Each year when the world music expo, WOMEX, closes up shop in another European city, we get the stats. And the 23rd edition in A Coruña, Spain, was no exception. So here they are:
- 2750 music professionals (including 220 performing artists) from 105 countries
- more than 60 artist showcases spread across seven stages
- 18 music-based documentaries
- 96 speakers and mentors pin the conference sessions
- 703 exhibiting companies
- more than 250 stands
- and a radio studio on-site
My colleagues—loyal Afropop contributor Ron Deutsch, who lives in Valencia, Spain, and Jon Kertzer of KEXP in Seattle—and I did our best to experience and document all we could. The many fruits of our labors will appear in the pages of afropop.org and on our podcast Planet Afropop in the weeks and months to come.
But I like to begin with visuals. So dense is the WOMEX experience that there are likely 1000 words to go with each of the images below. But as life hurries on, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking for now.
Overall, this was a fascinating year from the Afropop perspective. There were groups from Ghana, Mali, Congo, South Africa, Senegal, Brazil and Colombia, and European-based acts with musicians from Tunisia, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. And that’s just the official showcases. There were also Off-WOMEX stages, and all sorts of artists who simply show up to meet and greet, share their recordings, and dream of being on a WOMEX stage in a future year.
The “delegates” these days are mostly agents, presenters and festival directors. There are still some great record labels in attendance, but their presence has diminished with the years as the prospect of selling musical recordings becomes more and more iffy. The name of the game here is bookings. And it’s a risky proposition for artists. It costs money to perform at WOMEX, even if you’re lucky enough to land a prime spot. In general, the sound in the showcase venues is very good, but there are exceptions. Few cities can offer five excellent venues within easy walking distance, so not all stages are equal from that point of view. Then, factors such as weather (it rained quite a bit in A Coruña), social distraction (this is the ultimate global music schmooze-fest and it’s easy to get lost in conversation and lose all track of time), competition (it’s impossible to catch everything you want to see), and transport (taxies could be tough to find this year) can all influence who sees which acts, and therefore who ultimately gets which gigs.
In the few conferences I attended, a major subject was the expense and unreliability of the visa process. France has, for the moment, suspended all travel visas from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, in response to coups in those countries. And, as an American, I feel something close to shame at the obstacles we have put in front of touring artists since 9-11. So much trouble in the world.. Many great acts just don’t bother anymore. Kudos to those brave ones who take on all these challenges in our ever more fractious times!
Despite all, WOMEX carries on, and every year brings magic. So here’s a taste, and remember, you’ll get to hear performances and interviews with many of these artists on Planet Afropop, starting on November 14, when we feature two WOMEX-23 acts from Ghana. So be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed for radio programs and bi-weekly podcasts.
What follows is a selection of performance shots from some of the key Afropop-oriented groups, presented in alphabetical order!