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March 20, 2023

Wired for WOMAD

If you dig music, relish a ritual, and love a bit of active solidarity, WOMADelaide might be an annual inclusion in your diary too, writes inaugural Music SA Music Writer's Lab participant Kate Holland.

  • Words: Kate Holland
  • Pictures: Wade Whitington

It was 4pm on opening night as I passed through the Frome Road gates. Flanked by two delightful first-timers, I found myself pointing out all the elements intrinsic to the experience.


This article was contributed as part of Music SA’s Music Writer’s Lab.

Kate Holland is mother, music lover, a tragic fan of traditions, and an inaugural participant of the program.
For more information on the Music Writer’s Lab, visit the website.

The bats in the nearby trees, that I promised would get louder as the evening progressed. The people setting up under trees (the same ones they’ve used for years). The coloured WOMAD lettering, which I told them to stand in front of for a photograph, like everyone else does.

I was reminded that for many Adelaideans, we don’t just love this festival – we own it. We come year after year, regardless of who’s on the lineup. It’s a ritual. This year I got to wondering why.

Is it the atmosphere, sprawled across our passionately preserved Park Lands? Is it the glorious array of food?

I know of people who return to the same stalls religiously. (I called them when I couldn’t find the gluten-free donuts.)

Maybe it’s the exposure to world culture via music and educational talks. Or there could be something even deeper and more wonderful at play.

Having now spent my first four-day stint at the festival (kudos to the festival-fit disciples who do this every year), there is a feeling of ventilating the stress of everyday life via shared songs and cathartic communal dancing. It is a place to seek acceptance or have your activism recharged and cynicism quelled.

Across the weekend I witnessed multiple people lost in a moment and hassle-free. Even I, barely able to stand let alone twerk by Monday night, found myself bouncing like a pogo stick to the shamanic funk of Korean group ADG7.

Ak Dan Gwan Chil, aka ADG7, on stage


Speeches from artists described the plight of others within and beyond our boundaries, rallying us to be allies and/or act. We were consistently reminded that just as music has many genres, people come in all shapes and sizes, colours and clothing, with differing sexuality and identities. Planet Talks and workshops built on these themes and more.

A baby in a onesie and ear-muffs stumble-danced beside me, reminding me of the wonderful intergenerationality of WOMAD. It’s an introduction to creative expression. Our firstborn came at three months old, and has returned often. Every time we bring our brood, they head straight for the teepees in KidZone – a ritual of their own.

A record-breaking 110,000 people attended across the weekend this year. Lines were longer and bladders were tested, spaces were crowded, but still it felt safe. We left an esky full of goods resting near a bush for hours and it remained untouched. One Mum told me her 14-year-old daughter was terrified to leave her side at a different festival but here felt free to roam. Many kids do. Another told me she’s been coming for a decade, since her son was two. They block out four days and it’s her favourite time of year.

Accessed by all ages


Every festival includes an experience designed to create a sense of awe and wonder. This year Gratte Ciel returned, exciting us with aerial theatrics (on wires) and charming us with acrobatic scenes before showering us in thousands of softly cascading feathers. We were covered and connected.

And, of course, there’s the music. So much glorious music. Music that you know and love. Music that you discover and love. For example, there were smiles for (500) miles when The Proclaimers took to the stage. Meanwhile Fantastic Negrito was the accidental magic I found on a water run. Moments later, my husband rang to ask if I’d seen him, having been alerted to his greatness by a mate. I love how these discoveries extend far beyond the boundaries of the park. My playlists have grown exponentially.

WOMADelaide isn’t perfect, of course. It often cops flack for prohibitive prices and a privileged audience. That said, Ed Sheeran had tickets nearing $190 for just one show. I saw five acts on Friday night alone. A single Mum told me she buys her four day pass via a payment plan so she can afford to attend. For several months, $20 comes out of her account weekly. The imposition doesn’t feel too great and for her the reward is immense.

Billy Bragg also reminded us during his set, that when we share time together, in a park full of people who care, we take solidarity home with us.

We leave believing the world can change. No wonder we keep on coming back.

Revellers immersed in Gratte Ciel’s ‘Place des Anges’

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