WOMAD: Mavis Staples & Sharon Jones

The WOMAD festival shows off some very fine musicians from around the world who would otherwise slip well under the radar of commercial radio and media here in Australia. At the same time, it doesn’t forget that the Occident is part of that very same world and from The Cruel Sea to the Kronos Quartet, it’s played host to some great talents from the USA, the UK and the Antipodes. Indeed, the Friday night line-up this year was dominated by these acts. The John Butler Trio and The Black Arm Band owned the big crowds early in the evening, with gospel queen Mavis Staples rounding out the main stage performances with a downright authoritative performance of classic soul. Staples couldn’t quite pronounce Adelaide’s name, but she wrapped her mouth around some awesome gravely tones as she stirred up the crowd with memories of the civil rights struggles of yesteryear and the struggles that continue to this day. In a style reminiscent of Jimmy Cliff, she gave such committed renditions of old standards that their cliché and nostalgia was replaced by an urgent passion.

The key headline act this year, Cesaria Evora, was forced to withdraw due to illness after the festival had already begun. And so, the big crowd-pleasing finale on Sunday night was left in the incontrovertibly safe hands of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. The band provided a three song lead-in for Jones, with a sound as taut as their bass drum insignia and dapper suits to match. With appetites whetted and anticipation building, Jones charged on stage with rambunctious determination and proceeded to belt out an audaciously cool funk. She shimmied, she hollered and she grooved. Out in the crowd, thousands upon thousands of people swivelled and bopped as the dust rose and the sweat poured. And then it was all over — 2 days, 3 nights.