9 – 12 March, Botanic Park, Adelaide

If you are a musician or any person interested in music then you have to go to WOMADelaide. Now, I am known for not being much of a player when it comes to the cool game. I don’t really care that much if someone thinks it’s too commercial, too much like what your Dad would listen to or not on triple j. If it makes me feel like dancing and I can see the sparkle of joy in other people’s eyes frankly that music has done its job – triple j rotation or not.

WOMADelaide is the biggest collection of world music artists in Australia. And I’m not talking about a little fiddle band and some yodelers. I’m saying I saw men from Yemen playing a strat bass and a 75-year-old goat herder shimmying up and down the stage to a crowd of thousands. Just minutes before, I had sat in a singing workshop with Cuba’s best vocalist and saw Ravi Shankar’s daughter mix EDM with sitar for a full hour. 

LunchBox may be an Australian music site, but to truly understand why our music is so diverse and exciting and why our musicians are so talented, it is necessary to look outward at the musical cultures which have existed long before ours. Better yet, I got to come with my parents. What a hoot! Mum is a shameless groover and my Dad never passes up the opportunity to sit down with a group of people he has no clue about and talk shop… even if he understands about five words. By the end of the event, we had vowed that the month of March was to be set aside for WOMAD.

World music is so underrated by so many of my peers and as someone who was raised on the albums of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Angelique Kidjo, Harry Manx and Ravi Shankar, I felt very privileged to be entering this festival with even a fraction of appreciation for the power these soundscapes can have. Distinct highlights were the phenomenal folk sounds of Le Vent Du Nord from Quebec, their patriotism and distinctly individual cultural perspective was enlightening and the precision of the harmonies and overall complexity of their music was truly something to behold. From Cape Verde, Lura’s powerful female presence left crowds in awe of her deep and moving jazz vocals and breathtaking movement across the stage. Before WOMADelaide I had limited exposure to the travelling musicians of Northern India, but the enthralling choreography and set design of the Manganiyar Seduction left me speechless. A thirty-foot tall structure made up of individual squares housing one musician each was lit up and dimmed in time with an incredible musical performance. Slowly building over the hour-long set, eventually rounding off with a monstrous finale with each square ablaze and a deafening traditional Indian orchestra.

With a line-up built on a foundation of international acts, I had to dig for some Aussie nuggets of gold, but boy did I find them. Across the four-day event, I got to experience the tear-jerking and profound sets of Yolgnu singer Yirrmal and the Miliyawutj band and dancers. This was an absolute highlight for me and gave real hope that we have started the next chapter of Indigenous music for this generation. Alongside him, rising star Baker Boy blew everyone away, Mum leaping into the mosh-pit at the first opportunity, giving just as much as the teenagers clamouring for the next big thing in hip hop.

ARIA nominee Dan Sultan gave an electrifying rock performance and duo Mama Kin Spender brought on stage a full-scale choir from Adelaide to accompany their transcendent drumming and yearning vocal harmonies. The Avalanches made their highly anticipated appearance towards the end of the festival, injecting their newly resurfaced energy back into the crowd.

For me, the best act from the Australian representatives at WOMAD was Dustyesky. Forming in Mullumbimby on the NSW North Coast as a group of mates who liked vodka and a yarn, Dustyesky became a fully-fledged Russian choir. Before you scoff, this is no loose arrangement. 30-strong, the choir has learned (without comprehension of their meaning) a compendium of traditional Russian songs and crafted them into perfect choral form. Exquisite harmonies, solos and side-splitting commentary, this is a show I will be buying tickets for the minute they are in town. A mix of doctors, tradies, single dads and farmers you could not find more down to earth men if you tried. A brave blend of satire and solid vocal ability, Dustyesky were the Aussie golden goose of the festival.

I loved sitting under the stars to hear the ever-sweet onstage commentary of fresh-faced Didirri of Victoria and Perth’s POW! Negro did not disappoint with a killer set to wrap up the evening. Their fusion of wild punk and unapologetic spoken word was totally in-keeping with the event.

If you’re in the mood for a break, each artist took turns at showcasing their cooking skills at the Taste The World tent, demonstrating the recipes of their homelands and teaching the crowd a bit about their culinary traditions. A must-do for your favourite acts of the event. The kids’ corner was buzzing all day with tech-free activities and at any given point there was a workshop from artists revealing the stories behind their music and getting to ground level with their audiences. And when all this got too much, The Healing Tent offered plenty of natural therapies including traditional Aboriginal healing practices, massage and meditation.

WOMADelaide is hot. And I don’t mean, ‘Oh just let me take off my cardigan hot’, I mean I was dripping in sweat, and the dust flying from the Adelaide Botanic Gardens after four days of trampling left me looking a bit like a chicko roll. So here are a few pointers should you be taking the plunge next year:

Book your accommodation early – we are talking October the year before. Bring three empty water bottles. Take a festival seat and a picnic blanket. You might think that is the daggiest thing ever, but EVERYONE has them and you can set yourselves up a little camp on the grounds and just go back to base throughout the day. The honesty and respect for people’s possessions at WOMAD is next level.

Don’t go thinking that this is a ‘get drunk and party’ festival. While there are great beers and cider, I think I saw one drunk person and they were viewed a bit like a fart in an elevator. There are families sitting next to German retirees, sitting next to bikies, with such a mix you are bound to find your tribe – but WOMAD isn’t Rainbow Serpent so leave the disco biscuits for another time.

WOMAD is my new favourite Aussie Festival. It makes you take a good hard look at why you think that the music you hear on the radio or on the posters around Newtown is the only stuff worth listening to. If you are interested in being privy to some of the most expert, provocative and diverse music there is, then this is where you should be.