Womadelaide 2024: Friday 8th of March 2024 – Adelaide Botanical Gardens


Womadelaide is brimming with rewards, but isn’t without its challenges. Last year it was excess crowds, and this year the heat, with the promise of four days and nights north of 36 degrees. Then there’s the politics, the bloodshed in Ukraine and Palestine, which galvanised both performers and audience alike in a myriad of ways, resulting in some uniquely Womadelaidian exchanges. But that’s what we love about Womadelaide, a festival that not only celebrates, but elevates culture, exchange and discussion – for better or worse.

We were greeted by the strange and beautiful sounds of Ukrainian quartet Dakhabrakha on the large Foundation Stage. We first saw them here in 2011, and were bewitched by their intense mix of traditional folkloric vocals, modern rhythmic sensibilities and a real theatrical approach to performance. We’d never seen anything like them before. It’s clear things have developed somewhat in the intervening 13 years, boasting a psychedelic a/v show on the screens behind them and songs that verge on hip hop. That said their song ‘Vesna’ with its minimal accordion work and imitations of bird shrills remains one of the greatest and most emotionally charged pieces of music you could every hope to hear by anyone anywhere. “Thank you for your support for our country, it means a lot,” they offered as they proudly unfurled a Ukrainian flag. Welcome to Womadelaide 2024.

Normally when someone mentions the word Fado I run a mile in the opposite direction. Sorry. There’s just something about those mournful, self-indulgent vocals that I really struggle with. Yet just prior to passing through Womadelaide’s gates we caught an impromptu live to air performance for ABC radio by Portuguese instrumentalist, composer and bandleader Marta Pereira da Costa on the Portuguese guitar. It was nothing short of exquisite. Who knew such incredible musicianship lurked beneath the longing and sadness? So later in the evening on the newly oriented Zoo stage, Marta and her trio revealed the often hidden intricacies of Fado, freed from the vocals. A heartfelt, subtle and beguiling mix of classical acoustic guitar and jazz, her music visits both of these worlds yet inhabits a place very much of its own. It was a set that really highlighted both her passion for and artistry over this uniquely Portuguese instrument, but also the interconnectedness with her trio, where each gesture meant so much. It was a touch of class in the gardens, as the fireball in the sky began to wane, finally providing some slight semblance of relief.


Marta Pereira da Costa

Budos Band

It would be difficult to find a bigger contrast to the delicate nature of da Costa’s instrumental Fado than eight blokes from Staten Island unleashing a unique form of muscular horn driven funk. Punching the air and screaming ‘fuck yeah’, New York’s Budos Band were dripping with macho swagger, yet also good humour – as you got the sense that though really hyped, they were exaggerating their enthusiasm almost self deprecatingly – which if true is a pretty dextrous manoeuvre. You could hear so much in their sounds. They’re everything from ethio jazz to afrobeat with rock guitar, r&b horns, afro soul, and 70’s funky b-movie soundtracks all mashed into one. If it has a horn you best believe it’s in here. There’s a real intensity, but also a joyfulness in their playing and their set tonight felt cathartic, a release from the sweat, the dirt and the heat. They seemed to be saying the sun’s gone down – now its time to party. These guys know what they’re doing, and they know they do it well.

There are a few (self imposed) rules at Womadelaide, and one is always see the theatre. Over the years there’s been some mind-boggling performances, and this year was no exception. Elephants Laugh are a South Korean theatre collective who work in community spaces to confront and explore the social issues of our time. Tonight they did this by dunking themselves fully clothed in large vertical fish tanks, before inviting selected audience members to join them, and then finally leading the remainder of the audience in a strange kind of ecstatic tai chi. It was apparently about finding freedom within brief moments of crisis. Makes sense to me.

MC Yalla was born in Kenya and grew up in Uganda where she cemented herself in the underground hip hop scene, with releases on the influential and at times quite demented Nyege Nyege Tapes and collaborations with Mdou Moctar, Eomac and DJ Scotch Rolex. Her music is conscious flow, futuristic forward thinking hip-hop, grime, toasting and everything in between. Tonight in Frome Park Pavilion, with a massive tent enveloping both the stage and audience, she surfed effortlessly over the bleak cracked beats of Berlin based Frenchman Debmaster, with whom she has collaborated with since 2018. Her rapid machine gun flow and strange high pitch interludes created a mesmerising bombastic blast straight from the streets of Kampala… to a tent in the Adelaide Botanical gardens. Calling this juxtaposition unexpected is an understatement.

Elephants Laugh

MC Yalla & Debmaster

Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar

We ended the night horizontal at the Zoo stage. Indian classical music is an institution at Womadelaide, and for many of us over the years it’s been an education. It’s also another (self imposed) rule. Sarod legend Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar was joined violinist Ambi Subramaniam. If Subramaniam sounds familiar it’s because his father the great virtuosic L. Subramaniam (Herbie Hancock)/George Duke) was here four years earlier. They were joined by two percussionists, Tanmoy Bose, who has accompanied the likes of Ravi Shankar, and VV Ramana Murthy, who has also worked with many of the greats in Carnatic and Hindustani styles as well as jazz and fusion. After the intensity of the day, their interplay, improvisations, call and response, humour and virtuosity just washed over us. There were so many deep beautiful moments in this music. It encapsulated so much of what is so great about Womadelaide, the deep artistry, incredible traditions, and music that makes your senses tingle. And as we wandered off into the night, scattering in our own seperate directions, resting up for the weekend ahead, it was impossible not to feel a growing sense of serenity. This was only the beginning.

photos by Carla Martins


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.