"I would challenge anyone who likes music to come to WOMAD and dislike everything".
Peter Gabriel revisits the birth of WOMAD in 1982, recalling the unregistered but huge demand for global music and the value of giving a platform to talents and cultures from across the world.
There were extraordinary musicians that weren’t getting heard. We were absolutely convinced, in almost an evangelical fervour, that if we could get this stuff to a wider audience, some people would fall in love with some artists. This is what has happened in every WOMAD, wherever it’s been, all over the world since.
Really you want a world where people who have something powerful to express — in whatever language, from whatever country — to have an opportunity to be heard. And there’s something that happens at WOMAD that doesn’t happen elsewhere.
I would challenge anyone who likes music to come along to a WOMAD and dislike everything. But I think that’s impossible... people are bound to find things that are new to them and that they can really like.
We were hoping to get the festival going in 1981, originally somewhere around our area — a rural location, we thought. Bath City Council weren’t interested at that time and we eventually looked at Bath & West Showground in Shepton Mallet. They had quite a lot of facilities and we wanted to have lots of activities — performances, exhibitions, cinema, indoor spaces for workshops, and one of the key things was that it would involve a lot of kids in those workshops. We got schoolchildren making instruments, making masks, and the first day featured a fantastic procession, led by the Burundi drummer, and that was really one of the highpoints.
But we were deaf to all of the scepticism surrounding us because we really wanted to do it and if we started buying the negativity being thrown at us we knew it would never happen. We were enthusiastic amateurs, really, and it was a very tough way to learn.
At the outset we were full of naïvety and passion in equal measures. I have never reined in my dreams but I also have learned well to deal with reality. I had been in the driving seat on the first festival but the horrors of being the target around the troubles encouraged me to leave the front seat to Thomas.
I think we honestly hoped it would become the worldwide festival it is today, but I don’t think we knew how long and difficult the road might be.