About This Festival
Founding Genesis band member and solo artist Peter Gabriel, along with Thomas Brooman and Bob Hooton, conceived The World of Music, Arts, and Dance (WOMAD) in 1980 and finally brought it to life in 1982 at the tiny Somerset town of Shepton Mallet. The founders had a clear vision, bringing up-and-coming UK acts together with lesser-known (or entirely unknown to Westerners) talent from around the world.
The Genesis of a Festival
The first staging in those pre-Internet and smartphone days was a bit of a harried affair for Gabriel and his co-founders, two men who ran a quarterly record industry magazine out of Bristol. They couldn’t anticipate ticket sales, and ended up running in the red, unable to pay the acts that traveled from around the world to perform. Peter Gabriel ended up reuniting with Genesis (a band he had left in 1975) to perform a special concert to bring the accounts up to date. At the time, it felt like WOMAD would be a one-off, never to happen again, but Gabriel came back the following year wanting to do it again—and it’s taken place annually ever since.
The primary event now takes place at the end of July each year in Charlton Park in Wiltshire, England. But, it’s not the only event that falls under the WOMAD umbrella. WOMAD NZ and WOMADelaide are firmly established transplants that occur early each year in New Zealand and Australia. And there is a long-running, ever-moving series of traveling shows that has played in over 27 countries.
Unadulterated Love of Music
WOMAD focuses on multiculturalism through world music and arts. In fact, it’s fair to say that the WOMAD festival is single-handedly responsible for cultivating the idea of world music, going as far as to create its own label to produce albums by global artists. And, unlike other more commercial festivals that have the standard three stages, evening headliners, and a more heavily sponsored atmosphere, WOMAD and its attendees pride themselves on their unadulterated love of music and the discovery of new sounds. The festival is responsible for making international stars out of Youssou N’Dour (from Senegal), Neneh Cherry (Sweden), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Pakistan), and the throat singers from Tuva, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. The festivals are joyous celebrations that should be on any dedicated festival-goers list.
Off stage, artists hold classes and meet ups for any interested in learning more about indigenous instruments, musical styles, and performance techniques. There are also tents reserved for arts and crafts for kids (adults are welcome too, of course), and there is even a carnival as part of the scene with rides like spinning cars and merry-go-rounds.
On site accommodations run the gamut from pitch-your-own tent campsites, caravan parks, and more upscale luxury tents that include food services. There’s even a WOMAD Spa when you’re feeling a bit run down after a day of standing in a crowd and want to indulge yourself.
Australia’s WOMAD festival (called WOMADelaide) has been a fixture since 1992. The four-day festival takes place in Botanic Park in the middle of the city. Like the original, it always features big names (Arrested Development, Billy Bragg, and Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil headlinined back in 2014) and also has up and coming acts from as far away from one another as China and Zimbabwe and Tunisia and Guinea. You can find more information here.
WOMAD New Zealand
Head to Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island for the Kiwi version of WOMAD. This event takes place just after Adelaide’s in mid-March, and the line-up has a heavy concentration of Maori and New Zealand native performers, including Tim Finn formerly of Split Enz. You’ll also find the usual great combination of kids’ areas, speakers, workshops, and onsite camping.
Beyond the festivasl, WOMAD has charity, social, and educational arms that work to bring the world together to be a better place.