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Black Dog meets aboriginal trance at Womad


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Black Dog meets aboriginal trance at Womad

Telegraph, (UK) 1/1/2001

Mark Hudson reviews the Womad Festival

Robert Plant has made a superb job of reinventing himself over the past few years. Since his appearance at the legendary Festival in the Desert in 2003, the former Led Zeppelin singer has come to be associated more with a penchant for North African and Indian sounds than with bombastic riffing and phallocratic posturing.

But anyone expecting him to be backed by blue-veiled Tuareg nomads for his headlining appearance on the first night of this year's Womad was in for a disappointment.

There was a touch of Moroccan percussion on the opening number, but within minutes he and his mainly British band were into the hard-grinding Zeppelin rocker Black Dog, with Plant swinging the microphone around as though the Darkness hadn't been invented.

An Indian-inflected reading of the folk song Gallows Pole showcased the still distinctive Plant wail and suggested he is careering towards 60 with more grace and style than most of his peers.

There was more period charm on offer with a spellbinding performance by roots reggae veterans Culture, while sometime disco diva Kiki Dee performed a low-key acoustic set, of which a brooding rendition of Frank Sinatra's A Good Year was the highlight.

So where, among all this baby-boomer nostalgia, were the mindbendingly arcane acts, the frontier-breaking ethno-obscurities for which the original world music festival is legendary? Donsori, a bunch of frantically athletic, Korean female drummers, opened Saturday in compelling style.

And perhaps the weekend's most unlikely performers were Oki Dub Ainu Band, a group of aboriginal trance musicians from the far north of Japan, fronted by a former film special-effects artist, whose hypnotic string music was surprisingly melodic and accessible.

Cape Verde's Lura, a hip-swinging, big-smiling, traditional dance diva with a deliciously deep and melodious voice, is someone of whom I've no doubt we'll be hearing a great deal more. Ethiopian veteran Mahmoud Ahmed completely charmed the crowds on his two appearances.

The weekend's headliner, Youssou N'Dour, had more difficulty in establishing the right tone. The Senegalese singer had clearly decided that a Womad crowd would need no introduction to his music and he probably relaxed a little too much.

While the concentration on grittier material at the expense of crossover numbers such as 7 Seconds was appropriate, the slightly lacklustre atmosphere was proof that even at Womad - perhaps particularly at Womad - world music's biggest star had to give even more than 100 per cent.

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