WOMAD Was “Wow, Man”

Last night Beth and I went to the Corniche to see the final night of WOMAD (World of Music and Dance)—a three day music festival here in Abu Dhabi. They’ve been doing WOMAD the UK since 1982, but this is only it’s second year in Abu Dhabi. It’s focused on “world” music, but here, that really means something closer to “local” music.

We had hoped to go at least twice, but went to a party at an NYU Abu Dhabi professor’s house on Thursday and just decided to stay in on Friday.

One of the best parts of the experience was seeing the cultural diversity in the crowd. For all the types of people who live in Abu Dhabi, you don’t see much interaction between different cultural groups. It doesn’t take long to recognize the stereotypes. It seems as if certain industries and occupations belong almost exclusively to specific ethnic groups. There’s also a history with the city trying to segregate certain portions of the population. We’ve been told that when Abu Dhabi first set up its public beaches, they were all free and open to everyone. Very quickly, however, they established separate beaches for families (women and children) and unaccompanied men. They also started charging a small fee which made if prohibitively expensive for most of the cities laborers to visit.

Anyhow… last night you saw everyone together in one place. Groups of young Emiratis danced next to middle-aged Pakistani men, who danced next to western women. I found it quite comforting to discover than rhythmless men do the same silly dances in almost every culture. The only group noticeably absent from the festivities were the local Emirati women, though a few sat far to the sides on the periphery.

The music was phenomenal. We arrived just in time to catch the end of Mayra Andrade a Cuban singer/songwriter who now hails from Cape Verde off the coast of Africa. We’d come to see a Malian group called Tinariwen, but were pleasantly surprised to discover the Zawose Family from Tanzania. The group featured three women who were the most enthusiastic drummers I’d ever seen. They held the drums between their legs, yet still managed to dance and play equally energetically. There were also several men in the group who played a combination of different instruments. With the drums thumping in your chest, you physically felt the music as much as you heard it.

We also managed to catch Rango, another drumming group from Sudan and Egypt. The star of their show didn’t even appear until the fourth or fifth song. Dressed in a wild costume of white fur and feathers, he completely took over the stage once he finally joined the group. They sung primarily in Arabic and the local crowd apparently knew all the words. It was kind of like being at a wedding when the band starts playing “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. Two notes/words into a song half the crowd would go crazy and people would start jumping up and down. Unfortunately for us, it was like being on the outside of an inside joke. The music was still awesome, but we couldn’t connect with it as completely.

We never did get to see Tinariwen… and it’s probably a good thing we didn’t wait around for them. They did eventually take the stage around 1am, but Beth needed to be in bed long before that.

Please forgive my photos for being a little less than perfect. With a wind blowing at close to 20-30 mph it was hard to hold the camera perfectly still. Combine that with the darkness, moving stage lights, and performers jumping around like crazy, and most of the pictures came out blurry. I did manage to get a short video of the Zawose Family group, but my camera battery was low and it automatically shut off after about 30 seconds.

WOMAD 2011 would be a great time to visit Abu Dhabi.

  • Flags on the Corniche for Womad
  • WOMAD South Stage
  • Guitarist for Mayra Andrade
  • WOMAD North Stage
  • The Zawose Family
  • The Zawose Family
  • Zawose Family Member
  • Zawose Family Member
  • The Zawose Family
  • Rango

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