You seem to have a music lover’s dream job – WOMADelaide operations and program manager. What is the best thing about it?
The programming bit is a dream; the operations bit (what feels like a million emails and contracts) can sometimes be hard-going. The level of detail that we strive to achieve, to make the artists’ and audience’s experience the best it can possibly be, is pretty astounding.
I like that the line between my work and home/travel life is blurred, and not only do I get to meet incredible artists and work with good people, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on WOMADs in the UK, NZ, Singapore, Greece, the USA and Chile.
So what is the toughest challenge?
Making choices and getting the program mix/balance right, when faced with a world full of great music.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing on this year’s line-up?
There are about a dozen acts I’ve never seen live so I’m looking forward to these – including Alsarah & the Nubatones, John Grant, Songhoy Blues and The Strides.
Of the international artists I have seen, who’ve never been to Australia before, my hot tips for the audience are 47SOUL, Eska, Ester Rada, Ibeyi and Orange Blossom.
How many other music festivals and shows have you attended in the past 12 months while seeking out artists to perform at WOMADelaide festivals?
If I can cheat a wee bit here, I was on sabbatical in South America from May 2014 until May 2015, so if I say the past 18 months, I would have seen over 100 live gigs, plus the Lollapalooza and Frontera festivals in Santiago, and WOMAD Charlton Park in the UK (attended by 30,000 to 60,000 people).
Every one of these has informed my WOMADelaide role.
What criteria do you consider when deciding which artists to include in the line-up?
There are a lot of factors that influence our decisions but in the end I believe it comes down to two big questions: are they great performers and do we love them? Then the practicalities come into play: are they available and can we afford them?
What are your WOMADelaide highlights of the past 17 years working on the festival?
I honestly have too many. Highlights are highlights for different reasons; for example, it can be a long road between the discovery of an artist and them actually performing at WOMADelaide. Sometimes it takes years, and the culture or place they come from is so vastly different from ours, that I’m moved by their very being here – as well as their shows, of course. Examples include the Drummers of Burundi, Tinariwen [Mali desert musicians] and Ayarkaan [a female vocal trio from Sakha in Siberia].
There have been artists whose shows have blown my mind because of their uniqueness and visual/aural “power punch” (Kimmo Pohjonen, Rokia Traore, Tanya Tagaq), those who have moved me (Mariza) and those who’ve made me dance (La Chiva Gantiva, Nortec Collective, Omar Souleyman).
You’ve been in your current role since 1999 – how much has WOMADelaide changed over that time?
My role was far smaller before about 2008; I was mainly involved with the Australian line-up and producing the WoZone (an offsite, post-festival club) from 1999-2004. My role has grown, organically, to encompass working with international artists, site artists, DJs, kid-friendly artists and more, working in tandem with director Ian Scobie.
Final-weekend festivals picks
Since 1999, we’ve gone from three to four days, extended the site to include Speakers Corner and developed the program to include Taste the World and The Planet Talks.
Artistically, I think it’s fair to say that we now present an even broader scope of music (including DJs), plus contemporary dance companies and large-scale site installations.
One thing that hasn’t changed is having a brand new program every year, and one that stands out from the crowd.
The 2016 WOMADelaide will be at Botanic Park from today (March 11) until Monday. The line-up also includes De La Soul, Ajak Kwai, Angelique Kidjo with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, The Cat Empire, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sarah Blasko, Saint Germain, Tek Tek Ensemble and the Violent Femmes.
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