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August 2, 1998

WOMAD

Fezzik was entirely stiff this morning, and I didn't wake up until after 10 a.m.. We had the cinnamon rolls from the Black Diamond Bakery for breakfast, and left Fezzik in the house as he seemed quite content to stay there. Then we drove the Stoat to Marymoore Park. I wore one of the halter tops that I bought for Christmas from Victoria's Secret, and the blue pair of coin pants. I figured that there would be a lot of sun, as the sky was clear and blue, and I didn't want to be too hot but I did want some cloth protection for my skin, at least my legs. I worried a little bit, on the way to WOMAD, that I might be too cool. As it turned out, it was a good thing I wore what I wore because the day was just roasting hot.

WOMAD stands for WOrld Music Art and Dance. Its earliest incarnation was founded in 1982, and underwritten by Peter Gabriel. The initial festivals lost a large amount of money for Gabriel, until they figured out a new format that was largely music sprinkled with a few interactive workshops that allow the audience to participate as well as hear. Rather than having it be largely workshops, the new format allowed those more comfortable with just concert going to simply listen to all the music from all around the world.

And it really was from all around the world. From Russia to South Africa, Australia to Seattle, Tibet to South Carolina, covering all nations from the First Nations of America to the Zulu nation to the newest nations broken off from Mother Russia, they were all represented and all participating, and most of all, they were active. As much as the groups brought music to this first show in the USA, they also brought their own cultures and information and education as to what their daily lives were like above and beyond the political scene. Making real the people that we saw on the stage, bringing them close enough to touch and feel.

"They are the people of a proud nation."

They all were. Proud of their history, proud of their culture, proud of their capabilities and gifts, and proud to bring as much as it with them as they could teach those who are interested in those who respected who and what they were.

John and I parked in the back lot, one of the first in the lot, and the parking attendance had fun waving us across the field rather than onto the dirt road that ran alongside the parking area. I guess the Stoat seemed overkill for the dirt road. We got out and took the quarter mile walk with no problems across grass and fields newly mown. I had wondered how they were going to control the crowd flow into and out of the large area, as there were eight different sites all spread out over the entire area. It turned out there was a fence all around, and two gates through it.

We entered through the main gate. It opened immediately into the field area that made up the main stage, which was aflutter with gold, red, orange, flame colored banners on flag poles scattered through the area, a lovely contrast to the deep greens of all the trees all around. Tuatara was beginning their set as we entered. They are a local band, made up of members of R.E.M, Luna, Screaming Trees, and Critters Buggin'. The songs that were playing were extremely danceable, funky and jazz based rock. They were fun to listen to that it was attempting to dance my way into the grounds as a made our way to the far side of the entire performance area.

I really wanted to see the Capoeira demonstration and workshop. There were two Brazilians from Passo a Passo, Sylvia Bazzareli and Marcos Aurelio Dos Santos, who both played native instruments in the native rhythms and demonstrated the martial art that disguised itself as a dance. They've taught since 1986, and established the London School of Capoeira. Sylvia had this gorgeous, soft British accent, and as they sat down with instruments and stone, she explained the 'play' of Capoeira, how it started with the music, the rhythms of home, and as the music dueled for the beat, the expression over the basic sounds, so did the dance, the art, come from the music. They played their instruments for a good fifteen minutes, and Marcos shifted to a tamborine for the finale to their live performance. They then turned on the recording of the music, for background as they "played chess with their bodies" and played the one on one game of a 'dance' that was all grace, power and control.

The only way I could describe it is full-body, half speed tai chi. Each motion of one player was met with a motion from the other. Their upper body strength and abilities were as balanced and practiced as their lower body grace. Flips, cartwheels, hand stands all as balanced, graceful and nearly inhumanly slow and under their control as the dance steps taken between, both bodies in complete sync. The moments of near loss of balance, of one motion unexpected by the other met with a flash of white teeth in a grin of good humor and self-amusement. Especially when the American audience applauded all of the more spectacular flips, and more amazing synchronous spins and full body responses to unexpected actions were ignored. Yet, I expect that one sees what one is taught.

It was what I came to see.

When the workshop began, I decided to walk away rather than risk my knee, even with something simple. I knew that I would probably push whenever it was that they did give us, if I stayed.

Instead, we wandered over to the Remo Drum Groove, where Arthur Hull was leading a universal rhythm workshop on a set of bongos. Remo Drums had provided an entire set, no, an entire circle of drums for anyone that wished to participate. The drums were scattered about the compound, in hands of everyone and anyone that wished to pick one up and play it. It was marvelous to see and hear all the folks in sync and playing with all their bodies, minds, and, as Arthur said, their souls.

I was struck by how easy it was for him to speak of soul, and the expression of the soul through the rhythms of the drums. He would often encourage everyone to just let loose and play what came out of their souls. After walking so long in a society that edges around spirituality in nearly all its terms, it struck me how open he was with those terms. What was really keen was watching all the people as they played their drums. Some were tentative, some were all open to everything around them, watching those around them and the leader closely. Others had their eyes closed, shutting everyone in everything else out. Some intent, others relaxed, and as the workshop went on, more and more were just playing to play. Listening and learning in expressing themselves with nothing more than their hands, their bodies and a drum.

It was such a completely different experience than the drummers' cove of Bumbershoot or Folklife, where it's actually a collection of experienced drummers that all just play together. Here, there was room for the uninitiated, the neophyte who wished to learn. In the Remo Drum Groove, with every measure there was the birth of wonder and exploration.

I couldn't help but think that Raven would've loved this. Hi, Raven.

We eventually wandered off to listen to The Gospel of Jazz According to Sir Ali. Sir Ali is a French DJ, whose love was American jazz. He appreciated the irony of being invited to speak of jazz to the nation that birthed that very music. He acknowledged that he was not a musician, merely a listener, though truly a listener who had listened for many years. What he was to present was what he considered gospel of jazz, the songs that shaped modern jazz into what it was today. He had recordings, rare recordings of performances never heard in the U.S. by jazz musicians all over the world. He started with a performance by singers from a South African Township, singing in their own native tongue to show where jazz had gone around the world. The first bit of gospel he shared was a crystal clear recording of Mercy Mercy. I had never heard a recording so clear.

We wandered about again. This time through the Global Market. Mostly vendors from Seattle of goods from around the world. Colorful items, cool clothing, and imported goods from everywhere. One place that caught John's eye was a Tibetan shop that had a single table of woolen, winter clothing. They were felted coats, cut from thick wool felt in traditional patterns, patched and sewn into geometric patterns that highlighted the colors and brought out the structure. They were almost unthinkably warm in the hot weather.

So, the proprietor of the stand gave us a good price on them, because he knew he probably couldn't sell them nearly is easily as the summer clothing. Besides, there was only one extra large coat in a dark charcoal gray with turquoise highlights that actually fit John. Also, by chance, there was only one woman's style coat left. It was a small, so I thought it had to be too small for me, but the shoulders fit perfectly, and the neckline was perfect for the cold winter days when we drove the Stoat. Days when the air was so cold it was hard to breathe. It was thick and warm, and I'll admit it made me look like someone from the Tibetan mountains. It was interesting to see that transformation.

The next workshop that I felt I had to see was the one on women's voices. We got there early and staked out a spot under a tree. A good thing, it turned out, as it was during the hottest part of the day, and folks came crowding into what little shade there was. The workshop featured two trios and one solo artist, all women who all perform, at some time or another, a capella. One trio was from South Carolina, women of one of the First Nations. It turns out the new politically correct term for Native American cultures is First Nations. When the youngest number of Ulali was asked what she wished people would call her tribes, she came up with the most marvelous answer.

"So long as it is said with respect, I don't care what they call us."

I really liked that. I also really enjoy their singing, which was very traditional tribal music, and included songs that they had written for those they loved. Another interesting answer was when they were asked what kind of drums they had, and they answered, "Traditional Remo drums." They then commented that the artificial surfaces stayed in tune no matter the weather. They also used aluminum cans filled with sand or beans for moroccos. That was keen to see and hear.

The solo artist was Yung Chen Llamo. An Australian success, she escaped Tibet in 1989 by trekking with a group of friends over the mountains. Until 19 she had worked in factories, as her family had been wealthy until the Chinese Cultural Revolution destroyed her culture, her family, and all she had known. She escaped with a knowledge of traditional Tibetan songs and an incredible voice to carry them with. So, now, she has found a success that she had never dreamed of before.

I could appreciate the power and clarity of her voice, but I'll admit I'm not that much into traditional song. The stories of her hardships in Tibet were more fascinating to me.

Shikisha is derived from the Zulu word meaning "belt it out, sing and dance like you never sung and danced before." And the women of the trio are as vivid as their name, filled with laughter and challenge and amazing joy for their music and their background. They not only sing, but also teach dances, drumming, and shared bits of their day-to-day life in their South African townships through all the arts that they do. They know the traditional Zulu dances and chants, and have incorporated much of the structure into their interpretations of modern dance and music. It was really fun to listen to them, and their laughing answers to the various questions around them. And when they sang, it was with everything they had.

As the moderator said, the workshop should have been given nearly twice the time it was, and could have filled it easily.

By the time that was over, we were pretty hungry, and really hot. The sun was beating down on the open fields and everyone was escaping into ths shade. So, we found the Ben and Jerry's ice cream booth, and stood in line for about half an hour. After standing there for that long, I decided I might as well go for it all and got the double scoop with a waffle cone. The waffle cone was so fresh it was still hot, and I had both Dilbert's World (all nuts! Hazelnut butter cream ice cream with macademia, pecans, and hazelnuts) and Cherry Garcia melting beautifully in it. We sat with our cones on the main stage lawn, and listened to Joan Osborne and her eclectic band playing away. It was cool in the shade, and it was fun to watch the crowd as it wandered through. All kinds were there, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the lovely day and all the beauty being presented to them.

Eventually, we made our slow way to listen to Sky Cries Mary. It's a local near-psychedelic band with a good local following. We sat well outside the tent, got a bit more food and much water, found an empty picnic bench and table and parked out there and ate while listening. We were pretty burnt out by then, and the only thing we wanted to experience that remained was Ravi Shanker and his daughter on the sittar. So, we sat and ate a gyros, enjoying it savory tenderness, the cool crispness of the onions and the tangy coolness of the yogurt, and then wandered back to the drum grove. We sat in the shade and listened to all the drummers until it was time for Ravi to play. By then the sun had slanted nearly to the horizon, and all the shadows were long and cool.

Pretty much everyone congregate to the main stage, no longer having to brave the direct sun in the open areas. The local newspapers and others had touted Ravi as the main event of the day, but both John and I were pretty burnt out by then. East Indian sitar playing takes a bit of concentration to get into, and neither of us got into it.

So, we walked back to the car, looking at license plates as we went. Most of the cars there were from Washington, in fact, it was an overwhelming percentage. That surprised me a little, as WOMAD had been advertised as a worldwide event. But it didn't surprised me that Seattlelites had gotten into it, what with all the music that happens in the area.

As we drove home, the sun set in a lavender sky, turning the edge of the sky warm gold. We ended up cleaning the house, getting Fezzik and going to Dairy Queen to cool off as the night finally fell. So ending a very full and vivid weekend, filled with life and fun

Brought to you by Dragon System's NaturallySpeaking.

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