- Thu, 2009-07-02 14:36
Whilst watching a performance by an African Group, Peter Gabriel considered the impact the music he was hearing would have upon many if only they were given the opportunity to experience it. As a result, the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) organisation was founded in 1980 by Peter Gabriel, Thomas Brooman, and Bob Hooton, with an aim to introduce global sounds to a western audience.
The first WOMAD festival took place in 1982 in Shepton Mallet, England. The event has now grown to include crowds of over 80,000 per event, varied live performances, workshops, stalls and events for children. WOMAD also holds festivals around the globe, including New Zealand, Spain and Sicily and has pioneered the acceptance and enjoyment of global music within western culture.
WOMAD 2009 takes place in the UK at Charlton Park in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, from 24 to 26 July 2009. I Like Music caught up with WOMAD Festival Programmer Paula Henderson to chat about how the music for the festival comes together, artists she recommends and remembers, what's new for 2009, the future plans for the festival and why WOMAD remains one of the most unique festivals in the UK.
"I Like Music because… it just means everything to me.” Paula Henderson, WOMAD Festival Programmer
ILM: In a UK festival scene now saturated with festivals, WOMAD remains one of the founding events, with a very rich heritage and past. How would you describe the ethos, values and aims behind WOMAD and how are they still relevant today?
Paula: WOMAD is very original. Our aims are still the same; to excite people and allow them to see music that they may not be able to see anywhere else. To bring music to them that is not readily available, or that they may not consider going to see anywhere else apart from in a festival context. WOMAD is about letting people discover all kinds of music. That's where it is different. The large majority of people heading to the festival are not sure what they're going to see at WOMAD. Rarely are they disappointed, or at least we hope they're not disappointed! We do have our big headliners, but people might find that the best thing they've seen all weekend is a Mongolian Throat Singer playing a set on a little stage. They will value that as much as seeing Peter Gabriel on the main stage or Rachel Unthank in the Siam.
ILM: What exactly does your job entail?
Paula: I programme the event. I'm the Programmer! I have an awful lot of meetings with people from Real World and the WOMAD office at the beginning to work out what they are looking for that particular year. I then go off and research artists, either go and see gigs or myspace, the best invention that ever came my way! I try and get a big mix of artists. Something that might be absolutley fantastic might not be suitable for one year, so I put them on a list that I can remember again for future years. So just because someone isn't picked for 2009, it doesn't mean they won't be considered for 2010, 2011, 2012...Our interest always goes on.
ILM: What determines whether an artist is suitable for one year over another? Are you very particular about the musical specifications for each year of the festival?
Paula: Everything we do has an international flavour. Something that wouldn't be suited to WOMAD for example, would be thrash metal! That's something we just know would go down like a lead balloon at the event. But really, we'll consider anything and everything in between. We try to make sure we have a wide variety each year. So if I've already programmed four or five songwriters, even if I find a fantastic one, I'll look and think I just can't put on another song writer this year. Then hopefully, we would go on to feature them the following year. We try and bring a very wide variety of music to the event.
ILM: What are some of the highlights of WOMAD 2009?
Paula: We've featured quite a lot of international hip hop artists this year. Also we've wanted to start featuring more dance at the event, this year and future years. It's something we want to develop quite a lot. In 2009 we have our Taiko Drummers. Dub Colossus from Ethiopia are playing. We're featuring Radiokijada, Peruvian music from a duo consisting of Rodolfo Muñoz and Christoph H. Müller. Christoph comes from the Gotan Project. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are playing. Orishas, who are doing Cuban hiphop. There's quite a mix of everything! It should attract all ages!
ILM: When you look back over your involvement with WOMAD, which moments stand out for you personally?
Paula: Well, I think with WOMAD you can't help but mention The Drummers of Burundi. That's one of the things I first associate with WOMAD from 1989. They were one of the first bands I ever saw. At that point I didn't quite understand what we were doing anyway! I was fairly young at that time and it was all quite new and exciting for me! Seeing The Drummers of Burundi for the first time was just amazing! Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, incredible, I just couldn't believe that his music even existed! Daara J a few years ago, from Senegal. Again, a real highlight! We brought them in and put them on the Open Air Stage as headliner, even though no-one knew who they were! They came through with the most fantastic show! With WOMAD people aren't necessarily looking for that headliner, instead it's about looking for a show that will blow your mind! That's what's so great about it!
ILM: Your job sounds absolutley incredible! How did you get involved with WOMAD? What would be your advice for people looking to do something similar?
Paula: They are few and far between! I am very lucky! I do appreciate the fact that I am so lucky in what I do! I think the main thing is to try and get along to festivals so you can really get a feel for it. Volunteer to go and do the litter picking. Volunteer to go and help where and when you can. Then you can begin to work your way into organisation. People do have to put a lot of effort into doing that. I came in and started as the office junior. I was answering the telephone and everything. I just kept working at it and got a taste of it. I was very lucky with WOMAD because they do allow you to expand and find out where your strengths are. Now I'm in the enviable position of Programmer! You find lots of people doing various things, Press and Marketing or VISA's. There are so many areas involved with this, a lot of boring elements too! But, when you finally see the event take place, that's when you know it has all been worthwhile!
ILM: Not long until WOMAD 2009! When do you start planning for WOMAD 2010?
Paula: Holiday camping for a week then I'll start back!
ILM: Really, that soon?! So do you have ideas and plans about WOMAD 2010?
Paula: Always. Always. I have my list of artists. At this point I've started 2010 lists. There are artists we haven't managed to book for 2009 because of other touring plans or they're not working at the moment, or they are recording. So yes, I have a massive list already and we'll start working straight away!
ILM: What music are you listening to at the moment?
Paula: I love Seu Jorge from Brazil. I saw him earlier this year at the Colston Hall. he puts on a fantastic show, I'm a big fan of his. Manu Chao is also brilliant! I love to see him at any time! I'm also just as likely to be seen buying a ticket to see Madonna though! I'm the same as anyone else really. I enjoy all music!