HIS career has spanned more half-a-century of r’n’b, soul, funk and rock’n’roll, he wrote The Rolling Stones first UK Number One, he has a voice like crushed velvet, sawdust and honey and – indisputably - he is one of the coolest dudes on the planet.
Now celebrated soul survivor Bobby Womack, currently riding the crest of an artistic renaissance, is heading for a field in Wiltshire – this year’s WOMAD Festival at Charlton Park near Malmesbury, to be precise.
He is one of three giants of black music/world music – call it what you will – who have just been added to an already exotic line-up that now includes one of Africa’s most prominent artists, the great Youssou N’Dour, and veteran Afro soul saxophonist Manu Dibango – 80 years old and still blowing strong.
They will perform for around 30,000 adherents of world music within the luxuriant grasslands and glades of the Earl of Suffolk’s ancestral home – a 35 minute drive or so from Swindon – on July 24-27.
Womack was once Sam Cooke’s guitarist who wrote a song called It’s All Over Now for his band The Valentinos. A bunch of scruffs from London heard it and thought “that’ll do” – and so it did. Fifty years on it remains one of The Stones defining singles.
With that instantly recognisable, gospel-fused voice Womack went onto to write and record a string of outstanding soul-funk-rock albums bursting with big ballads, delicious grooves and a drawling, soulful rap that became his trademark.
His most recent album, however, has been hailed a career best. The Bravest Man in the Universe was produced by Damon Albarn after Womack appeared on the latter’s Gorillaz CD, Plastic Beach.
The plaudits have been universal, encouraging an artist plagued in recent years with serious health problems to perform selective gigs. Womack has earned his place among the great soul singers: Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding.
As he sang on his 1975 album Safety Zone, “I feel a groove coming on…”
Stand 20 world music fans end-to-end and demand of them: “Who is Africa’s finest singer?” The chances are most will respond, without even thinking, “Youssou N’Dour.”
This man is so good that back home in Senegal they made him Minister of Tourism and Culture.
Fusing old – very old – West African folk music, rhythms and percussion with late 20th Century technology, Youssou made a series of ground-breaking albums that brought esoteric Senegalese pop into Western living rooms.
He sang on Peter Gabriel’s monster 1986 LP So – In Your Eyes, side two, track one – prompting one reviewer to opine that N’Dour’s contribution added “mystic charms” to the affair.
He performed with Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Alan Stivell, Sting, Wyclef Jean and Neneh Cherry with whom he had a memorable 1994 Top Five UK hit, Seven Seconds, and collaborated with Lou Reed on a version of Peter Gabriel’s Biko for Amnesty International.
The British world music magazine Folk Roots simply hailed him African Artist of the Century.
Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango will be delving into the far reaches of his back catalogue as part of his Eight Decades show.
The music of Manu, 81 this year, incorporates jazz, funk, fusion, soul – often on one track. His globally-renowned Soul Makossa has influenced everyone from Michael Jackson to Rihanna – but don’t let that out you off.
Manu is an Afro Soul Groove machine and a genuine jazz legend, no sweat Also bringing his horn to Charlton Park is former New Orleans street musician Trombone Shorty – great name – who has recorded with the likes of U2, Eric Clapton and Lenny Kravitz.
Some 80 bands/artists will be performing at the festival.