ABU DHABI // The three-day Womad festival opened in the capital last night with flashes, bangs and pounding, pulsating beats. The rhythms were provided by Siyaya, a lively dance troupe from Zimbabwe, who opened the World of Music, Arts and Dance festival's music and dance programme on the Corniche. The flashes and bangs came from fireworks that lit up the sky over the beach after Siyaya performed.
The troupe was accompanied by a number of children from Abu Dhabi schools which have been holding workshops over the past week in preparation for the event which will showcase talent from across the globe. The light show was followed by a performance by the Emirati group Sokoor al Magabeel, which drew loud cheers and whistles of support as they performed with the Jordanian artist, Kamal Musallam.
"I can't believe a public festival on such a large scale is taking place in Abu Dhabi. It is really nice," said Karishma Kotwani, from Mumbai, as the South Korean drumming group, Dulsori, mesmerised the crowd by mimicking natural elements including rain and thunder. Many people were attracted by the headline act, Khaled, from Algeria, but arrived early to hear the support acts and soak up the atmosphere.
"There is something here for everyone," said Riham Hassibi, from Syria, adding "children, locals, Arabs, foreigners - even those who just want to relax under the open sky. In one word: great." Womad was co-founded in 1980 by Peter Gabriel, the British rock singer who founded the band Genesis. The idea came to Mr Gabriel after he performed with an African group and from there it grew into a travelling festival that aimed to bring together on one stage world music that was sourced from various regional parts of different countries.
Womad now takes place in more than 20 countries. Organisers estimate about 12,000 people were at last night's opening of the concert - the first Womad in the Middle East. Today's headling acts include the Dhol Foundation, who blend the traditional sounds of dhol with western music influences. The Kamkars from Kurdistan and Iran will also perform along with others such as Etra Finatawa from Niger, West Africa and the popular Senegalese artist Youssou N'Dour, who will appear with the Super Etoile De Dakar.
Sa Dingding from China, a singer and designer will also take to the stage after The Kamkars. The festival includes an installation of flags along the beach designed for the event by Angus Watt, an artist who joined the group in 1994. He coincidentally picked green, black, white and red, the colours of the national flag, to represent various aspects of concern related to climate change - a message about eco-sustainability that Womad has been trying to carry wherever it goes. Concert goers were be able to view Mr Watt's installation that has been planted along the beach. He added edging in the same colours to some flags not knowing it would resonate with the local culture.