Wobeon and Beyond

World music festival rings in a delirious local debut

Fatoumata Diawara at Wobeon Fest in Austin, 4.7.13
Fatoumata Diawara at Wobeon Fest in Austin, 4.7.13 (by Jana Birchum)

Honk!TX just days after South by Southwest hurt but rewarded amply. March 29 & 30, we missed the Austin Urban Music Festival for some post-SXSW decompression in Port Aransas. Beginning next Thursday, we’re out in Dripping Springs for the Old Settler’s Music Festival. This past weekend of intoxicating weather belonged to Wobeon Fest.

As much as my wife and I enjoyed the hot rod runoff from the Continental Club’s 12th annual street regalia, the Lonestar Rod & Kustom Round Up, we didn’t make it out to see either Elvis Presley sideman James Burton or Dallas soulman Bobby Patterson. Kashmere Stage Band teamed up with Victoria funk rockateers Kool & Together at the new Antone’s, but after four or five hours at Wobeon’s Austin World Music Festival we’d been more than sated.

Well, almost: I snuck out after midnight for a thrilling, blitzkrieg set from SXSW breakouts White Lung at Beerland. The three-quarters-female Vancouver punk quartet hit me like the inverse of Australians Royal Headache last year – hard, fast, and sweet. Pop melodies under a bar-chord barrage, like the Runaways led by a hipper, fiercer Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Mish Way, holy fuck.

Even then, the weekend goes to Wobeon, both for the music curated and its chosen venue. In truth, ours was more of a musical spot-check that turned into (for me anyway) a sight discovery rather than full-on festival immersion. Already, though, we’re hoping for a rematch next year. We know to bring a blanket now.

Rising up from the end of Austin’s historic Rainey Street district like a not-so-miniature United Nations, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center proved a perfect venue for global grooves. The world music blog assembled two six-band bills for Saturday and Sunday, and while modest but hopeful crowds both days suggest the fest might have been better compressed into one long day, there’s no arguing with the chemistry of the venue and its Wobeon soundtrack.

Despite a lineup beginning at noon, we arrived a couple hours before sunset on Saturday. Austin’s Indian hypnotist Naga Valli wailed an atmospheric East-West cry that rang through the food truck and vendor plaza as a DJ spun dance-inducing beats. As much as anything, Valli’s between-set bewitchment both days stoked local appetites for more exotica on the order of what followed.

Red Baraat delivered everything promised by the Brooklyn octet’s SXSW notices and frontman’s Sunny Jain’s doctoral explanation of their Indian bhangra beats overlaid with New Orleans’ second line rhythms. At an ACL volume where only Pachanga! sonics were called for, their 75-minute blowout pounded a Punjabi backbeat on Jain’s dhol drum as a five-man horn section pushed brass overload atop the tart soprano sax and honking sousaphone going head to head on Sufi, love, and justice songs. Good ol’ fashioned Brooklyn bomp and hip-hop just took The Darjeeling Limited to funk heaven.

Saturday headliner Angelique Kidjo came on just as the light faded, backed by a tight fourpiece of electric guitar, bass, drums, and congas. Citing Afropop matriarch Miriam Makeba, the Benin-born Kidjo – with her trademark close-cut blond fuzz – took that mentor’s regal African sway and rocked it up with a pop thrust equal to the singer’s burst of song and energy. In Kidjo’s sturdy frame coils an evangelist soul singer hopping and swiveling with a revolutionary’s convictions.

“She’s still alive,” Kidjo proclaimed of Makeba (1932-2008), and, in her own bad self, it’s true.

Better still sang Fatoumata Diawara on Sunday, in Red Baraat’s sub-headliner slot of the previous day. Announced as one of her first performances on U.S. soil, the Ivory Coast native, whose 2011 World Circuit debut LP Fatou comes produced by Buena Vista Social Club crusader Nick Gold, knocked out a twilight uprising of mad-dancing locals. Attired in a bright red-and-yellow dress, with a head wrap and earrings to match – not to mention an orange electric guitar – Diawara and her backing threepiece began slow with a Malian drone that soon came alive in the quartet’s funk breakdowns.

“The base of the blues,” explained the young, thirtysomething frontwoman in categorizing Africa’s stinging roots rock.

Not so much watered down from its harder, rawer, American counterpart, Malian blues sands its edges into a slinkier, almost fusion-esque pulse that’s then polished down to a granular finesse. Where the guitars rose to a squall and the drums clattered, Diawara’s whirling charisma egged on the quartet’s jams. Losing her headgear midway through the hour-long main set, she even gave African dance lessons:

“Right, left, down,” she instructed – as in sway right, hip jut to the left, and bend at the knees.

Matched by wordless vocal hooks, her blues built and lilt to a crescendo until Diawara was practically breakdancing vertically onstage. Demanding an encore, which was delivered, the audience demonstrated an all-out dance riot. With her band hailing from France, Cameroon, and Togo, Fatoumata Diawara embodied Wobeon in a single delirious performance.

Visit our Photo Galleries page for images from the 2013 Wobeon Fest.

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Wobeon Fest, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Naga Valli, Red Baraat, Angelique Kidjo, Fatourmata Diawara, Nick Gold, World Circuit, Buena Vista Social Club, White Lung, Royal Headache

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