WOMAD USA

Marymoor Park, 633-6282 www.womad.org/usa Mon.-Wed., July 27-29

WOMAD USA is back in the house. After a brief period at the beginning of the

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Alive y kicking

Back from the brink, a world music festival brings big names to Redmond—including Peter Gabriel.

WOMAD USA

Marymoor Park, 633-6282 www.womad.org/usa Mon.-Wed., July 27-29

WOMAD USA is back in the house. After a brief period at the beginning of the year when it seemed like it might not happen, the lauded world music festival is returning for its fourth year at Redmond's Marymoor Park.

For many, the highlight of the event will be the appearance of WOMAD cofounder Peter Gabriel, who will be performing his own acoustic set in addition to guesting with Afro Celt Sound System. Gabriel's appearance will be his first U.S. concert since 1993, which should be enough to send ticket sales through the roof.

That's a good thing. Attendance has been a problem over the last three years, so striking the right balance between the big names and great but unfamiliar music has become paramount—one reason veteran Southern rocker Gregg Allman and soul icon Isaac Hayes have been added to the bill following the cancellation of former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant.

For those questing more off the beaten path, there's still much to enjoy. France's Lo'Jo, the hit of the first year, return in support of their album Bohꭥ de Cristal, while New York-based Arabic violin and oud virtuoso Simon Shaheen and Qantara offering a mesmerizing acoustic take on world fusion, amply illustrated by their debut, Blue Flame.

"They all know music other than Western classical or American jazz," Shaheen says of his bandmates. "They're so versatile, it's so pleasant and beautiful when we play together; there's a common language."

The highlight of the opening Friday, however, isn't likely to be someone new, but the veteran gospel voices of the Blind Boys of Alabama, who've been together for 62 years. Their new disc, Spirit of the Century, is a career high, with sympathetic backing from stringed instrument genius David Lindley (also appearing solo, but likely to sit in with the Blind Boys) and bluesman John Hammond, among others. The most immediately striking cut is a version of "Amazing Grace" sung to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun," in addition to material by Ben Harper and, curiously, Tom Waits. An unlikely pairing, maybe, but it works, according to Blind Boys leader Clarence Fountain. "We can pick a song, listen to it, and put the arrangement we want on it—not like the person who sang it, but our own way and the way we love to do things," he says. "We know how to do what needs to be done, in a gospel way."

INEVITABLY, THERE'S PLENTY of African music, and Senegalese superstar (and former Gabriel collaborator) Youssou N'Dour is bound to attract attention with his charismatic high griot voice, a pumping band playing highly danceable mbalax, and a strong recent record, Joko (The Link). His show, he promises, "will be a Youssou N'Dour concert. We'll be playing songs from the whole history of the band. My main aim is to leave the stage and see everybody smiling."

Another African band might give him a run for his money in the excitement stakes. Nigeria's L᧢᪡, fronted by a masked singer, could prove to be the surprise hit of the weekend, if their CD WebeforeMe (released on Indigedisc, the label run by Seattleite Andy Frankel) is typical of their sound. Along with churning Afrobeat, there's also plenty of highlife and juju rhythms, as well as a heavy dose of '80s funk—these guys clearly treasure their Gap Band and Roger and Zapp records, making for a wonderful and contagious mix of sounds.

The genre known as global fusion, where techno meets ethno, is well represented by Britain's multicultural Transglobal Underground. Over the course of the last decade, their sound has moved from dance beats with exotic samples to being a true world music band for whom dance beats are an integral part of the mix, even venturing into R&B on their new release, Yes Boss Food Corner.

"When we get together, there's a funk R&B, soul feel in the middle of what everyone's into," says keyboard player Tim Whelan. "This was a strong group album, and there's a strong African feel." Indian music, always part of the ethos, also comes across more strongly this time. Whelan explains that before, the musicians "were guests, whereas on this album two people are full-time members, on sitar and percussion."

So who else promises delights at WOMAD? Malian Boubacar Traor駳 bluesy touches connect the dots between Africa and America. Then there's Kathryn Tickell, the English piper with strong Northumbrian roots. The Oysterband's folk-rock could tear the roof off (if there were one), and the delicacy of Tibetan diva Yungchen Lhamo will win her new friends.

About the only thing that could improve this year's WOMAD would be the inclusion of Mali's brilliant Super Rail Band—but they're appearing on July 28 in the Summer Nights at the Pier series, sandwiched incongruously between Tower of Power and War.

So you can't have everything. But this year's WOMAD offers an excellent, rich musical smorgasbord. As Peter Gabriel said at the May press conference announcing the lineup, "I challenge anyone to come to WOMAD USA and not be inspired by something they see there. I make a new discovery each time I attend."

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