It has been a few years since this capital city in the Canary Islands has hosted WOMAD; the festival has been on a six-year break in neighbouring Fuerteventura. But with an estimated audience of 40,000 at the concerts this year, there was a genuine sense of joy as Las Palmas welcomed its return.
The line-up over the two days alternated between two stages. The beautiful palm tree-lined Parque de Santa Catalina boasted the larger of the two, but just around the corner and overlooking the harbour was the Boulevard stage. On Friday night Arizona’s Orkesta Mendoza, fronted by Sergio Mendoza (of Calexico) had the crowd dancing to their Mexican fusion from the get-go. After them there was an excellent live performance from UK collective Beating Heart to close the Boulevard stage. Two DJs churned out some African grooves, but it was the dancer that stole the show. The young woman, dressed in bright red and bedecked with beads, was utterly captivating. It’s only a shame that her top was apparently in danger of pulling a Janet Jackson; her energetic moves were regularly interrupted as she pulled her top back up into place. Saturday night’s highlight was Touareg guitarist Bombino. His desert-tinged rhythms drove the music into a swirling frenzy in the warm night air.
There’s also something special about visiting international festivals to be introduced to the local talent. Both stages opened with homegrown bands each evening, and Kuarembó on the Saturday night were the stand-out. Their upbeat mestizo sound is certainly reminiscent of Manu Chao who they quote as an influence, and what the lead singer lacked in pitch – there were times the audience sang more in tune than him – he made up for in joy and energy. They are a band that will surely continue to do well on the festival circuit.
This review originally appeared in Songlines #134 (Jan/Feb 2018) p70. Download a pdf here.