WOMAD 2023

Words by  Nick Walker
Aurora Digital Aurora Digital

A Little off the Wall

After two years of cancellations, the jewel of Taranaki’s summer event crown is poised to make a highly anticipated return this coming March.

2023 marks WOMAD’s 20th year in New Plymouth, and organisers expect the landmark edition of the festival to be yet another world-class showing.

As it has done for the last two decades, the festival mixes unique cultural acts from all over the world in music, art and dance, for three eclectic, energetic days at Pukekura Park’s Bowl of Brooklands. 

“WOMAD has become a highlight in the events calendar for many people in Taranaki, all over New Zealand, and even internationally,” says Programme Director Emere Wano.

“I say this every year, but the lineup of performers we have for this event is incredible. As a fan of the arts, it’s amazing that we can bring so much colour, culture and vibrancy to a place like Taranaki.”

Performers are coming from all over the world, including offbeat countries like Niger, Pakistan and Cuba. This rich cultural diversity complements an equally strong female lineup.

Acts often have significant global followings, even if they’re lesser known in New Zealand, which provides plenty of opportunity to discover world class entertainers.

For example, multi-award-winning Korean group ADG7 is described as a mix of glitzy upbeat pop, traditional shamanic gut music and regional folk songs. “Unique” doesn’t quite do it justice, and that’s just one act.

On a related note, festival-goers will notice an increased Asian influence within the lineup, in part due to WOMAD’s new partnership with the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono.

“Our goal is to help New Zealanders to thrive in Asia, and showcasing modern Asian culture at an event like WOMAD is a great way to do that,” says Director of Arts Craig Cooper. “Contemporary Asian music reflects traditional cultural foundations, but also builds on it in ways that are really dynamic and interesting and modern – it’ll be a lot of fun.” 

Taranaki’s recent recognition as being among Lonely Planet’s top 100 offbeat destinations for 2023 aligns perfectly with what WOMAD offers; something a little off the wall; totally unique, and a guaranteed good time.

“Traditionally Taranaki hasn’t been on the radar for many international travellers, however, the world is waking up to Taranaki as a destination. Visitors can enjoy a slower pace of travel that offers a depth of experiences and connection that can only be found on a path less travelled. It’s great news for us as a region”, says Venture Taranaki/Te Puna Umanga GM Destination Brylee Flutey.

“One of the reasons for WOMAD’s success over the last 20 years is the way it’s been embraced by the local community, and this is because it aligns to our community spirit and values, and the wairua of the region. This has enabled an authentic, natural connection between the event, community and the manuhiri (visitors) who also have the same core values and principles that WOMAD strives to uphold – it makes for event magic.”

WOMAD may be a global festival with shows all over the world, but surely no other events have a venue such as the Bowl of Brooklands. With space for eight stages, the global food and art and crafts villages, together with the iconic main bowl stage, it seems tailor made for WOMAD.

“The Bowl of Brooklands is an iconic venue in its own right, and that was recognised in being named New Zealand’s best large event venue by the Entertainment Venues Association of New Zealand last year,” says NPDC Manager of Venues and Events, Helena Williams.

“The Bowl of Brooklands and Pukekura Park bring out the best of what WOMAD is all about. A great natural setting that allows a number of artists to perform simultaneously on different stages, a laid-back vibe, close to town and with stunning views of Mount Taranaki.”

WOMAD 2023

The upcoming edition of WOMAD will highlight everything that’s made it so popular for the last 20 years, with just a handful of new tweaks and upgrades.

As always, there’s an impressive spread of international artists alongside popular Kiwi acts such as Fly My Pretties, Deva Mahal and Avantdale Bowling Club. 

Picking highlights among such a varied lineup is always fraught, but the likes of Sampa The Great, Cimafunk and San Salvador are expected to be popular overseas performers.

The OMV STEAM Lab has a huge range of interesting speakers in areas of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, including the likes of meteorologist Lisa Murray and Professor Hinke Osinga, the Auckland University mathematician that crocheted an impressive 1 metre-tall model of the Lorenz equations that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

Alongside the Te Paepae Stage, Tui Ora invite all festival goers into their space to kōrero and take part in workshops and activities steeped in traditional and contemporary expressions of Te Ao Māori. 

Throw in the likes of artist Dick Frizzell and popular comedians such as Penny Ashton and James Nokise, and there’s no shortage of things to see and do in a jam-packed three day schedule.

New this year, event partner TSB is providing a range of tents at the top of the Bowl Stage, making more shaded space to enjoy some of the most popular acts. TSB is also continuing to provide wai water stations, with free drinking water all over the venue.

More than 45,000 people are expected to attend the Bowl of Brooklands over the three days, and WOMAD has partnered with Todd Energy to reduce the environmental impact of so many people.

Todd Energy’s Zero Waste Initiative enables the use of sustainable materials, appropriate bins and assistance around the venue, including volunteers who help to ensure waste is disposed of thoughtfully, in line with the festival ethos.

Summarising such a unique, eclectic event in a few words is a challenging task, as any Taranaki local who’s tried to encourage friends and family from out of town to come for WOMAD will know.

Fortunately, the festival website has a complete schedule, venue map and even a Spotify playlist to help punters plan ahead for what promises to be a sparkling return for WOMAD to New Plymouth in March. 

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