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Live Review: The Emerging Artists That Killed It At WOMAD 2023

15 March 2023 | 4:46 pm | Melissa Griffin

Among the heavy hitters, a group of up-and-coming talent emerged, ready to represent the many corners of the globe WOMADelaide seeks to spotlight.

Image: Wade Whitington

Image: Wade Whitington

Twilight settles on March Madness in Adelaide, as the city comes to life with street performers and Fringe acts, drawing crowds into the heart of the CBD. On the outskirts of the city, an equally lively crowd descends on Adelaide’s Botanic Park / Tainmuntilla for one of Australia’s biggest world culture and music celebrations, WOMADelaide Festival.

Entering the park to the vocal harmonies of a troubadour group using a formally banned Romance language, while crowds meander along grass inexplicably littered with white feathers is a typical introduction to “The World’s Festival.” Now in its 31st year, WOMADelaide has become a cultural beacon in Australia’s festival calendar.

In between the activism talks, cooking workshops and family-friendly playgrounds, some of the world’s biggest artists took to the many stages across the park grounds. Scottish hit-making twins The Proclaimers called out to a multi-generational audience, receiving an echoing round of “dada da das”, UK pop-rock giants Florence + The Machine ticked off another stop on their Dance Fever tour as thousands gathered under the stars to be in their presence and Zambian singer, rapper, and songwriter Sampa The Great cemented her place as a showstopping festival headliner in a triumphant return to the Adelaide stage.

And among the heavy hitters, a group of up-and-coming talent emerged, ready to represent the many corners of the globe WOMADelaide seeks to spotlight.

Tucked in a corner away from the main stage, an audience sits awaiting on a patch of grass under the cooling shade of the surrounding trees. Tanzanian/Australian Beckah Amani, sets the mood perfectly for this crowd with her blend of “Afro-inspired soulful folk.” And it’s not long before most of them are on their feet, with dance-along ballads like Waiting On You and I Don’t Know Why I Don’t Leave You, Amani begins to draw in passersby ending up with a large crowd swaying their arms back and forth in time to the beat. With her mellifluous vocals and intimate songwriting, Beckah Amani makes her first festival performance one to remember.

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In another first, Brisbane-born (now Melbourne-based) Tiana Khasi makes her WOMADelaide debut with the help of fellow line-up artists, neo-soul band Izy. Khasi can barely contain her excitement as the crowd welcomes her on stage, “I want to scream with you.” A storyteller at heart, Khasi draws upon her Samoan and Indian heritage to transport the audience to her ancestor’s lands. On her track Meghalaya, the singer paints a picture of the hills and waterfalls of northeast India – a place she feels a deep connection with through her grandmother. Inspired by the multi-cultural celebration around her, Khasi also takes the opportunity to perform in Samoan for the first time on stage in a poignant cover of a traditional song.

Welcoming festival-goers into her own corner, Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal, Zenadth Kes song woman Kee’ahn opens her set with a soul-infused introduction, leading the audience in a chorus of “Hand back black land” as she sings “Always was, Aboriginal land” in beautiful melody with her backing musicians. Although it’s her first experience at WOMADelaide, Kee’ahn manages to capture her audience immediately with her rich vocals. A hush falls on what could be the quietest crowd of the weekend, as she meditates on lessons taught by her grandma on the heartfelt, acoustic track Smoke. The audience is also treated to a preview of single Take No More, which was written with acclaimed Indigenous Australian singer and songwriter Emma Donovan – proving big things are yet to come for Kee’ahn.

For anyone lucky enough to catch either of South African artist Nakhane’s two sets over the weekend, they would have witnessed a rising pop star in the making. Blending 80s style synth with South African electronic dance music genre gqom and the house-inspired Soweto genre kwaito, Nakhane fills the stage with unique dancefloor hits. Moving from keys to electric guitar throughout the set, Nakhane keeps the crowd on their feet and entertained as the exhaustion of the weekend begins to hit both punters and artists, “Let’s start that again…the lyrics just left my brain.” With electro ballads like You’ve Got Me (Living Again), Nakhane is set for chart domination. 

After 30 years of celebrating cultural discovery, some things are guaranteed to be found in Botanic Park / Tainmuntilla during the month of March. Like, innovative ways to carry a round of drinks (upside down woven cowboy hats are a popular choice), homemade band shirts, floral crowns and ominous violins covering Jimi Hendrix somewhere in the distance. Another WOMADelaide Festival guarantee, you’ll discover a plethora of multicultural talent finding their second home on stage before rising through the ranks.