Adrian Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana are Rwandan farmers who support their families on just a dollar or two per day. They survived their country’s 1994 genocide, though many loved ones — including Havugimana’s brother, who taught them how to play music — did not.

As The Good Ones, the two men have not only found an outlet to sing about their struggles — their song titles include My Son Has Special Needs But There’s Nowhere for Him to Go and My Brother, Your Murder Has Left a Hole in Our Hearts (We Hope We Can Meet Again One Day) — but to connect with audiences the world over.

Adrian Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana of Rwandan band The Good Ones performing at WOMADelaide in 2024.(Supplied: Morgan Sette)

In 2014, they did something extraordinary. They got their passports and visas and left Rwanda for the first time after the WOMAD organisation invited them to play their festival in the UK.

A decade on, just before their first-ever Australian performance at Adelaide’s WOMADelaide festival, their producer and spokesperson Ian Brennan tells the assembled crowd that the band were resigned to never leaving Rwanda again after their last tour.

Then came a call from WOMADelaide, and now they’re once again spreading their music and story to a new part of the world.

“Maybe you don’t realise what a special festival this is,” Brennan says. “It is exceptional to the world, and it’s important it survives.”

The two men go on to play an engrossing set of hypnotic acoustic songs, their voices melding beautifully as they sing with passion and vigour. And it seems like they’re loving every moment.

Stories and performances like theirs are what make WOMADelaide such an enriching experience; a festival truly unlike any other.

For every superstar headliner and indie darling on the bill, there’s someone who would never have made it here if not for the festival; a new discovery that makes the world feel just that little bit more connected.

WOMAD goes back to basics 

Depending on who you ask, last year’s WOMADelaide was either an outrageous success, or a disappointing and slightly terrifying vision of what the future may hold.

The festival had never seen so many people, thanks to the presence of acts like Florence + The Machine, Bon Iver and The Proclaimers. This meant difficult sight lines, congested walkways and, worst of all, long toilet lines.

This year, it feels like WOMAD is back to being WOMAD.

While they may not be the blockbuster crossover acts we had in 2023, the headliners are still extraordinary.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better performer anywhere on the planet than Seun Kuti, who keeps his legendary father Fela’s spirit alive with an outstanding showcase of Afrobeat brilliance, alongside his hot shot band Egypt 80, who do not miss a beat in this lively, unpredictable set.

Seun Kuti performs at WOMADelaide Festival 2024.(Supplied: Morgan Sette)

Kuti is as commanding as James Brown, as magnetic as Grace Jones, and appears as fit as a professional athlete as he bounces across the stage, gesturing to the band to change up arrangements on the fly, and dancing with a sense of purpose.

The 81-year-old Brazilian legend Gilberto Gil looks and sounds enviably healthy on his farewell tour, and UK singer Corinne Bailey Rae adds a sense of cool that’s much appreciated given the 40-degree days we all slog through across the weekend.

Pakistani American Arooj Aftab delivers a mesmerising performance that combines jazz with more traditional South Asian styles. She admits to being hungover tonight, but we can’t tell. Her voice is so pure and perfect it feels like it could be the perfect cure for one too many.

There are special guest appearances aplenty: Last year’s highlight Sampa the Great pops up with both Angélique Kidjo and WITCH at their Monday shows, Angolan pop powerhouse Pongo joins Kuti and co for their final song, and Mexico’s Son Rompe Pera bring Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Dubioza Kolektiv out for a rowdy take on I Fought the Law.

Reggae royalty Ziggy Marley closes the festival out with a little controversy. He and his massive band are met with a pocket of vocal people with plenty of Palestinian flags, and there are a whole bunch of police in the crowd. Adelaide-based group the Australian Friends of Palestine Association had earlier called for a boycott of the artist’s show, after he co-signed an open letter by Creative Communities for Peace condemning Hamas and supporting Israel.

It’s all peaceful protest from what we can see, and Marley and band are unflappable. While it’s a modest demonstration that’s drowned out by the music when you’re not close by, it still feels significant after the pressure on the festival this week.

A chance to listen outside the box

WOMAD tends to showcase acts who wouldn’t necessarily make it to Australia otherwise, and festival bookers looking for that all important point of difference on their line-ups would do well to take heed of those smaller names who make big connections with audiences.

For instance, while Swedish indie king José González captivates an enormous crowd at the main stage with nothing but his nylon string acoustic guitar and devastatingly stunning voice, London’s Ibibio Sound Machine are generating a deeper, livelier groove on an outer stage.

They have released five great albums, but the scale of their many-limbed live show undoubtedly makes it prohibitive to tour. It’s clearly worth it though: The way the band and crowd connect at their performances is something very special and those of us who have rinsed those albums are taken aback by the fact that they’re even better live. To see a band and frontwoman like Eno Williams in full flight is truly special.

The same can be said for Daptone Records groups The Budos Band and Thee Sacred Souls, whose shows are so stunning that it just feels wrong that we don’t get to see them down here more often.

Zamrock legends WITCH are here for the first time but will surely return soon so infectious were their psychedelic sets across the weekend.

Moonlight Benjamin performs at WOMADelaide 2024.(Supplied: Morgan Sette)

Brilliantly wild Haitian voodoo priestess Moonlight Benjamin scorches through a set that fuses Caribbean melodies with heavy rock, Son Rompe Pera deliver high-octane marimba-driven punk rock, and British funk troupe Cymande offer absolute funk perfection.

On the local front, we get fiery poetry from the always eloquent and impassioned Ziggy Ramo, and Jen Cloher and band make it worthwhile for those willing to battle with the sun, while family band Wildfire Manwurrk, who hail from the Arnhem Land community of Maningrida, make a claim for being the best new rock’n’roll band in the country.

Victor Rostron of Wildfire Manwurrk performing at WOMADelaide 2024.(Supplied: Morgan Sette)

Their songs all centre around the love of their country, while covering issues including ecological devastation, suicide, and government mismanagement. Their love for rock’n’roll is almost as infectious as their guitar riffs, the band delivering every muscular moment with huge grins.

The stories behind the sounds

From punk to jazz to classical to hip hop and beyond, you can hear just about anything at WOMAD. There’s one connecting link between every band on this far-flung line-up, though: They all have a story.

Every artist takes their chance to tell us where they’re from, not just physically, but how they were raised, what struggles their people face, or why the music they play is so important to them.

Like any festival, WOMADelaide has a certain expectation to book artists who will generate mainstream excitement. Known names will sell tickets, the money from which keeps the festival alive and allows them to make decisions based more on quality than commerce.

But to attend WOMAD and camp out for the big names you know is to miss the greatest treasure this festival offers us – the chance to listen, learn, and dance to a beat we’ve never heard before.

If you ever doubt the power of music, or the vitality of gathering to celebrate it at a festival like WOMADelaide, think of those two Rwandan farmers spending an hour grinning at their enraptured crowd, almost in disbelief that they get to share their music and their message with the world.

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