ABU DHABI // First white and green lights illuminated the night sky. Then thousands of people began crowding the pavement along the Corniche.
But it was the sound of North African rhythms that drew out Ahmed al Saadi to the third annual Womad Abu Dhabi international music festival last night.
"I could hear the music from my house, and I wanted to check it out," said the 21-year-old Palestinian university student, who attended the opening night of the three-day music and dance festival with his friend Mohammed Ali, 20.
Hundreds of families took up residence on the sand near both of the Corniche stages, laying out blankets and setting up beach chairs, while other listeners bobbed along with the music while lounging under palm trees on the grass.
Orchestre National de Barbes, the 12-member group made up of Algerian, Moroccan and French musicians that caught Mr al Saadi and Mr Ali's attention, was just one example of the kind of multiculturalism expected of Womad.
Nathalie Berthaux danced with her five-year-old daughter, Amelie, near the front of the north stage during Khaira Arby's set. The 44-year-old Australian had never heard of Arby, a Malian singer who performed in a luxurious light blue and gold robe and black headdress adorned with gold coins.
"This really is fabulous," said Mrs Berthaux, who moved to Abu Dhabi in December. "It's a great effort by the city, and it's so nice to see such a variety of artists."
The festival features 35artists and musicians performing at three venues on the Corniche. It began last night and will end tomorrow night. Performances will also be held at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain today and tomorrow.
Womad, which began in the UK in 1982, has held more than 160 festivals in 27 countries across the world. The festival is meant to celebrate the world's many forms of music, arts and dance.
"The Abu Dhabi Womad festival is the most culturally diverse. The whole community comes out, more so than in other countries," Chris Smith, the director of Womad worldwide, said last night.
"All facets of society come out there. It's the music that attracts them, but they take part in all the multiculturalism of the festival too."
More than 175,000 people have attended the Abu Dhabi editions of the global festival over the past two years, and Mr Smith said he was confident the festival would bring in more than 100,000 visitors over the weekend.
"We have almost perfect weather, there's a number of very exciting artists, and in Al Ain the children's workshops are already full," Mr Smith said.
Stands selling jewellery, clothes and hats are also set up along the beach. Elizabeth Glaysher, a Dubai-based seller of jewellery created by African artisans, said she'd been selling pieces at Womad for years.
"It's a really cool atmosphere and such an amazing cross-section of people of all ages and nationalities," said Ms Glaysher.
Tonight, Jamaican ska and reggae star Jimmy Cliff and Celtic and West African fusion band Afro Celt Sound System will play on the Corniche. Arby and Senegalese guitarist and singer Baaba Maal will play in Al Ain.
Admission to the festival is free.