The organisers of WOMAD have an ear for some truly invigorating music from the four corners, and an act I am particularly delighted to see playing in New Plymouth this year is Lau. It is rare, but not entirely unknown, for Scottish artists to make a breakthrough beyond Berwick-on-Tweed, a perplexing conundrum that doesn’t seem to afflict indigenous acts, or those who claim to be, from the island to the left of Scotland. It is largely to do with commercialism of course and a generic bag of positivity and melancholy isn’t to everyone’s taste.
But Lau seem to bucking the trend. They are a three-piece from northern Scotland, comprising Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke, who have so far released three studio albums and a live album. They are named, not as might think after Andy Lau, the Hong Kong singer and actor, but from the Orcadian word meaning ‘natural light’.
I recently saw them on BBC’s Later with … Jools Holland, where they shone among a group of never-wills with their tribute-band brand format. Great bands make fine albums but sound even better playing live, and Lau were intriguing and adventurous despite just the standard two songs being aired, playing a style that mixes traditional influences with virtuoso musicianship, improvisational skills and a sense of the unexpected. Find your Celtic roots by all means but Lau have broader appeal.
Much of the attention this year is likely to fall on reggae legend, Jimmy Cliff, Mali’s Salif Keita and South Africa’s Hugh Masekala, among other heavyweights of the ‘traditional’ music world like The Correspondents, Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch, Peru’s Novalima and our own Fly My Pretties.
Personally I’d be inclined to skip where the hordes are heading and find someone you won’t hear being played in a bar in Coroglen. Such as Nidi d’Arac, a quartet bringing a new perspective to southern Italian folk music. “We simply interpret the Meditteranean traditions for how young Italians living in metropolitan realities perceive the culture now”, says singer Alessandro Copolla.
I’d also recommend Newtown Rock Steady from the esoteric suburn of the same name in Wellington, Aoteoroa. With a line-up of 89 people, give or take a dozen either way, the stage is gonna get mighty crowded. Their name doesn’t lie, they do play rocksteady, and if you don’t know what that is, why are you reading this column. And, finally, time should be afforded for Mari Boine, from what most folk know as Lappland, but the locals prefer to be known as the Sami people, a group that transcends borders in the freezing, inhospitable regions of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. Boine is a pioneer, in the sense that she explored her own culture, a culture that had been kicked under the table for decades. Now, far from being oppressed, Boine’s appearance comes with the support of both the Finnish and Norwegian governments.
* Womad takes place in new Plymouth, Tarankai, March 15-17, go to http://www.taft.co.nz/womad/tickets.html?gclid=CLmhofCS3bUCFcgdpQodhw0AHg for line-up details and ticket info.