Saturday, March 10, 2007

United in music

Festival time in Adelaide and a whole city is out in the streets partying. What a glorious spirit the Fringe brings forth. The experiment of holding Fringe festivals every year seems to rise triumphant, embraced with loving enthusiasm by the city at large. The parklands glitter with coloured lights and crowds, the sidewalk restaurant tables are packed late into the nights and exuberant people stream through the streets. There is so much going on it is hard to know where to be.
I was at Womadelaide, however - one of the world's exquisite festivals, a celebration of world music. In Adelaide it fills the huge Botanic Park, this drought year, rather dusty. Flags flutter on towering bamboo poles, lanterns hang from the gracious old trees, roaming performers in all bizarre guises entertain the picnicking and wine-drinking masses and we all swarm from stage area to stage area to settle for the performances of choice.

It is on a very large scale and, for those of us on an opening-night reviewing schedule, it is very strenuous - scampering to and from our transportable backstage office to turn around tiny, tight reviews for the morning paper. It was wonderful, at about 10pm, to sit under a tree and drink a glass of red wine, bone-tired at the end of the deadlines.
Just letting the rhythms of the world throb around one - tango from one stage and Celtic from another. They had replaced the deep, seductive drums of earlier performances, those pulsing rhythms which join the crowds into one huge visceral mass of humanity. One looks across to see the sea of people bopping as one... This is one of the secrets to this festival, one of the reasons it evokes such sweet temperament amid the crowds.

Another is the universality of the programming - all ages embraced, meeting in the sharing of music. Thus from the Mahotella Queens, the South African all-dancing-and-singing grandmothers, to the Gotan Project's techno for the young, the jaunty jigs of the Irish for all, Latin, Indian, Aussie...

It was wonderful on my review schedule to find myself sittings amid a carpet of friendly strangers with the stars twinkling through the boughs of the old gums and sheoaks, listening to the mysterious and mesmeric harmonics of the Tuvan throat singers. Grabbing needed refreshments - a superb ginger, lime and lemon drink, from the gentle hippies manning their sumptuous cafe tent lined with Persian rugs and serving chai teas, organic coffees and home-made cakes.

A drift of the scent of marijuana here, incense there, aromatic curries, coffee, beer... fragrances all around - another cultural intermingling feeding the senses until they are quite sated.

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