English field hosts a world of arts

1st August 1997 at 01:00
Sunday, late afternoon, and peacock-plumed creatures wave kaleidoscopic pennants, kites and totems amid the stilt-walkers, wicker and papier mache creatures. Banners celebrate 50 years of Indian independence to the sound of batteries of Bhangra and Brazilian drummers.

Welcome to Reading and to WOMAD - the World Of Music Arts and Dance - and the moment when, surrounded by music from Mali and Madagascar, Columbia and Cuba, children get the chance to take centre stage.

If WOMAD's brief is to bring the world's people together and spread the word of the inspirational music produced in the farthest corners of the globe, then it has made a mission of getting them young.

Perhaps more than any other festival, WOMAD is a family affair, and has been since Peter Gabriel began it in 1982 in a field in Shepton Mallet.

The Reading showcase is long since established as a fixture on the festival calendar, but the rest of the year sees WOMAD as record label, recording studio, organiser of events around the world - and as educational foundation.

Among other activities, it takes the multicultural world of music, art and dance into schools with a programme of visiting musicians and other events.

The Reading festival is not without its subtle education too, with a range of children's workshops in music, banner-making, costume-making and building those huge animals.

Story sessions, an ever-expanding wicker maze and a jungle of improvised musical instruments add to the fun - the conventional funfair next door looks decidedly dull in comparison - but the parade is the thing.

"A contextualised introduction to different music and art forms from around the world," is how foundation co-ordinator and children's tent organiser Mandy Macfarlane puts it. Or, less formally: "We get them interested and excited first, get them really sparked and everything else follows."

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