Womad festival returns to Greece for a second time

Rumors had merely remained rumors for years before Womad, a premier roving festival on the world music circuit, finally made it to the Greek capital last summer. Attended by some 16,000 fans over its three-day duration, the event, founded by pop guru Peter Gabriel over a decade ago, made an impressive local arrival both in terms of numbers and artistic caliber. The festival’s return, then, between June 14 and 16 at the Athens Equestrian Center in the Goudi district (55 Messinias), located amid pleasantly quiet parkland in the capital, comes as no surprise. Living up to the event’s clout, Womad’s lineup this year, which was recently disclosed by the festival’s local promoter, On Stage productions, will feature top foreign acts, among them David Byrne and Cesaria Evora, as well one of the country’s finest exponents of contemporary talent, Thanassis Papaconstantinou. A total of 16 acts will be performing on three stages, while DJs will cap off each day with after-midnight sets. As is customary at Womad festivals, workshops by some of the performing artists will be on offer to concertgoers on the sidelines, as will ethnic cuisine. Besides Byrne – who has toured here twice in the past, initially with his now-defunct progressive-pop group Talking Heads and later as a Latin-inflected solo artist – Evora, a frequent visitor since belated recognition in the mid-1990s placed the middle-aged Cape Verdean grandmother under the international spotlight, and Papaconstantinou, the upcoming local Womad festival will also feature abundant talent from various parts of the world. They include Susana Baca, Asian Dub Foundation, Rachid Taha, Orquestra Aragon, Toto La Momposina and Gotan Project. Baca, from Peru and who like Evora is also a latecomer, released her debut album on Byrne’s Luaka Bop label last year at the age of 50; she will be making her first Greek appearance at Womad. Her work focuses on the neglected sounds of black Peru. Byrne went searching for Baca after a Spanish-language instructor of his in New York showed him a video of the still-unknown chanteuse singing in her own garden. Toto La Momposina, one of Colombia’s most renowned interpreters of the traditional cumbia – a fusion of Indian, African and Spanish elements reflecting the country’s history – is also slated. A younger, similar act from Cuba, Asere, which has frequently toured with La Momposina since she introduced them to the international circuit, will also perform. The veteran was drawn to Asere by the group’s passion to keep older music alive, a commitment that also characterizes her own work. Rachid Taha, a politically charged French-Algerian pop star of international proportions who has challenged racism through his work, especially in France, is also on the bill. Taha’s appealing fusion of traditional North African styles with rock, African pop and dance, recently earned him France’s equivalent of a Grammy award, the Victoire de la Musique. A cover of one of his songs, «Migra,» by Carlos Santana for his recent multimillion selling «Supernatural» album, has given Taha plenty of exposure in the lucrative US market. Papaconstantinou, an excellent local choice as part of the festival’s international cast, has delivered several intriguing albums of contemporary material – most of it layered over Greek tradition – since emerging in the mid-1990s. A state-employed mechanical engineer, Papaconstantinou, who generally shuns publicity, has written discreetly from his Larissa base in the north and has steadily developed a bulging cult following. The shy, part-time songwriter has drawn some of the country’s more self-respecting musicians from larger cities for his albums, including «Agrypnia,» his latest and most wayward effort to date. A reluctant stage performer, Papaconstantinou’s booking for Womad – where he’ll be performing before thousands – comes as a major surprise. But the choice could not have been more appropriate considering the caliber of his work. Tickets for the event are expected to go on sale early next week, a spokeswoman for the festival’s local promoter noted yesterday. Points of purchase remain undetermined, she added. But prices have been set at 35 euros per day for advance tickets, 40 euros at the door, and 90 euros for three-day tickets. Tickets covering the after-midnight DJ set for June 15, a Saturday, will be available for 20 euros at the door.