ABU DHABI // In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine described him as "perhaps the most famous singer alive". In 2007, Time magazine named him one of the most 100 influential people in the world. And next month in the capital, Youssou N'Dour, the Senegalese Grammy award-winner, will be headlining a line-up of international stars when the Womad festival makes its first foray into the Middle East. N'Dour is one of at least nine major artists who have confirmed they will play at the World of Music and Dance festival, which is held at various places around the world every year. Many more artists are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Organisers announced yesterday that the three-day open-air festival would be held in the capital starting on April 23 and feature music from five continents. An additional one-off performance will be held at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain on April 24. The Abu Dhabi version of Womad will include strong regional and Arabic elements, and is expected to include performances by a diverse range of Middle Eastern performers. "We will be including new Emirati talents in Womad - dance troupes and performers that are still unknown but rich in talent - and we will encourage them to take part not only in the Abu Dhabi chapter of the festival, but in international venues as well," said Abdulla al Amri, director of arts and culture at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), which is hosting the festival in Abu Dhabi together with Womad organisers.
"We starting working on bringing Womad to Abu Dhabi a year and a half ago," said Isadora Papadrakakis, also from the art and culture department at Adach. "We wanted to represent the multiculturalism of this city as well as use Womad as a stage to launch new, previously unheard Emirati voices." The festival will begin every evening at 5pm with an array of different workshops and masterclasses for adults and children before the performances commence at 7pm and continue until the small hours. The capital's space for the festival will be set up along the public beach on the Corniche. Organisers believe the space will be able to easily accommodate up to 50,000 people. Entry for all the concerts, workshops and events will be free. "I challenge anyone to come away from the Womad festival without having had at least one new experience," said Chris Smith, Womad's festival director. "I think that with Womad and with the help of Adach, we can make a great contribution to the cultural development of this great city, helping people to experience a cultural exchange by celebrating diversity." Womad will also be organising pre-festival events in schools in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain from April 6 to 20. Musicians and visual artists participating will visit classrooms, providing children with an introduction to percussion, dance, voice, and arts and crafts from around the world.
"Children will be working with one another and, hopefully, we will open the festival with a performance by local children on our main stage," said Mr Smith. A new feature of Womad, Taste the World, will also be part of the Abu Dhabi festival. Artists will be cooking for their audience on the beach and between performances while telling stories about their lives, their art and their cuisine. "The festival is famous for creating a unique atmosphere. People will be tasting food from around the world while listening to music from around the world," said Mr Smith. "Womad exemplifies a different type of cultural education," added Mr al Amri. "Audiences learn about the world through the pleasure of music, and Womad's message very much fits with Adach's vision to create understanding and dialogue through sharing art, music and culture." Organisers say Abu Dhabi will become an annual stop on Womad's travels around the world; the festival is already held in Australia, Spain, Singapore, New Zealand and the UK, among other locations. email@example.com