Drums beat for start of Womad

Four busloads of Womad artists welcomed

KATE SAUNDERS
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2012
Powhiri for Womad artists at Owae Marae
JONATHAN CAMERON/FAIRFAX NZ
CULTURES COLLIDE: Massamba Diop, from Senegal, plays a talking drum in front of kaumatua during a powhiri at Owae Marae yesterday welcoming Womad artists to Taranaki.

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It was the best of Taranaki meeting the cultural diversity of the world.

Under a blazing Taranaki sun and with pohutukawa trees gently stirring in the breeze, four busloads of Womad artists were welcomed onto Owae Marae with a powhiri yesterday.

Standing in front of those welcoming him with his arms raised to the sky, Senegalese singer Baaba Maal was right at home.

"This is how we do it in Africa," he said of the powhiri.

The ceremony heralded the start of the three-day festival and the challenge issued by those on the marae was accepted on behalf of the visitors by Maal, dressed in the robes of his homelands.

The rousing waiata from Waitara schoolchildren then left some overseas performers roaring their approval.

Taranaki kaumatua Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru welcomed the artists, saying the green grass outside the marae was the same as that in Africa, and thus the people of Taranaki and those travelling to perform were linked.

"Each of you are welcome, welcome, welcome," he said.

Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson, acknowledged the beauty of Taranaki, but said at the end of the day the event was about "people, people, people".

The silence following his speech was broken by the war cry of a haka, with many artists capturing the moment on iPhones or iPads.

Maori leader Wharehoka Wano told the visitors the haka acknowledged two of the tribe's great prophets, who talked about peace. "That is what Womad is all about," he said.

The artists were now part of the whanau and Owae Marae had become part of them and would always travel with them, he said.

Womad artistic director Drew James said his thoughts were with people affected by disasters or coming from homelands with great suffering.

"Many people with us are from places where things are very difficult. The voices of these people are so important so we can understand where we are in the world. Thank you for bringing joy and hope to us in Taranaki as part of the Womad festival," Mr James said.

The floor was then open for the artists to respond, and Maal didn't disappoint.

"What we just saw, the welcoming, is more than entertainment, it's a family. This is how we do it in Africa. I want to say thank you to the elders because without the elders we will never know who we are or where we're going together."

Maal said former South African president Nelson Mandela had once told him his voice could reach places in the world that politicians' voices couldn't.

He asked the Waitara schoolchildren not to forget that, and told them their voices reminded him of when he was growing up and listening to African music.

The Narasirato Pan Pipers, from the Solomon Islands, then gave an impromptu piping performance before Massamba Diop, who performs with Maal, played the talking drum.

Diop played the instrument in the middle of the schoolchildren, before giving Maori kaumatua a close up performance.

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Over 400 artists from 21 countries, including Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Romania and Palestine will perform at Womad.

- Taranaki Daily News

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