The WOMEX music conference returned to Sevilla, Spain, for another round of great musical performances, informative panels and rabid networking that went until the early morning. As Editor-In-Chief I went to the conference to see what kinds of artists (some of whom I was familiar with, some of whom I wasn't) will be touring and shopping for label deals.
A caveat before I begin: one of the biggest frustrations for me each year is that I can't be in two (or three) places at the same time. Excuses aside, here are a few acts that stood out for me.
The top of the list for many this year were the Kasai Allstars. Some may remember their track from Congotronics 2 CD, but it in no way prepared many who watched the band. The group's clamorous and hypnotic rhythms were driving throughout the 45-minute set. Yet it was the male and full-figured female dancers in costumes that were shimmying their hips and torsos in a way that ranged comical to sexual to somewhere in between - sometimes they mimicked animals and one time two dancers pretended to ride a motorcycle together. This was often in the context of pantomiming little stories. Then there was the Big Chief: At the side of the stage was an older fellow who sat on throne watching the proceedings. Every once in a while, he'd get up and do a dance and set everyone straight, satisfied that everyone respected his authority. All in all, a very playful and joyous set. One can't help think that this group would be fantastic for upcoming summer festival season.
Later that night on the same stage, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 performed. I caught the band earlier this year in an excellent and sweaty set in SOB's. On that night the group eased through their half-hour jams at leisurely pace. Because of the 45 minute set-length rule at Womex, the band (18 members strong) cranked through songs highlights at a torrid pace, barely pausing between tunes that were more in the 7-to-10-minute range. At times the intensity almost overwhelming as Seun whipped his band into a frenzy with dance moves and sax solos.
Dengue Fever raised the roof with its Cambodian psychedelic rock revivalism. Perhaps it was the late starting time (midnight), but the band's ironic rock 'n' roll bravado, Cambodian diva vocals and energetic performance cleared the tent of many of the elder attendees, but those that stuck around had a hell of a good time.
Bajofondo Tango Club
Probably one of the most anticipated performances for me was the Bajofondo Tango Club. With a new album out everywhere but in the U.S. this seemed like my only chance to catch the band for a while - God knows that Gustavo Santaolalla is a very busy man as a producer and soundtrack composer. The band's version of techno-tango was as good as the Gotan Project set I caught a few years ago, with bit more musicianship on display from Bajofondo.
All in all, this was once again a world music expo that was an embarrassment of musical treasures.