The magnificent city of Budapest has been an epicenter of power for more than one thousand years, from its early times as a Roman fort to its medieval glory as the epicenter of the Hungarian kingdom, to a glorious period where magnificent architectural wonders were built along the banks of the Danube River (most deservedly named a UNESCO World Heritage site).
And for five days last month, this mythical city was also the host city for WOMEX 2015, bringing together 2.500 delegates from over 90 countries who arrived to celebrate the 21st edition of one of the the global music industry’s most important conferences. As delegates, we arrived with different perspectives on the industry, representing press, agents, tour managers, record labels, artists, and over 60 artists from over 50 countries to attend five days of panels, networking sessions, meetings and most of all concerts which included daytime concerts as well as evening-to-dawn concerts on six stages.
Celebrating WOMEX in a country that has recently been the focus of much controversy for its less than positive political stance regarding refugees did not go unnoticed. Womex issued an official position statement declaring a stand against all forms of xenophobia; the European Forum of Worldwide Music Festivals placed a pro-refugee banner on its stand which remained empty without official representatives; and additionally there was a lively Facebook discussion about how we as an industry whose specific mission is to unite people through music could respond to the situation in order to demonstrate solidarity with diversity and refugees.
And so we came to Budapest, to revel in the optimism of a different kind of world that the arts allow us to envision. Certainly, this edition of Womex as many of its previous years, highlighted above all the possibility of music to bring together people from all corners of this planet in joyful gathering and communion on the dance floor. Here are some of our favorite musical moments from Womex 2015, highlighting ten artists we discovered and one fierce chilena who we found reasons to love anew.
We also invite you to check out the sounds on Beat Latino’s special reports on Womex 2015.
Vaudou Game: Togo voodoo rhythms with touches of French charm
Singer and guitarist Peter Solo, born in an area of Togo that is a major centre of Voodoo culture, shook, shimmied and inspired the young musicians from Lyon, France that make up Vaudou Game to enthusiastic dance moves in accompaniment of some amazing grooves. It was a heady and captivating concoction which took voudou sung in honor of the Divinities, melded it with 70´s Afro-soul and funk with musical nods to James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and added a dose of French charm. Totally irresistible!
Emicida: Fierce Brazilian rap laced with Angola and Cabo Verde
São Paolan rapper Emicida, the first Brazilian rapper ever invited to Coachella, laid down melodic rhymes which sway to the beats of samba, soul and Brazilian funk, with the influences from Cabo Verde and Angola that inspired his latest album. Wearing a t-shirt that said “No human being is illegal”, Emicida’s music witnessed the dominance of hip hop as a musical lingua franca that is evidence of a world without borders to which we all belong as natural citizens.
Rancho Aparte: Afro-chamber music from the Colombian Pacific
There seems to be no dearth of musical forms to be discovered in Colombia, even just considering the richness of its musically prolific Pacific Coast. Chirimia, a genre from the northern part of the Pacific coast that we discovered for the first time at this Womex is chamber music gone afro, rogue and punk, and as supremely danceable a sound as can be found. The high artistry and boundless energy of Rancho Aparte’s ensemble took chirimía, an art form born in the times of slavery in a combination of European wind instruments and percussion, and propelled it furiously into the 21st century.
Chouk Bwa Libète: Haitian roots textures, raw and pure
Chouk Bwa Libète was a wonderful example of the pure, unbridled joy of Haitian roots music —Mizik Rasin— and its Vodou-based rural songs and dances. More than a crafted art form, the music of Chouk Bwa Libète arose in waves of percussion, vocals and movement that seemed authentically inspired right in the moment and communicated nothing but the sheer joy of sharing exactly that particular, unique musical moment.
Baraji: The magnificent power of Korean trance rituals
Baraji takes its name from a Korean word that describes compassionate care and unconditional support, and in Korean traditional music, the word refers to the improvised singing in harmony. Baraji’s performance centered on an intense and dramatic traditional shamanistic purging ritual for the dead, with singing and dancing uniting with prayers that the beloved deceased truly rest in peace. All of this took us --the living-- to a beautiful and meditative space.
Javier Paxariño Trio: Jazz rooted in the Mare Nostrum
Javier Paxariño, one of Spain’s most renowned saxophonists and a former member of Radio Tarifa uses his jazz trio as the context to masterfully find a common ground between the diverse rhythms from the Iberian peninsula that were forged in the currents of the Mediterranean. The results are magical, and bring together in for example, the Maghreb’s Gnawa, folkloric Castilian percussive song and dance and flamenco-inspired guitar riffs and medieval melodies in beautifully lyrical harmony.
Alo Wala: Sassy and smooth Punjabi grooves from Chi-town via Denmark
Chicago-born Punjabi rapper Shivani Ahlowalia and Danish production duo Copia Doble Systema and VJ Mad Es formed Alo Wala to inject “ground-shaking bass into any style possible” while keeping a certain politically-charged social consciousness front and center. Alo Wala takes juke, dancehall, classical Indian instruments, and riddims from just about everywhere, adds dramatic, psychedelic-tinged visuals and Ahlowalia’s sassy swagger talk and smooth dance moves to create socially conscious and irresistible hip-hop in a class of its own.
Pat Thomas and the Kwashibu Area Band: The unremittingly effervescent joy of highlife
Pat Thomas, one of the musical icons of ‘70s and ‘80s Ghanaian highlife, afrobeat and afro-pop scenes is known as “The Golden Voice Of Africa”. Today, accompanied by the Kwashibu Area Band and his own daughter Nanaaya on vocals, Thomas revisits his old musical stomping grounds, finding a sweet spot to fully express the vibrant musical collage of highlife with its bits of traditional African music, colonial marching band music, church music, jazz, blues, Latin music, and classic soul and funk.
Federspiel: Viennese horns gone hip
The Austrian brass and woodwind ensemble Federspiel gave ample testimony to how much fun can be had with a whole lot of horns in the hands of seven Austrians. Founded in 2005, these students from the Viennese music conservatory took compositions based in folk music and added effortless improvisation with ample doses of humor. We totally participated in their enjoyment as the careened and veered back and forth from mariachi to mazurka to military marching music and more with wild abandon.
Sutari: Polish experimental alt-folk with loads of whimsy
There are many instruments I have seen played, but experiencing Sutari was the first time I saw an egg beater and an egg played (cracked and poured) as an accompaniment to tightly nuanced lilting vocals. This Polish trio, playing violin, basetla and drum as well as everyday kitchen utensils, told us magical musical stories that thanks to projected translations, shared moments from the fantastic to the melancholic to the mundane, and often from a feminine point of view.
Ana Tijoux: Fierce Chilean rap with a social conscience
Born in Chile but raised in France during her parents' political exile from Pinochet's dictatorship, Ana Tijoux returned to Chile and has become a musical force of nature, as well as gaining renown as a committed artist activist who has supported the student protest movement in Chile, immigration reform in the United States and other global causes. As the first Chilean musical representative to be selected to showcase at Womex in its 21 years of existence, Tijoux shared the vision of a fierce Latin American tradition born in her land with the late Chilean poet and singer songwriter Victor Jara, who stated: “any song which is brave, will always be a new song”.