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WOMAD: the best possible taste

Head of sound Derrick Zieba tells Dave Robinson of his fondness for the WOMAD festival, which this year surpassed all expectations with a formidable list of performers including Alabama 3, I Am Kloot, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and Chapelier Fou (pictured).

Head of sound Derrick Zieba tells Dave Robinson of his fondness for the WOMAD festival, which this year surpassed all expectations.

“I thought it was absolutely amazing. I was really wowed by it.” So says acclaimed sound designer Derrick Zieba following his fourth time as head of sound for WOMAD. This year’s World of Music, Arts and Dance festival – co-created in 1982 by Peter Gabriel – was held, as it has been for a few years now, at Charlton Park in Wiltshire. The 2011 outing seems to have captured the public’s imagination more than even ever: an attendance of 35,000 was reported, with ticket sales up 29%. Headline acts included Alabama 3, I Am Kloot, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Penguin Café, Afrocubism and Aurelio.

“The thing that puts WOMAD apart,” he reflects, “is there are so many festivals where you see the same headline acts, whereas at WOMAD you get exposed to fantastic music from all around the world.”

Zieba highlights some of this year’s festival’s innovations: for one, the Taste The World area – this year manned by sometime PSNE contributor Tim Oliver – where invited artists prepare a ‘native’ dish in between performing tracks. He also approves of the new use for the Big Red Tent, “not the usual style for WOMAD”, an arena for more modern acts: that’s rap, dance and dubstep artists.

“I can only surmise,” he says, “that WOMAD organisers realise that parents bring their kids – maybe as they themselves came years ago, with their parents, when there was no real enticement for them. Music is changing, and now we have a stage that caters for that. I saw heaps of kids enjoying the Big Red Tent area. WOMAD have done the right thing.”

Brit Row had 20 sound engineers on site, “all of whom loved it, all of whom said it was the best festival they’d done, and asked if they could come back next year!

“And it’s true, a sunny afternoon at WOMAD, there’s not a better festival to be at.”

Britannia Row Productions provided the PA equipment for the festival. (“This is why they get the job,” suggests Zieba, “because they can provide anything from [Turbosound TQ-440s on sticks to the big systems.”)

On the main Open Air stage, where WOMAD mainstay Baaba Maal and less familiar acts such as the Creole Choir of Cuba delighted the crowds, Brit Row’s new Outline GTO line array took reinforcement duties. “I heard about it through [leading FOH mixer] Richard Sharratt, and, of course, [Brit Row’s] Bryan Grant. Using the GTO we’ve been about to up the SPL without impacting on offsite levels.” He adds that it’s one of the best he’s ever heard: no feint praise.

Elsewhere on the site, Brit Row rolled out the V-DOSC for the Big Red Tent, L-Acoustics KUDO plus SP28s in the Siam Tent, and dV-DOSC for the BBC Radio 3 stage. Consoles around the site included a trusty Midas XL4 at the Open Air, and XL3 and Yamaha M7CL for the Charlie Gillett stage.

The biggest challenge (“Enormous challenge!”) was keeping the offsite noise to the agreed levels. The location of WOMAD, in the woods of Charlton Park, means the trees do a certain amount of dampening of the beats; still, says Zieba, he and his team have to work hard to reduce spillage to something around 45dBA(!) away from the park. Interaction between stages is not a problem: “All credit to the programmers in minimising the interference,” he says.

Zieba’s personal favourites at this year’s festival included the soul and blues star Booker T Jones, and Mexican guitar sensations Rodrigo Y Gabriela, both in the Siam Tent (“Astounding. Just astounding”). He also references Gogol Bordello: “It wore me out just watching them.”

So much great music, so much to discover, says Zieba. “And you will always find something at WOMAD that leaves you open-mouthed.”