WHY IS IT that when a bunch of colorfully dressed musicians play in a park, everyone assumes it's some sort of hippie thing? Granted, if the colorful dress consists of bright hues that swirl together, patchouli will be in the air. But WOMAD USA, which returns to Redmond's Marymoor Park next week for the third consecutive year, shouldn't be dismissed as another stop on the VW bus and hacky-sack circuit.
Marymoor Park, Redmond, Friday-Sunday, July 28-30
WOMAD's most notable achievement is to assemble musicians based on cultural rather than commercial impact (well, for the most part: The presence of Bonnie Raitt and Paula Cole is aimed at selling tickets). The reward for festivalgoers is a plethora of sounds, from African drumming to South American strumming to a rare blast of traditional Malagasy music. To help introduce you to some of the 40 artists behind the music, Seattle Weekly presents a "Getting to Know WOMAD" feature this week and next. —Richard A. Martin
Imitating everything from wind to birds to the horses in their herd, these Tuvan throat-singers are droning, frisky, and dryly funny. Sometimes you get the sense that they're trading inside jokes with each other—especially on songs like "Do You Want Me to Saddle You?"
Upshot: Some of the flat-out weirdest, and coolest, sounds you will ever hear. —Michaelangelo Matos
Soloist Me'Shell Ndeg鯣ello, whose last name means "free like a bird" in Swahili, combines elements of R&B, rock, jazz, and gospel in her throaty and emotional ballads. A stunning vocalist, in 1994 she earned the honor of being named Bass Guitar magazine's first female "Bassist of the Year." Her latest album, Bitter (on Maverick), was voted Best R&B Album at the California Music Awards this April.
Upshot: The post-Ani spokeswoman for sexual freedom.—Jeff Malamy
(Papua New Guinea)
Combining the traditional three-part harmonies unique to his tribal people with the pop sensibilities of the West, Telek caught the attention of David Byrne and world music connoisseur Peter Gabriel. Utilizing ancestral instruments and native languages, the music's foreign and exotic elements enhance the evocative ambiance of his richly textured songs.
Upshot: Pacific Islander crosses Abbey Road with the voice of a living tradition. —Laura Learmonth
Cliff was Reggae's first international ambassador, thanks to the 1972 film The Harder They Come, in which he starred and the soundtrack of which he dominated. Unfortunately, Cliff's artistry has slackened considerably since then. Still, he's one of the island's great vocalists, with a mixture of ease and grit reminiscent of Sam Cooke.
Upshot: His biggest hits may be 30 years old, but oh, what hits they are.—MM
Los Lobos are one of America's most satisfying live bands, dividing their shows between roadhouse boogie and hypnotic brooders. They're most easily classifiable as roots-rock, but their roots are omnivorous: Blues, country, Mexican folk, conjunto, and dublike atmospherics all make their way in.
Upshot: Never, ever, miss the chance to hear lead tenor David Hidalgo's glorious pipes or his scorched-earth guitar.—MM
Carter Family Marionettes
No, this ain't a puppet tribute to the hillbilly legends the Carter Family, nor is it a reenactment of former President Jimmy's bizarre relationship with brother and beer entrepreneur Billy and their ma. Led by accomplished puppeteer Stephen Carter, this family ensemble draws on the rich history of puppet shows held in far-off locales such as Romania, China, and Brooklyn, presenting theatrical performances that incorporate music. Their main shtick comes from the traditional Sicilian marionette theater known as Opera dei Pupi.
Upshot: Beware of splinters!--R.A.M.
Paula Cole Band
Paula Cole's strong yet soothing voice leads to a music that's both friendly and profoundly spiritual. On her most recent release, the self-produced Amen, Paula's entrancing keyboard play explores city-life imagery and God-inspired poetry. Her 1998 release, This Fire, won the Grammy for Best New Artist.
Upshot: Experience the Dawson's Creek theme song live.—J.M.
This journeyman guitarist and singer makes his home in Texas and carries a torch for dusty roots music, but he's not bound to any one style. He's done punk with his early band the Nuns, cowpunk with Rank & File, and has more recently settled into a blues/country axis with Buick MacKane and on solo records such as last year's Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot). At his rambunctious live shows, the ghosts from his past infiltrate his present musical bent, leading to music that's at once down-home and totally out there.
Upshot: Smart, funny, and with the musical equivalent of a good left hook.—R.A.M.
For schedules and for information about tickets to WOMAD and camping permits at Marymoor Park, call 281-8111 or go to www.womadusa.org.