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Australia has no shortage of festivals, but occasionally something comes along that’s truly unique and so exceptionally different to the other events out there that it’s worthy of any money, time off work or travel necessary to get yourself there. The aptly named WOMADelaide is one of those festivals, however WOMAD hasn’t just “come along” – in fact it’s been running in Australia for over 20 years. Founded in 1980 by musician Peter Gabriel and friends, the first WOMAD was held in South West England. Ten years later in 1992, the festival sprung up over the other side of the world in Adelaide’s Botanic Park as part of the Adelaide Festival of the Arts as a bi-annual event, later becoming an annual staple on the festival calendar in 2003.
With events now taking place in over 30 countries including Chile, New Zealand, Spain, UK and Canary Islands, WOMAD is one of the longest running cultural events in the world. So why haven’t you been? Doesn’t matter. Just make sure to get yourself there next year. Need convincing? He’s a few more reasons to win you over.
#1 Travel to places you’ve never been, see things you’ve never seen, hear things you’ve never heard
Music has the ability to transport you to another place and time, making WOMAD the cheapest holiday you’ll ever take. With over 400 artists hailing from over 25 countries including far-flung destinations like Senegal, Cuba, Singapore, Mali, Romania and Palestine, WOMAD is one of the most culturally diverse festivals in the world. Beyond supporting art and providing entertainment, WOMAD’s self proclaimed purpose is to “promote cross-cultural awareness and tolerance” and what better way to do that then unite people under the umbrella of a shared appreciation for music and artistic expression?
#2 Age is no limit
Whether you’re eight, 80 or anywhere in between WOMAD has a pace and a place for you. While most people, irrespective of age, will find themselves overcome with the urge to let loose and dance their way around the festival (probably bare foot), Botanic Park offers plenty of beautiful leafy Moreton Bay Fig trees to laze under and provide shade for you and your camp for the weekend if that’s more to your liking.
Families (or big kids) are encouraged to explore Kidzone with a full weekend of free activities and entertainment including a Wishing Lanterns workshop, Spinning Poi lessons, a performance space by textile and performance artist Evelyn Roth and a functioning “Dreamstore” where kids can design their own “Dreamproduct”.
#3 The food is amazing
Just like a holiday to an exotic destination, the food at WOMAD is a big part of the cultural experience. While the festival boasts over 40 local and international food stalls including a bunch of local South Australian restaurants alongside old favourites like Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts, it’s the festival’s “Taste The World” program that really sets WOMAD apart. Throughout the weekend, WOMAD invites selected performing artists to serve and celebrate the food and culture of their motherland with guests. This is a truly unique experience and one of the things that makes the event so special.
This year also saw the launch of Street in the Park – a full service restaurant smack bang in the middle of the festival. Curated by local game changer Jock Zonfrillo, the al fresco setting gives you a chance to take a break from the festival and enjoy dishes inspired by the street food of the countries and cultures represented at WOMAD. This is conceptual festival dining at its finest and an experience you won’t forget anytime soon.
#4 You’ll expand your musical vocab
If you’re a regular listener of commercial or even community radio in Australia, then it’s pretty likely that most of the music you’re hearing is from Australia, New Zealand, USA, the UK or Central Europe. Obviously, there’s lots of great music coming from these regions (unless of course you count Robin Thicke – in which case, nope) but there’s also a whole world of artists, genres and instruments out there you’ve never heard of and don’t even know you like yet. That’s where WOMAD comes in handy. With it’s intimate set-up and alternating main-stage program, you’d be hard pressed not to discover something new and brilliant during the festival.
#5 There’s more to it than just music
WOMAD is an acronym for World of Music, Arts and Dance so while it’s most recognised as a world music festival, there’s so much more to it than that. To begin with there’s The Planet Talks, a program of sessions focused on sustainability and our relationship with our precious planet featuring guest speakers and musicians plucked from the festival program. This year’s program also featured an interactive roving contemporary dance performance called The Colour of Time. A tribute to India’s Holi festival, the choreographed parade culminated with a coloured powder fight between the performers and hundreds of game festival goers set against the beautiful South Australian sunset.
Beyond that, the festival also features markets, Osadia (a theatrical hairdresser), dance and drumming workshops, a Healing Village with massage, readings, meditation and yoga and Exxopolis – an inflatable sculpture/maze full of light and colour that resembles an Islamic Mosque from the outside and a Gothic Cathedral from the inside.
(All images: Tony Lewis/supplied)