Over 200 performances from more than 100 artists and a record 35,000 enthusiastic festival goers over three and a half days made the 35th anniversary of the World of Music and Dance a bumper year.

The first year WOMAD moved to Lord Suffolk’s Charlton Park estate from the Riverside Reading – 2007 – was a mud bath, WOMAD became WOMUD. This year once the ground was wet 35,000 pairs of feet did the rest. But the mud never reached 2007 levels and – with a rainbow arriving on Sunday afternoon rather than the predicted thunderstorm, and three of the four large stages being under canvass and so dryer under foot, it was no more than a sideshow to the experience of being able to go – for example – from seeing the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus to Benjamin Zephaniah in less than a hundred metres.

While WOMAD has expanded into poetry, talks, art, physics more workshops with the artists, and has its own delightful take on the music and food theme with musicians cooking a dish which festival goers get to eat, music remains the heart of the festival.

Of the biggest names this year, many festival-goers thought the highlight was on the opening Thursday night when Orchestra Baobab lived up to their reputation as legends of Afro-Cuban dance music after Brazilians Bigamy 70 had blown everyone away with their take on Afro Beat.

On Friday, Oumou Sangaré, the queen of Malian music gave a consummate performance and also right up there on Saturday were Lamomali, the new dynamic 11-strong Malian-French collective who mix the traditional with pop and rock, and Toots and the Maytals, with Toots still in great voice and able to make ‘Pressure Drop’ and ‘Monkey Man’ sound as fresh as when they first saw the light of day.

That sparkle was just what was lacking in Sean Kuti and Egypt 80's disappointing show despite bottom wiggling backing singers and the presence of jazz legend Roy Ayers.

But Eliza Cathy put on a high energy, dramatic performance with the Wayward Band that bodes well for their Towersey appearance at the end of the month.

What about all the other acts? Well here’s a flavour in the form of some awards.

* Favourite band never heard of before WOMAD goes to cellist and Haitian folklorist Leyla McCalla who, if the queue to buy her CD is an indication, was a lot of people’s favourite.

* The ‘at the cutting edge’ award goes to the unlikely collaboration of three Cuban musicians and an Iranian electronics wizard that is Ariwo who also get the sheer excitement award.

* The joint winners of the moving performance award are the Khymer Rouge Survivors for their evocation of Cambodia’s Killing Fields and the Tanzania Albinism Collective for their story of repeated rejection.

* Best one liner goes to Benjamin Zephaniah, who else, for revealing that while other poets may be inspired by nature, ‘I get most of my inspiration from Birmingham’.

* The weirdness award goes to the mask wearing Swedish outfit Goat whose performance was a case of ‘Something is happening here but you don’t know what it it is do you, Mr Jones’.

* Favourite moment was seeing balafon maestro Mamadou Diabaté light up the big open air stage with is band 18 months after seeing him play the ice balafon in -20C at the Ice Music Festival in Norway

And the final word has to go to Simon Woods and the Mysterious Collective who sang: 'Generosity, friendship and fun, Thank you WOMAD!’

5/5

COLIN MAY