WOMAD: a celebration of cultural diversity

By: Marcella Cirignola.

Nusrat fateh Ali Khan (Photo: A.M. Samadani)The genre known as World Music is experiencing an incredible impulse nowadays. Since this label was established to refer to a unifying concept of all the musical styles of a more or less ethnic nature which would give rise to different fusions between the most unlikely cultures, different initiatives aimed at divulging the music typical of the diverse ethnic groups from all the corners of our world have been taking place at different stages. One of such initiatives which is remarkable enough given its peculiar character, and whose main objective is to celebrate cultural diversity in the musical arena as well as to share multi-ethnic experiences in the field of traditional and contemporary music and dance, is precisely the one taken by Peter Gabriel, who in 1982 launched the first festival of an international nature which he would call WOMAD, an acronym that stands for World of Music Arts and Dance, in England.

Christine Anu (Photo: White Records)Peter Gabriel, an ex member of the popular band Genesis, as well as a passionate fan of the World Music, wanted to reunite in a festival gathering all cultures a series of musicians, artists and performers in traditional and contemporary dance from all over the world in what became the first event of this nature now more than fifteen years ago. Since its foundation, the festival has gathered artists from more than eighty nations, travelling to more than fifteen different countries, and having more than two hundred artists whose specialities range from reggae to the Celtic folk bands, blues, Native American folklore, the percussion typical of African groups, the performers specialized in the songs and melodies of India, the typical Spanish guitar, European pop, classical Chinese music, electronic music, and many other musical styles from the different cultures all over the planet. As Peter Gabriel himself says, "Our intention is to showcase jazz, rock and folk from the West alongside indigenous music and dance from the furthest corners of the globe."

Womadelaide (Photo: Virtual Artists / Womadelaide)Each WOMAD festival is different from the preceding ones. As the well known Rolling Stone magazine says, "The eclecticism of WOMAD works. It has a wonderful sense of the unexpected, a bizarre melding of musical and cultural styles and a euphoric sense of peace and goodwill." Many of the artists that present their varied performances at the festival are worldwide famous ones, whereas others are unknown beyond their frontiers. Nevertheless, the philosophy of WOMAD does not admit a festival merely presenting great pop stars ignoring the rest. All the artists taking part in the festival usually display an exceptional, diverse talent, always in the best spirit of cultural exchange, within an equality that takes one to the joy of sharing an unforgettable experience in the musical field. The magic of WOMAD lies precisely in this merging of what is new and what is old, the eastern and the western cultures, north and south, thus weaving a harmonious tapestry between the distinct cultures and times that leads to the maximum expression of the spirit of coexisting in tolerance and understanding at an intercultural level which is so necessary on a planet that every day becomes nearer to each one of us, thanks - among other things - to the improvements we are experiencing in the communications and the change we are going through in the perception of our world as a unique refuge that shelters all the human ethnic groups. And music is a most suitable way to transmit this global message. As Peter Gabriel himself says, "Music is the universal language. There is nothing more powerful, more moving." Yet this musical experience is not merely limited to the audience enjoying the different musics, since, unlike other festivals, at WOMAD the participants - both the artists and the audience - are encouraged to collaborate together and discover new and exotic aspects of the different cultures involved in this project while at the same time they enjoy the different performances.

During the current year, 1997, a series of activities by WOMAD are to take place, as usual, including the following events:

Zap Mama (Photo: Womad / Womadelaide)AAny possible changes and a more complete, updated information on the festival and its different locations can be more reliably available, directly from the WOMAD Information Desk, Millside, Mill Lane, Box, Nr Corsham, Wiltshire SN13 8PN, UK. Fax No: +44 (0) 1225 743 481

A last point of interest to comment on related to the musical festival WOMAD is the existence of the WOMAD Foundation, established as a non-profit association, a charity, in 1983 by Thomas Brooman and Bob Hooton, whose aims are "to promote, maintain, improve and advance education in world cultures and multi-cultural education." These objectives are implemented throughout the school year in the initiatives by the Foundation that establish educational workshops in the schools, colleges and community centers with a view to promoting cultural understanding and tolerance outside the classroom. To this end, and also related to the festival, in association with the publishing house Heinemann Educational, of the United Kingdom, the Foundation has launched a series aimed at the schools called Exploring the Music of the World, which includes the following volumes: Music of West Africa; Music of the Caribbean; Music of India; Music of Indonesia; Music of the British Isles; and Music of South America. Hopefully, such initiatives, besides approaching us to the musics from other cultures and ethnic groups, will help us to reach this harmony we would love to get in a world that has ceased to be a series of utterly separated compartments to become the "Global Village" we have to take care of all together, our - so far - only home in the Cosmos, in the Universe. If music contributes to unifying us as brothers and sisters in our Humanity, with our enriching differences, our cultural diversity, what else can we wish for?


-Nusrat fateh Ali Khan (Photo: A.M. Samadani)
-Christine Anu (
Photo: White Records)
-Womadelaide (
Photo: Virtual Artists / Womadelaide)
-Zap Mama (
Photo: Womad / Womadelaide)

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