WOMADelaide 2021 – day 2 review

Revelation is a word closely associated with WOMADelaide for me.

Sure, when the artist announcement is released, I’ll be familiar with a few of the headliners. But each year I go along confident that it will be a weekend of surprises, as an array of instant new favourites are revealed.

I’d never heard of the late great Geoffrey Oryema of Uganda until his stunning performance at WOMADelaide in 1998. His album Beat the Border instantly rose high on my CD rotation.

Similarly I was surprisingly ignorant of Eddi Reader till her 2012 WOMADelaide appearance. Now her release Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns is right up there on my list of faves. There are countless more examples including Shooglenifty, Dobet Gnahoré, Papa Wemba, Violins Barbares, Lo’Jo, Yamato – the Drummers of Japan, Fatoumata Diawara and so many more.

Here’s the thing: streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music do a great job of suggesting artists that are similar to those you already like; WOMADelaide does the opposite, brilliantly challenging us to delve into genres, countries and artists that are outside our regular sphere of interest. And what a rich opportunity it is for greater cross-cultural understanding and empathy.

Most importantly, the international WOMAD network provides a professional venue for artists that otherwise struggle for recognition on the world stage of live performance. And it’s definitely not a niche audience. Annual attendances since WOMADelaide was extended to a 4-day event in 2010 have been around 90,000.

MRLN X RKM

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy much of MRLN X RKM – rap just isn’t my scene – but they were excellent.

Marlon Motlop (aka MRLN) – a voice destined for the global stage. Photo: Wade Whitington

Marlon’s voice has that unique star-quality that should gradually gain him recognition on the global stage.

Many accolades are due to WOMADelaide Foundation’s WOMADelaide x NSS Academy for mentoring artists from First Nations and multicultural communities. The aim of the extensive workshops is that they culminate in selected performers gaining a gig at WOMADelaide this year and next.

Clearly the Academy is working; it was a high-quality and engaging performance by MRLN X RKM, featuring some great self-written songs and a very solid backing band.

Vika and Linda

Vika and Linda have been charismatic backup vocalists for a huge array of singers over nearly three decades. But it’s a special pleasure when they front their own show.

Much-loved Vika and Linda. Photo: Wade Whitington

Vika is a fine story-teller and their repertoire reflected their experiences from their Tongan heritage and through their collaborations with some of the greats of Australian music, especially Paul Kelly, Mark Seymour and Joe Camilleri.

Most of their songs are written by others, but their own Grandpa’s Song was a highlight. It was written as an apology for the time when as kids they shied away deliberately from their grandpa who had come to collect them from school in full Tongan regalia. They’d had enough of schoolyard abuse for being “foreign”.

Vika and Linda hope to record a studio album shortly (“our first in 18 years… yeah I know, we’re Tongan” quips Vika). It will feature a new song written for them by Kasey Chambers, with lyrics along the lines of:

They say this world is made for a man to keep his gold …
I won’t back down …This is my world now …
Raise your hand.

And we did. We raised our hands to Vika and Linda for such a warm and appealing set.

They finished with an exquisite tribute to their friend Michael Gudinski with a stirringly beautiful rendition of Bridge Over Trouble Water, one of his favourite songs. Vale Michael.

Midnight Oil

From the opening throbbing and thrilling bars it was immediately clear how delighted The Oils were to be on tour again, after an 18-month hiatus.

Midnight Oil – on the road again. Photo: Stephen Trutwin

Rob Hirst in particular appeared to be having the time of his life on the kit as they worked their way through some of the best of their catalogue. The audience rose to their feet every time one of the big anthems started: Beds are Burning; Power and the Passion; First Nation:

First nation, first nation
Last to receive an invitation

Peter Garrett took a moment to foreshadow Monday’s all-important Makarrata Live performance when they’ll be joined by First Nations special guests Dan Sultan, Alice Skye, Troy Cassar-Daley, Tasman Keith, Leah Flanagan, Frank Yamma and Bunna Lawrie. Hopefully many audience members accepted the invitation to sign up as supporters of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, via the QR code the Oils displayed.

It was especially poignant when Garrett paused to pay tribute to bassist Bonesy (Wayne Stevens aka Bones Hillman) who succumbed to cancer in November last year.

It’s been a tough gig for stand-in bassist Adam Ventura to get into the skin of The Oils’ repertoire in time for their February-March tour. But that task was doubtless made so much easier by the lockstep comradeship of the remaining Oils, driven by the astonishing power, colour and time-keeping of Hirst’s percussion. I have no argument with those who rate Hirst as the finest rock drummer Australia has ever produced.

Read the WOMADelaide 2021 Day 3 review here.

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