance in its name, it is, more than anything, a festival of music.

The 15-group lineup included Peter Gabriel, Midnight Oil, Arrested Development, Live, Lucky Dube (from South Africa), Geoffrey Oryemo (Uganda), the Levellers (U.K.), the Guo Brothers (China), Caifanes (Mexico), Ashkhabad (Turkmenistan), Shikisha (South Africa), the Songcatchers (native American), Hassan Hakmoun & Zahar (Morocco), Mustapha Tetty Addy and the Royal Obunu Drummers (Ghana), and Stella Chiweshe (Zimbabwe).

The audience, which ranged in age from 20 to 40, clearly enjoyed the offerings, shuffling from one stage to another and mobbing the workshop tent.

In the past, some critics have contended that the majority of US concertgoers come to see the bigger-name acts, and that exposure to less-familiar world-music groups is incidental. Even at Great Woods, attendance wasn't what promoters had hoped for (13,000 people attended out of a possible 19,000, and a second night was canceled).

But festivalgoers expressed a ``so-what'' attitude; whether you came for the arena acts or the world music or both, you still win -

and you're enlightened about world music in the process, which is the intent of WOMAD.

Geoffrey Oryemo, a recording artist on Mr. Gabriel's Real World label and a two-time WOMAD performer who blends African and Western pop music, says that ``WOMAD brings to the American audience and audiences worldwide some kind of awareness, musical awareness. Because of the platform it offers, the audience has the opportunity to sample music from Europe, Africa, and many other places.''

He is encouraged by Americans' growing receptivity to ``world music'' - a term he hesitates to use since it tends to pigeonhole the artists and their music.

``The American audience has made a lot of progress. The US is a difficult territory to penetrate; rock and pop are still the dominating force as opposed to ethnic or traditional music,'' Oryemo said in an interview after his performance.

``What WOMAD does is turn things around and shake it up. So-called `world music' is gaining ground,'' he continued.

Back at the workshop tent, Eric Carter and friend Paul Reynolds learned about the didgeridoo, a traditional instrument of the Aboriginal people of Australia. The ``didge'' became an instant crowd-pleaser at WOMAD.

``It goes way back,'' explained Charlie McMayon, a didgeridoo player who later performed with Midnight Oil and various other bands. ``We don't know how long, because didges being wood don't make good fossils.'' He demonstrated several different timing sequences on the didgeridoo, then invited others to try it.

``It's the most incredible-sounding instrument,'' Mr. Carter said afterward, ``like some wild animal.'' Carter and Mr. Reynolds came to WOMAD specifically for the world music, and both said that it was ``way better'' than they expected. ``You have to respect Gabriel for all his support of world music,'' Reynolds added.

Later in the evening, Arrested Development appeared on the main stage. Commonly known as AD, the multigenerational group of men and women hailing from Atlanta raps, sings, and chants its uplifting messages. Its stage set featured a road sign pointing to the words ``life music'' - an apt description of WOMAD's celebratory tone.

Many artists sang of inspiration and striving for a better future. Reggae-pop singer Lucky Dube remarked that now apartheid, ``the law,'' has been beaten, it's time to remove apartheid from people's minds.

In the song ``Different Colors,'' Mr. Dube sang, ``Different colors, one people. God created one world, God created one people....''

Later, as the crowds grew, Peter Garrett, lead singer for Midnight Oil, beamed from the stage: ``There has been some absolutely tremendous musicianship going on ... good people doing positive things and activists who need your support.''

Midnight Oil's rousing hour-long set included favorites such as ``Warakurna,'' ``Sometimes,'' a poignant ``The Dead Heart,'' and ``Beds are Burning.''

Peter Gabriel, the eternal showman, accompanied by singer Paula Cole, brought home the finally packed festival grounds with a euphoric set, which included ``Steam'' (complete with shooting steam effects), ``Shaking the Tree'' about African women, the native-American inspired ``San Jacinto,'' ``Solsbury Hill,'' ``Digging in the Dirt,'' ``Sledgehammer,'' ``Secret Room'' (with the Gou Brothers), and a resounding finale, ``In Your Eyes,'' during which other groups joined the stage.

Festivalgoer Kim Wolski gushed: ``It was the perfect ending for WOMAD.''

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