After a brief interlude in 2021, Womadelaide returns to its home ground in Botanic Park this weekend for its 30th year. The first Womad festival, held back in 1992, featured a performance by local hero Paul Kelly. And he’s back this year heading an irresistible line-up alongside indie superstar Courtney Barnett and Yolngu rapper and 2019 Young Australian of the Year Baker Boy. The headliners need no introduction, so here’s a pick of 10 artists that, collectively, encapsulate the Womad spirit. You may not know all these acts now, but you’ll be glad you gave them your time.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, but raised in Adelaide, MC Elsy Wameyo combines both of her cultural identities, plus her strong Christian faith, on tracks that examine community and race in the 21st century. Already the recipient of two South Australian Music Awards, Wameyo is set to release her debut EP, Nilotic, next month. The title of the EP speaks to her roots – she was born into the Nilotic tribe and has embarked on a journey of self-discovery to uncover her heritage. Her mix of afrobeats, rapid-fire wordplay and soul grooves has led to obvious comparisons to fellow Aussie Sampa the Great, but Wameyo is truly a unique artist in her own right.
Sunday, 5.15pm, Zoo Stage
Hailing from western Sydney and a proud Malyangapa and Barkindji woman, Barkaa has been winning fans and plaudits with her vital and energetic rhymes that can take on a range of topics. On one hand, I Can’t Breathe, her collaboration with rapper Dobby, a member of micronation the Murrawarri Republic, has become an unofficial anthem of the Bla(c)k Lives Matter movement. And on the other hand, King Brown is a salsa-tinged, joyous takedown of a terrible ex. Whatever the topic, Barkaa has the presence and charisma to make her work constantly compelling – a quality she’s sure to bring to her debut Womad performance.
Monday March 14, 8pm, Stage 7
Moutaiz Al-Obaidi, better known as Motez, made his name as a house music producer who has remixed tracks from artists such as Sam Smith, Peking Duk and Client Liaison. However, like many of us, the pandemic led to a period of introspection for Motez; unlike many of us, the result was a new EP – Soulitude – which he’s described as a “response to the global mindset of isolation.” He’s swapped thumping beats for ambient textures, and married them with nods to his Iraqi heritage. The Adelaide artist is bringing a world-premiere performance to Womad featuring live musicians, including a string quartet.
Saturday March 12 at 8.45pm, Stage 2 and Monday March 14 at 7pm, Adelaide Botanic High School Plaza
South Sudanese musician Gordon Koang is master of the thom – his signature six-stringed wooden instrument that features heavily in his work. He fled his homeland (where he was known as the “King of Music”) at the start of the civil war, claiming asylum in Australia after time in Uganda. It wasn’t until 2019 that Koang was awarded permanent residency, but his music has always retained a celebratory, joyous, uniting quality. It takes a special kind of optimism to write a positive song about the events of the past couple of years, but Koang’s track Coronavirus is the bounciest song you’ll ever hear about a global pandemic.
Monday March 14, 2pm, Stage 3
There aren’t too many artists who have auditioned for both The X Factor and the Eurovision Song Contest and perform in both the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages. Electro-soul duo Electric Fields – described as “Daft Punk meets Nina Simone in the Deep Forest” – isn’t just any group though. For their Womad set, the two – producer Michael Ross and vocalist Zaachariaha Fielding – have invited special guests Antara singers and the Tjarutja First Nations Dance Collective. Their show will have you moving while also feeling connected to Country, which makes them pretty much the quintessential Womad act.
You know the names behind A.B. Original even if you might not know A.B. Original. Producer Trials (of Adelaide rap collective the Funkoars) and hip-hop polymath Briggs joined forces in 2016, releasing the uncompromising and politically charged Reclaim Australia album, tackling subjects such as police brutality and Australia Day. Polemicists in the style of N.W.A. and Public Enemy, the two behind A.B. Original are frank and impossible to ignore. Their appearance on Saturday night of the festival is sure to inspire devotion and righteous fury in equal measures as they shine a light on the inequalities that persist in modern-day Australia.
Saturday March 12, 6.30pm, Stage 2
El Gran Mono
Picos, traditional hand-painted sound systems, are a common presence at street parties in Colombia. El Gran Mono is said to be the first pico of its kind built outside of Colombia, and it’s bringing the sounds of Latin American and Jamaican party music to Frome Park Pavilion every night of the festival. The three-metre-tall technicolour stack of speakers will be crewed by Melburnian DJs Emma Peel and Carlo Xavier, who will be joined by Colombian MC Oscar Jimenez. If there’s any act that will transport you to the other side of the world, it’s surely El Gran Mono.
Friday March 11 at 10pm, Saturday, March 12 at 9.30pm and Sunday March 13 and Monday March 14 at 9pm, Frome Park Pavilion
With Floating Points, the stage name of British musician Sam Shepherd, you can never guess what move will come next. Shepherd, who has a PhD in neuroscience and epigenetics, has co-founded a record label, performed as part of a 16-piece band (known as Floating Points Ensemble), released two albums of electro music, then followed those with a jazz odyssey in collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra and legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. At Womadelaide, Shepherd is helming a DJ set on the Monday night. He has a reputation for mixing genres and moods to incredible effect – expect the unexpected.
Monday March 14, 10pm, Stage 7
In the late 1980s, Inner City was crucial in the formation of what became known as Detroit techno and had worldwide hits with tracks such as Big Fun and the classic Good Life. It may now be three decades since its last commercial hit (notwithstanding a re-recording of Good Life in 1999) but that doesn’t mean Inner City has stood still. DJ and founding member Kevin Saunderson has recruited his son Dantiez and vocalist Steffanie Christi’an over the past half-decade, and the group continues to write and release new material while simultaneously paying homage to the genre-defining sounds of its early discography.
Friday March 11, 11pm, Stage 7
Ye-ye music rose to popularity in the 1960s, a style of pop that originated in France and took its cues from the burgeoning rock’n’roll movement and combined them with exotica and teen-friendly pop. Francophile festival So Frenchy So Chic has brought together a selection of ye-ye loving Aussie artists to create a series of EPs that celebrate the glamour and music of the time. For this performance, Melbourne artist Ali Barter is joined onstage by Nadéah Miranda, a vocalist who previously performed with much-loved Euro-lounge act Nouvelle Vague.
Sunday March 13 at 7.15pm, Zoo Stage and Monday March 14 at 6.15pm, Moreton Bay Stage
Womadelaide runs from March 11 to 14 at Botanic Park. Tickets and the full program are available online