This is not a music review! It was supposed to be one - a celebration of the many amazing international acts from a
diversity of cultural backgrounds who converged on Taranaki’s stunning Pukekura park for WOMAD 2019 in a showcase of a
diverse world of music, dance and Culture. However the events of Friday, moments before the gates opened cast an
entirely different shadow over the festival and highlight the importance of such events as a way of growing closer
together. It is hard to even put into words the surreal feeling of being at a festival that is all about Culture,
tolerance, diversity and peace in the shadow of something so monstrous and dark. But what better place to start the
process of healing than surrounded by many diverse people and musicians from around the world. The light of hope and
love that shone so brightly towards Aotearoa in this dark time from the international guests, our own local talent and
the Taranaki Māori hosts was impossible to ignore - it requires a contemplation of its own.
The theme of the weekend was set from the outset with Andrew Little’s opening speech, subbing in for PM Ardern (video
above). Little addressed the still shellshocked and grieving crowd at the Main Bowl stage with the message "Let us celebrate what WOMAD stands for, for diversity, for tolerance and for love"
Ria Hall. Photo: Lulu Galpin Verdee Photography and Fashion
One of the most powerful moments of Friday night for me, however, was tangata whenua soul diva Ria Hall’s apt final song
dedicated to Christchurch “Love Will Lead Us Home” and her words of aroha, consolation and hope to introduce the song. Indeed ‘Love’ will lead the way home to the natural
human state of peace. It may sound naive, but love truly is the only solution to fighting hatred, and we must commit to
increasing love and the associated qualities it births such as tolerance and peacefulness and respect at every
However, acting with love also means identifying injustices and imbalances, and forming a commitment to dismantling
racism, white privilege, colonialism and cultural extinction. Yes white supremacist terrorism is terrible. However, the
psychological terrorism perpetuated by the white culture of superiority on the rest of the world over the last few
centuries has been a million times more damaging. Love in response to such philosophies and acts of hatred and
superiority is more than just symbolism and sharing grief. Love means critically inquiring into whether our Aotearoa and
globally dominant Eurocentric Culture is designed to foster an environment of respect and fulfillment for all other
religions, Cultures and ways of life. Love is that which enables choice - removing the choice for a Culture to continue
through forced enslavement to a certain way of being is not love.
To anyone that cares to do this work, it is clear that the dominant Eurocentric Culture, with it’s ingrained and racist
attitudes and colonial legacy is a huge part of the problem. This legacy created the hegemonic system of broken, unequal
and marginalising political, economic and financial systems that excludes diversity and democracy and drives cultural
extinction. In the face of a problem that severe, it is simply not enough to say “They Are Us”. In fact there is no
‘they’ or ‘us’. There is only We. We are all one people, originating from one consciousness - call it what you like -
God, Allah, Azura Mazda, Olodumare, Pachamama or Ranginui - the source is undeniably the same.
Confronting white supremacy requires a critical investigation of the role of white privilege in Aotearoa and globally in
the ongoing process of “Cultural Extinction”. The reality is - it is not just biological life on earth facing extinction
but “big-C” Culture. Languages, knowledge, religions and spirituality and most importantly worldviews of indigenous
Cultures are disappearing at an alarming and rapidly accelerating rate. However, Anthropologist Wade Davis has pointed
out in his book Light at the Edge of the World that the amount spent globally on preserving Culture and languages pales in comparison even to that (already miniscule)
amount being spent on environmental remediation.
It is somewhat ironic that Taranaki, the location of WOMAD is one of the most racist regions in Aotearoa. Self-confessed
reformed racist Mayor Andrew Judd resigned from politics in 2016 due to hate attacks from fellow whites, and 83% of the
population opposing Māori representation on the council in a referendum on the reforms he introduced. In the last year
or so we have seen the Hawera blackface incident
, a councillor making Māori anthem remarks
. So clearly, despite some progress of late in preserving tikanga Māori, te ao Māori and te reo Māori, Aotearoa is far
from immune from the disease of white superiority and privilege. Dame Anne Salmond wrote yesterday that white supremacy is alive and well in Aotearoa
“In the wake of this terrible tragedy, let's be honest, for once. White supremacy is a part of us, a dark power in the
land... let's not pretend that there's not a dark underbelly in Aotearoa society. It's real, and its twisted, and its
been here forever. The rest of us have to name it, challenge it when it comes to light, and replace it with different,
better ways of being Kiwi.”
What Can We Do About White Superiority?
Confronting white supremacy and superiority doesn’t end with not saying overtly racist things or pronouncing names
correctly - but extends through everything in our society. We walk on land stolen by colonialist white supremacist
massacres far worse than that of last Friday. We write, speak and learn in a language of colonialism and most of us
think in constructs derived from the European Rationalist ‘Enlightenment’. This construct ignores anything that sits
outside of its worldview as essentially valueless except to the extent it can be exploited by the capitalist system.
White superiority fundamentally underpins the global order - the capitalist system, the non-participatory party
political system and the extraction-based global economy. It is the driver of wars, climate change and environmental
destruction globally. Confronting this requires real work and perhaps making some sacrifices to white privilege and the
way we may think the world should be. As Dame Salmond goes on to explain:
“The doctrine of white superiority is based on arrogance, and ignorance. Since other cultures, languages and religions
are worthless, there's no need to learn about them. The "others" are dehumanised, making their misery and suffering
unreal. This helps to explain our tolerance for the terrible statistics of youth suicide, incarceration, and family
violence in Aotearoa.”
Confronting white supremacy and privilege also does not end with superficial “thoughts and prayers” and orgiastic
outpouring of televised and social media grief dominating the corporate media airwaves for as long as the news cycle
deems it profitable. Issues such as Gun Control and surveillance of white radical groups are very important, but real
action against white supremacy and hate crime requires addressing bigger issues than that. It requires some real
examination of our society and consideration of the root causes of hatred, whether it is White, Islamic or other groups
perpetrating it. However our corporate media spend the rest of the year and even the same segments continuing to promote
the same status quo system which justifies invasions for oil and a corporate financial system that burns the planet and
stamps cultures into the dust.
Both white supremacy, and Islamic radicalism were contributed to by imperial colonialism and conquest. The West’s
support for the Authoritarian Saudi regime and Iraq wars (1 and 2), Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen wars have all helped to
seriously destabilise the Islamic world in recent times and created the conditions driving immigration to the West that
these people rail against. The amounts spent on these unjust colonialist wars could have ensured thriving cultures,
languages, musical traditions and protected natural habitats many times over. This spending could have ensured a true
and peaceful interpretation of Islam prevailed globally and it would also have reduced the need for forced migration to
foreign lands far away from families and communities.
Increased spending and focus on the needs and rights of all people could also have provided real and fulfilling
opportunities to people in the West and minimised the rise of alt-right and white supremacy at its source. As much as
people wish to point to such people as crazies and one off events - they are far from it - and doing so falls into the
same trap of “othering” them. They are in fact the logical product of the disenchantment, disenfranchisement, confusion
and alienation of a Western capitalist society that has travelled so far from the source of decent human qualities such
as community and kindness.
In this context, it is also difficult to reconcile the fact that the principal sponsor of WOMAD is Todd Energy - a company that profited massively from a 25 year joint venture and asset swap (buyout) by Dutch oil giant Shell in 2017
. Shell has been responsible for much destruction of the Islamic world as well as other developing countries. Leaked minutes
suggest Shell (and BP) were lobbying the British government to help the company access Iraq’s immense oil reserves,
before the 2003 US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq. The companies previously denied
any such meetings took place but minutes were obtained through FOI requests and revealed in the book Fuel on the Fire
by Greg Muttitt. Meanwhile, A New Amnesty International report
has pointed to Shell’s complicity in horrific crimes committed by the Nigerian military against the Ogoni minority in
the 1990s and calls for a criminal investigation.
To further address my white privilege, a wise friend has suggested the Me and White Supremacy Workbook
by Layla Fasaad. I am going to do it and encourage all Pakeha to join me.
How does WOMAD help foster tolerance and peace?
WOMAD, more than any event I have been involved in, makes it acutely clear to me how connected we all are. Newly
emerging science confirms that the concept of race is in fact a social construct, not a scientific one
as all humans share over 99% of our DNA. It seems we also share most of our musical DNA. People call WOMAD a
celebration of ‘world music’ - but there is really no such thing - it is just music. All music is ‘world music’.
Some may dismiss such events as a showcase for diversity - almost like a freakshow putting musical cultural artifacts up
for display like colonialist collectors - however I do not see it like that at all and it is clear that neither do the
many performers or attendees. The fact that the Taranaki Iwi has taken such a powerful leadership role in WOMAD also
does a lot to dispel any such perception. All of the music on display indicates musical traditions that are alive,
vibrant and adapting to modern technology and influences. At WOMAD we are not attracted to the difference - we are in
fact attracted to the essential sameness that lies beneath this difference but is expressed over and again in uniquely
beautiful ways. Exposure to these different forms of expression can also help us understand other cultures,
spiritualities and worldviews better than we might otherwise.
All music came from the same place - our collective creative consciousness. In fact, the purpose for which music first
emerged, appears to have been as a tool to bring people closer together through expression and creation of ecstatic and
uplifting feelings. All music is most likely derived from spiritual music traditions - it emerged in humans as a tool of
concrescence to help bond communities closer together through shared experiences of ecstatic or trance like states. Many
of the music, dance and chant rituals still preserved by indigenous peoples and religious orders globally continue to
use music and dance in this way to help people reach a state of higher spiritual connection.
As a trained cultural anthropologist and amateur ethnomusicologist I am perhaps more consciously aware of these deeply
spiritual and intercultural music connections than the average punter at WOMAD. However, the diversity of people dancing
and enjoying it at Womad proves to me that we all feel them and we all deeply resonate with these traditional rhythms
and harmonic frequencies when we hear them and feel them in person.
The excellent documentary film Entheogen - Awakening the Divine Within explores how music and dance have achieved this awakening across history and explains why dance music culture still
plays such an important social role in our contemporary environment. In an interview
, co-director Rod Mann has said that such states of ecstasy are proven to help by bringing a sense of awareness to ego
inflation and self importance so that we may gain a stronger sense of our community and our planet. Such states can also
heal past traumas and increase love and other positive emotions towards our fellow humans. It seems that we all need a
little more of that medicine right now.
Perhaps this is why humans seem to universally resonate with the essence of human expression, love and creativity that
runs through most traditional music. Music is an expression of beauty, and a communication in sonic vibrations affecting
our bodies in a primal and uniquely human way. It is a tool for tapping into and communicating that essential oneness
uniting us and making us all human. It can help us heal past pain and programming and to learn to treat each other with
more understanding, respect and peace. To me, that has to be a positive thing for our struggling society.
Now that rant is out of the way, in my next piece I actually talk about some of the music at WOMAD 2019. There was so
much of it at WOMAD and it was as amazing and inspiring as always. Here is the link.