When Ian Scobie was general manager of the Adelaide Festival overseeing the first WOMADelaide world music event in Botanic Park in 1992, it featured around 20 artists – many of which were smaller ensembles – performing over three stages.
“I expect our attendance over the whole weekend was probably around 7000 … but it certainly gave us the sense that this event might have a future as a stand-alone thing,” he says.
Two key changes helped fuel its growth – the shift from a biennial to an annual event, and from three days to four. In 2017, there will be more than 60 acts from 31 countries performing across eight stages, and audience numbers are likely to rival last year’s record attendance of 95,000.
Now, Scobie says, 45 per cent of the audience comes from outside Adelaide.
“I think the depth of the festival has grown over time and it’s also developed an audience that has grown up with it – it’s a kind of a multi-generational event.
“The growth of the festival has been very evolutionary and the great thrill in working on it for everybody is that just about every time we have stretched the boundaries or done something new [such as introducing the Taste the World cooking sessions and Planet Talks conversations], all of those things have been really positively received by audiences.
“I think that does also reflect Adelaide’s festival culture. People are keen to be involved; audiences are keen to try something new – they are up for a new discovery, a new band or a new experience.
“It makes it a fertile place to have a festival like this.”
Scobie says that in celebrating WOMADelaide’s 25th anniversary, the organisation has included more large-scale works and bigger acts this year.
There is also a greater focus on indigenous artists, with the program including Archie Roach (who performed at the 1992 festival), AB Original, Gawurra and visual artist Tyrone Sheather, who has created a large-scale sculptural installation from seven floating ‘sky beings’ that represent his spiritual ancestors.
Here are five must-see shows recommended by Scobie:
The Manganiyar Classroom (India): Directed by Roysten Abel, this show highlights the threatened musical traditions of the Manganiyar communities of Rajasthan. It features what Scobie describes as “an extraordinary cast of young singers” aged from eight to 16 who rebel against classroom conformity to create an exuberant music celebration. – Friday, 9pm, Stage 2; Saturday, 9.30pm, Stage 2
The Philip Glass Ensemble (US): Members of composer Philip Glass’s ensemble will perform a live score to accompany a screening of the 1982 apocalyptic film Koyaanisqatsi, by director Godfrey Reggio. “They are presenting a really iconic work in terms of the composition and the fact it’s from this amazing film about the battle between man and the environment,” Scobie says of Koyaanisqatsi Live! – Life out of Balance. This year is also Philip Glass’s 80th birthday. – Sunday, 8.45pm, Stage 2
Cie Carabosse (France): Subtitled Exodus of the Forgotten Peoples, this installation show is said to immerse its audience in fire elements and was created in 2012 in response to the global migration crisis. “It originally began as a piece called Article 13, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [the right to freedom of movement] … and it’s become more and more relevant now.” – nightly, from 8.30pm until midnight in Frome Park
Emir Kusturica & the No Smoking Orchestra (Serbia): Controversial Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica (a two-time winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival) and his feisty 11-piece Balkans band have gained an international following for their entertaining shows, and Scobie says it’s a rare treat to have them in Adelaide as they don’t tour often. “They have that blend of anarchic Balkan music – a mixture of gypsy rumba and rock.” – Saturday, 10.30pm, Foundation Stage
Inna Modja (Mali): Singer, actress and model Inna Modja plays a style of music described as a “mix of desert blues, electronica and hip-hop with powerful lyrics”. “She’s got very strong messages about the rights of women,” Scobie says. “She has an amazingly strident song called ‘Tombouctou’, which tells a powerful message of resistance against ISIS and the violence that’s been brought to her community. Essentially she’s saying we’re not going to take this; we’re going to rise up.” – Saturday, 7pm, Moreton Bay Stage; Sunday, 5.15pm, Speakers’ Corner (artist-in-conversation session); Monday, 8.30pm, Stage 2.
AB Original (Australia): Indigenous hip-hop act AB Original – a collaboration between Briggs (Yorta Yorta musician Adam Briggs) and Trials (Ngarrindjeri man and producer Dan Rankine) – have a sound Scobie describes as youthful and powerful. Their debut album, Reclaim Australia, reached number 10 on the ARIA Charts and was last night awarded the Australian Music Prize, while their song “January 26” was number 16 in the 2016 Triple J’s Hottest 10 (warning: video below contains strong language). – Monday, 6.15pm, Stage 2