For close to 30 years now, WOMADelaide has served as one of the most important fixtures of the South Australian live music scene. Not just as a constant source of tourism for the City of Churches, but as a cultural landmark, and one that brings with it some of the best and brightest artists to the southern capital each and every year.
While the 2020 event featured a stable of phenomenal local and international talent – including the likes of Mavis Staples, Bill Callahan, The Cat Empire, and more – the last year saw attention drawn to that of the forthcoming event; 2021, an event which would showcase a theme of resilience, no matter the lineup.
As a result of a year on hold, the 2020 edition of WOMADelaide brought with it an impressive bill all the same, this time filled with local acts only, including the likes of veteran outfit Midnight Oil. This time though, the event was set to be far more intimate, far more streamlined, and far less lavish than previous in order to cope with the world we currently live in.
So on the evening of Friday, March 5th, a half-capacity crowd filed into Adelaide’s King Rodney Park to witness the first night of WOMADelaide 2021. In true fashion though, the crowd didn’t have to wait long for a veritable highlight, with veteran performer – and WOMADelaide favourite – Archie Roach beginning proceedings with what may well be his last performance in Adelaide.
As noted when Archie performed in Melbourne just a few short weeks ago, the man that sits before the crowd these days is a frail one, having been battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for quite some time. However, his spirit as an artist, performer, and storyteller have in no way been hampered, as he proved that he is still delivering some of his finest work in a manner none short of mesmerising.
Beginning with classics such as “Charcoal Lane”, Archie had the crowd transfixed upon his every move as he and his three-piece band moved through a stable of iconic tracks. Telling his trademark stories between songs which add context, background, and levity to the often hard-hitting lyrics, Archie professed he was happy to be back in Adelaide, before bringing out Emma Donovan for the Ruby Hunter-penned “Down City Streets”.
Adding Leah Flanagan for “The Old Days”, the star-power kept coming, with Donovan rejoining for “Sister Brother”, and welcoming Fred Leone to add a majestic rap to “Free”. Noting that a strict time slot left little time for stories, Archie powered on regardless (“I’m a story man,” he explained), but did tease folks by noting that had their time slot been longer, the supergroup we saw before us would’ve closed out the show with a spirited version of “No No No”.
Adding in a heart-wrenching version of “The Children Came Back” before closing with “The Summer of My Life”, Archie Roach waved goodbye to Adelaide in a fitting, and appropriately tender manner. Of course, a festival slot never quite does justice for a performer like Archie, though he not only used every second of it to spread his artistic message, but left us wanting so, so much more.
As a lengthy intermission welcomed the crowd back to a stage filled with instruments, their presence heralded the imminent beginning of Compassion, a symphonic song cycle for voice and orchestra. Conducted by Nigel Westlake, with orchestration by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and featuring the vocal talents of the acclaimed Lior, the performance was one that came well-regarded, with a recorded version having previously won the ARIA Award for Best Classical Album in 2014.
With Lior singing songs of compassion in the tongues of ancient Hebrew and Arabic, it was a musical event which may divide the average listener, but ultimately showcases exactly what it is that WOMAD is known for.
Taking place across seven movements, and serving as Lior’s first performance since the start of 2020, the setting sun helped begin the almost cinematic showcase, with intricate compositions and lush orchestration carrying the crowd into a mesmerising state of wide-eyed wonder. While movements of blinding intensity contrasted with moments of pure soulfulness and reflection, it felt like no time at all had passed for the main performance was over, with many wondering where these last 40 minutes had gone.
As Lior was handed his guitar, he noted that a few of his solo songs would fill out the set, with bats flying overhead “Bedouin Song” rang out. Dedicating “This old Love” to some fans who were married to the track at WOMADelaide 2014, Lior wrapped up his set with “The Safety of Distance” – not only the first song he wrote, but one based around the theme of compassion, and one that helped bring it all full circle.
As fans found themselves wondering what could possibly close off such an enchanting evening, it was up to Sarah Blasko to answer that question, with the veteran Sydney artist performing her first interstate gig in a year for the Adelaide crowd.
Performing her 2009 album, As Day Follows Night, in full, the evening was described as a tenth anniversary celebration of the record, though it was an anniversary in name only, with the evening’s event taking place just a few months before it’s 12th birthday. Nevertheless, Blasko gave her third album the honour it deserved, effortlessly jumping into opening song “Down on Love” as if it had been released yesterday.
Backed by a trio of piano, double bass, and drums, the quartet embarked upon a musical journey of Blasko’s past, revisiting the classic elements of what she calls a “hopeful heartbreak album”, and providing a walk down memory lane by way of one of the country’s best records. As iconic and visceral as the day it was released, Blasko’s headline set was nostalgic, familiar, and sparse, but above all moving and powerful – something we all felt when we first heard the record all those years ago.
As the album in question came to a close, and the majority of the audience made their way to the exit, the re-emergence of Blasko saw many sheepishly returning as she kicked off a brief encore with “Seems Like Old Times”, pointing to the old show-tunes that inspired the record. Wrapping things up with the majestic “Not Yet”, it felt as though we had all worshipped at the altar of Sarah Blasko tonight, and we left feeling all the better for it.
WOMADelaide continues on Saturday, March 6th, and runs until Monday, March 8th.
Saturday, March 6th
Vika and Linda
MRLN x RKM
Sunday, March 7th
Monday, March 8th
The Teskey Brothers
Friday, March 5th – Monday, March 8th
King Rodney Park, Adelaide, SA
Tickets & Info: Official Site