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30 Years of WOMADelaide: The History of Australia’s Iconic Festival

From humble beginnings to one of the world’s most beloved events, WOMADelaide has had a truly vibrant history.

Credit: Jack Fenby

For 30 years now, South Australia has played host to one of the world’s most iconic and diverse celebrations of music thanks to the WOMADelaide festival.

It was back in 1982 that the very first WOMAD event was held, with its founding by the likes of Peter Gabriel occurring just two years earlier. Named as an initialism for its desire to provide a World Of Music And Dance, it didn’t take long for the glorious multicultural celebration of what makes global art so unique and special to take hold, with numerous events taking place before Australia received its very own edition: the cleverly-named WOMADelaide in 1992.

For the first 13 years of its life, WOMADelaide served as a biannual event, with South Australians welcoming music-lovers the world over into their city every two years for a massive celebration of arts, culture, music, and dance. South Australians will readily tell you that their state is often looked over when it comes to large-scale events, but with WOMADelaide on offer, they had the world on their doorstep.

As the official WOMADelaide archives note, the very first edition of the festival was staged as part of the 1992 Adelaide Festival at the invitation of Artistic Director Rob Brookman to the UK-based WOMAD organisation. However, no one expected it to become such a success, and with its return the following year, it soon became a standalone event that would run in alternate years to the then-biennial Adelaide Festival.

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With the likes of Archie Roach, Paul Kelly, Crowded House, Youssou N’Dour, and Not Drowning, Waving on offer, it’s no wonder that the likes of The Sydney Morning Herald referred to it as “as close to perfection as any outdoor festival could ever hope to be”.

2021 festival headliners Midnight Oil were also there, just as attendees, with Jim Moginie telling Rolling Stone Australia last year what it was like in those early days.

“We all got a plane down there and saw it, because we were so interested in the whole concept of ‘world music’, as it was called back in those days – music from another culture is what it really is,” he explained. “And we were there under the tree listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing for about four or five hours, going into chanting and it was sort of like our version of going to see the Maharishi, just going to hear that sort of music in that beautiful outdoor environment.

“WOMAD just wants to showcase other cultures and to try and bring that sort of stuff into the mainstream,” he adds.” And also it shows where a lot of our music comes from, African music especially, all the music from India, and nothing was off the table with WOMAD and highlighting other cultures, bringing them into the mainstream, and attempting to educate people.”

As the years continued, so too did the lineups continue to expand. 1993 fittingly featured Peter Gabriel as headliner, alongside Yothu Yindi, while the 1996 edition expanded its focus with a special 2000km trip across the Nullabor on a chartered Indian Pacific Train, with artists like Paul Kelly and Archie Roach quite literally coming along for the ride.

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By 1997, audiences had grown to 60,000, while ‘off-year’ events such as WOMAD in the Vales and the The WOMAD Warm-Up took place in 1998 and 2002. In 2003 though, it was announced that WOMADelaide would be a yearly event, with subsequent festivals bringing with it massive international names such as Mavis Staples, Gil Scott-Heron, Ravi Shankar & Anoushka Shankar, Luka Bloom, and The Specials, while also highlighting classic Aussie names like The Necks, Xavier Rudd, and featuring early performances the John Butler Trio and The Cat Empire.

In 2020, the festival just managed to sneak through the barriers of COVID, wrapping things up just four days before restrictions on gathering were put in place. As a result, fears were raised for what 2021 could look like, but after switching its locale to King Rodney Park, and transforming into a socially-distanced, single stage ‘Sunset Concert Series’, the festival proved its worth as a resilient staple of the South Australian music scene. With the likes of Sarah Blasko, Lior, and Midnight Oil (performing two headline slots by way of a regular set and the debut of their ‘Makarrata Live’ show) on offer, 2021 was a phenomenal year that earned it a well-deserved Best Major Festival/Event trophy at the South Australian Music Awards.

Now, 30 years in, it feels as though WOMADelaide is only getting started. Most festivals would dream of having a history as rich and vibrant as this one, and if anything, it proves just how lucky Australian music fans truly are.

The 30th anniversary edition of WOMADelaide takes places from March 11th to March 14th at Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla in Adelaide.

WOMADelaide 2022

A.B. Original
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra – Silence
AROHA – DJ set
Asteroid Ekosystem
Ausecuma Beats
Australian Art Orchestra – Hand to Earth
Azymuth & Marcos Valle
Bush Gothic
Carla Lippis’ Mondo Psycho
The Cat Empire – final SA show of the original line-up
Cedric Burnside (USA)
Dhungala Baarka
Elephant Sessions (Scotland)
Elsy Wameyo
The Empty Threats
Farhan Shah & Sufi-Oz
Floating Points (UK) – DJ set
Gaby Moreno (USA)
Glass Beams
Gordon Koang
Jayda G (CAN) – DJ set
Jerome Farah
Joseph Tawadros & James Tawadros (duo show)
Joseph Tawadros with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Karen Lee Andrews
L.A.B (NZ)
Sonz of Serpent
Te Tangi O Te Ka’ara
Tijuana Cartel
Tio (Vanuatu)
Troy Kingi (NZ)
Victor Martinez Parada
Yé-Yé 2.0


Baker Boy
Balkan Ethno Orchestra
Courtney Barnett
The Crooked Fiddle Band
Dancenorth – NOISE
Eishan Ensemble
El Gran Mono
Electric Fields
Emma Donovan & The Putbacks
Grace Barbé
Haiku Hands
High Ace
Inner City (Live) (USA)
King Stingray
Kutcha Edwards
Martinez Akustica
Melbourne Ska Orchestra
Motez (Live)
The New Monos
Paul Kelly
Reb Fountain (NZ)
The Shaolin Afronauts
Sorong Samarai
Valanga Khoza
Danse Carpe Diem/Emmanuel Jouthe, Maï(g)wenn et lesOrteils & Restless Dance Theatre – Écoute
Pour Voir (Listen to See)
The Shaolin Afronauts
Sorong Samarai
Valanga Khoza

March 11th – 14th, 2022
Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla, Adelaide, SA
More info: WOMADelaide