Womad festival 2022: 10 exciting regional acts to see, from Afghanistan to Morocco

The 40th anniversary of the event features a healthy contingent of artists hailing from Mena and South Asia

Moroccan-French band Bab L' Bluz, led by singer Yousra Mansour, will perform at the Womad festival. Photo: Salima Moumni
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The British music festival that helped inspire the world music genre is turning 40.

Womad will mark a milestone this week with another rich and eclectic line-up of world music and alternative music acts.

To be held at Charlton Park in south-east London from Thursday to Sunday, the headliners of the festival include Beninese Grammy Award winner Angelique Kidjo, US jazz artist Lianne La Havas, Brazil's Gilberto Gil,to American alternative rock group The Flaming Lips, UK singer-songwriter Kae Tempest and Mali's Fatoumata Diawara.

Dig deeper into the line-up however, and Womad offers an equally rich offering of seasoned and exciting acts from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

From Moroccan group Bab L' Bluz to Egyptian-Australian oudist Joseph Tawadros, many come to Womad to display how rich and sacred music traditions remain vital today.

With performance times soon to be revealed on the festival website, here are 10 regional acts to check out at Womad.

1. Electric Jalaba (Friday)

The Moroccan-British collective is modernising an old musical form.

Led by Moroccan musician and singer Simo Lagnawi, the six-piece band update traditional gnawa music with dollops of electric blues, dub and psychedelic rock.

This is all done within the traditional compositional framework of classic gnawa music, illustrating how the historical genre remains vital even today.

2. Joseph Tawadros (Friday)

A master of the oud, the Egyptian-Australian artist built a career out of tackling misconceptions surrounding the instrument.

A prolific artist, Tawadros has released nearly 20 albums and performed with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and British ensemble, Academy of Ancient Music.

His latest album, Hope in an Empty City is nominated for this year's Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards, the Aussie version of the Grammys.

3. Mazaher (Friday)

The Egyptian group are considered leading purveyors of Zar, a music and cultural tradition blending song, dance and percussion into a performance resembling a ritual.

Using a signature frame drum and call and response vocals, Zar draws parts of its mystical roots from Sufism.

4. Yazz Ahmed (Friday)

The British-Bahraini trumpeter and composer will unveil her latest project The Moon Has Become.

Commissioned by Womad and backed by an 11-piece group, Ahmed will perform pieces melding elements of jazz and electronica to create a sound that the organisers describe as "psychedelic Arabic jazz”.

A critically acclaimed artist, Ahmed won the Jazz Album of the Year award at the 2020 Jazz FM awards for Polyhymnia.

5. Bab L' Bluz (Saturday)

The Moroccan-French group are dynamite live and will surely generate new fans at the Womad festival.

Led by fiery frontwoman Yousra Mansour, the band perform a turbo-charged version of gnawa music with a fierce rock attitude. Their 2020 debut album Nayda! has been released by leading world music label Real World Records, founded by Womad and singer Peter Gabriel.

6. Elaha Soroor and Kefaya (Saturday)

Traditional Afghan folk songs meet electronic music from this experimental duo.

Performing songs from the fascinating album Songs of Our Mothers, Afghan singer Elaha Soroor’s yearning vocals float over British producer Kefaya’s mix of vibrant beats and experimental soundscapes.

The end result are potent works paying tribute to Afghanistan’s rich musical heritage, which is currently under threat.

7. Al-Qasar (Sunday)

Hailing from Paris, the band describe their vibrant sound as "Arabian fuzz", with its distinctive take on Middle Eastern folk music and 1960s and 1970s psychedelia.

That eclectic approach is mirrored by the background of band members, who come from countries including France, Jordan and Morocco.

Al-Qasar will hit the Womad stage with a swag of material, after having released two albums in as many years.

Their latest, 2021’s Who Are We, features the new single Awal.

8. Ramy Essam (Sunday)

Hailed as one of the voices of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, the singer-songwriter has gone on to build an impressive career with three albums full of rocking political missives, including 2017’s career best A Letter to the UN Security Council.

Essam's biggest single, Segn Bel Alwan, featuring Lebanese rapper Malikah, recently amassed more than eight million views on YouTube.

9. Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis (Sunday)

Tassa hails from a Mizrahi Jewish family, which traces its roots to Iraq and Kuwait.

A successful solo artist in Israel, Tassa launched the side project Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis to explore his background.

The band has released three albums, including 2019's El Hajar, with songs integrating the sounds of 20th century classical Iraqi songs with indie-rock.

10. Rizwan Muazzam Qawwals (Sunday)

The Pakistani duo are viewed as the musical heirs of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Nephews of the late Sufi singer, Rizwan and Muazzam Ali Khan have faithfully adhered to the spiritually inspired sounds of qawwali music.

Their performances are defined by their electrifying vocal interplay powered by the throbbing percussion of the tabla and other-worldly sounds of the harmonium.

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Updated: July 27, 2022, 10:24 AM