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Aug 02, 2011 at 04:42pm IST

Cuba's Creole Choir to Faiz Ali Faiz's qawwali at surging WOMAD 2011

England: Anyone who complains that WOMAD is "too safe" must have missed the mosh pit that appeared at the front of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello's late Sunday set, where the frenetic dancing of the band's teenage fans briefly descended into cheerful anarchy.

But this was still a more civilised event than most. When one evacuee rescued from the front row by security realised she was missing a bag, the crowd politely broke off their revelry to help her retrieve it.

It's what you might expect from a festival that has cultivated a reputation for good manners and a family-friendly atmosphere.

Faiz Ali Faiz's qawwali at world music festival

It's what you might expect from a festival that has cultivated a reputation for good manners.

"Our aim is to reach a family audience," WOMAD artistic programmer Paula Henderson said. "We do children's workshops, and we have the funfair, a children's art project. It's a whole family event, and people feel they're very safe here."

The World Of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival has grown from its origins in southern England to become one of world's biggest international music festival, helping bring artists as diverse as the Asian Dub Foundation, Neneh Cherry and the Housemartins to prominence.

An estimated 35,000 people gathered this weekend at the Charlton Park estate near the town of Malmesbury in the leafy countryside of the southern English county of Wiltshire to soak up the sun to the sounds of some of the world's finest soul, electronica, dubstep, cumbia, flamenco, jazz, folk and rock.

From a musical perspective, the focus is more on introducing new sounds than booking acts that will draw huge crowds. "We have AnDa Union here from China, who've never played in the UK before, Bombina, who have never played with us before," Henderson said. "We're trying to bring things that are slightly unusual, as well as big acts like Gogol Bordello, Alpha Blondy. It gives a real mix. It's just a question of making sure it all fits, like a jigsaw puzzle."

The festival's audiences thrive on variety at an event which boasts Cuban Creole choral singing, Ghanaian Afrobeat, and Ukrainian gypsy music played by New York punks on just one stage, in one afternoon.

"The only people who come here have an affiliation with the music, a love for the music," Lahore-based qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faiz said backstage at the event. "That's why they come." ECLECTIC MIX Organisers lined up an eclectic selection of acts for the event's 29th incarnation.

Friday night saw West African reggae band Alpha Blondy headline on the Open Air stage, while Australia's CW Stoneking offered Deep South-inspired banjo blues on the Charlie Gilette stage.

Saturday saw London-based Brassroots pumping out hits by Beyonce, Radiohead and Cee-Lo Green on the trombone and tuba, Las Balkanieras delivering East European dancehall pop and Japanese folk duo Shunsuke Kimura and Etsuro Ono showing that it's not just Americans who can play the blues. Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, who took to the Siam stage on Saturday night to one of the largest crowds of the weekend, are probably one of the most widely known acts. They played their set to a packed tent.

"That was amazing, just amazing," said Tim from Ireland, at his first WOMAD, after the set. Like many, he had been turned on to Rodrigo y Gabriela by word of mouth, after a friend saw them play in Glasgow in 2009. So did they live up to expectations? "Absolutely."

Next year, the festival will celebrate its 30th birthday. While many music festivals have struggled to sell tickets in recent years as events proliferated and the economy flagged, WOMAD reported a 29 percent rise in sales this year.

"We're offering something that a lot of other events don't," Henderson told Reuters. "The music is very different to any other festival that exists, which is why we're keeping our audience and increasing it, whereas others may be losing it."

Plans for next year's anniversary are still in their infancy, but Henderson said she is looking to introduce more performance art into the line-up. As for acts, she'll be spending the next 12 months trawling the world to find the best it has to offer.

"Gogol Bordello took me three years to book, and Manu Chao I've been trying to get for about 10 years," she said. "Maybe for the 30th I can get him to come."

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