WOMEX 13: a Preview

WOMEX is one of the largest international music projects in Europe. Based in Berlin, but trickling through the continent like freshwater, its main event is an exposition held in different world locations.

From the 23rd to the 27th of October WOMEX will be hosted in the city of Cardiff, welcoming a vast community of deeply inspirational, highly motivated artists from around the globe.

‘Womex is an opportunity for all the wonderful people across the world who are making music happen, giving a platform for music, to come and share their ideas and changes and developments,’ says Sam Lee, a delegate for WOMEX 2012. ‘It is the “now” of where music from around the world is.’

World Music is music for the soul. Its heartbeat is in-spi-ra-tion, and it makes you breathe. Thank you Cardiff for bringing it so close to home. To me, this seems like a Music Therapy session en masse – an annual awakening of musical and spiritual cultures designed to create avenues for universal communication and expression. WOMEX is electric with inventive generosity, and above all else, forward thinking. So much of today’s music is stuck in its niche, and often therefore left behind.  I see a lot of this living in Birmingham. If we do try and break out and ‘bend’ our dub-genres, we get too stuck in the idea of it. There is never any real sense of moving forward. This festival is a celebration of genuine, earth-bound, talent-driven music.  It is one of the most important gatherings for professionals, not only because it gives them a live platform on which to hone and develop their practice but also, because it gives them the chance to show the rest of us how it’s really done.

So from whose book can we take a leaf this year? On the line-up we have a meeting of minds from countries such as the US and Indonesia, Albania and the UK, Algeria, Morocco, The Republic of Congo and France, and some fantastic music from Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and Peru, featuring artists and collectives such as Filastine and Nova, Fanfara Tirana, Debademba, Los Van Van (a personal favourite) and Orquestra Contemporanea. From the UK WOMEX will feature artists such as Aunti Flo, the Emily Portman Trio, Lau, Fiona Hunter, Kan, and Transglobal Underground.

But it isn’t the UK line-up that grabs my attention this year. Claude Teta is a tsapiky singer song-writer from Ampanihy south Madagascar, and to my ear one of the finest musicians in practice. His online presence is minimal, his audience even more so. What a breath of fresh air in an era so obsessed with generating images of accomplishment and success through Facebook likes and Twitter followers. What I admire about Teta is his dedication to the development of his craft. He encourages something I like to call ‘root-music’: an artistic approach that conjures all the shape and body of a tree, but at the same time constantly revisits the fixture of its roots. Everything is raw, honest and stripped back. But there is also a sense of looking up; of studying the way the air stirs the leaves, or the way the light falls through the branches.

Teta’s root-driven work is constantly evolving, and in this sense, the very embodiment of WOMEX. Whatever your native tongue, a festival of this sort will make you listen, feel, engage, and concentrate. It’s a wonderful mix of feeling like you’ve learned something important whilst at the same time falling in love with the teacher. Here we’re offered a taste of the dust and light that inhabits the inner and outer landscapes of other worlds, and even though something of a lost art, there’s a certain duende in the feel and presentation of world sound. Sure WOMEX is a massive organisation. But it’s one that houses a hive of creativity, driven only by a blind fascination with making ‘expert noise’. The result? A kaleidoscope of aural blends, distinctive sound and colour.

Hurrah I say. WOMEX is probably one of the only music festivals left that encourages a celebration of the art of tener (of ‘having duende’) and, as intellectual and snobby as this may seem, it’s actually quite the opposite.  In all art and culture we want more of working towards the spirit of evocation, irrationality, and earthiness; rather than aiming to please, polish, and (inevitably) duplicate. Though subject to numerous redevelopment projects over the years, Cardiff seems a perfect place in which to host this explosive five day event. Still very much connected to its roots, and indeed, to the outer bedrocks of Wales, here we have a city of outstanding cultural wealth, offering the residents and delegates of WOMEX 13 a further cultural exchange. This is a very exciting time for Wales, and Wales’ music. A country so small yet with vast artistic potential finally shares a world stage alongside further established markets, ensuring Wales’ authentic music traditions will be appreciated alongside other musicians’ from neighbouring countries.  The rest of the world will hear what Wales’ music has to offer, and so it should. Fingers crossed for artists such as Catrin Georgia and Ruth Williams, two of the four artists selected to perform across three prestigious showcase opportunities. I have no doubt they’ll do us justice.

The bid to host WOMEX 2013 was led by the partnership between Welsh Music Foundation, Wales Arts International and Arts Council of Wales, Cerdd Cymru : Music Wales. In the end, they fought off competition from nine other countries, shortlisted to just three (including Dublin and Glasgow) before finally winning the international bid. Another gold star to Wales’ streak of cultural successes. If you’re in the UK this Autumn, and want to experience the ‘now’ of where music really is, this is one not to miss.