Dancing in the Mud: the 2011 Bellingen Global Carnival

I could feel the damp seeping through my jacket as I stumbled into the Bazaar Tent and out of the evening storm. Only minutes before, I had left the campsite fortified by extra layers of clothing and ready to face another night of wet but wonderful world music.

The tent was dark. Squinting through rain-speckled glasses, it slowly occurred to me that there was no power, only torchlight illuminating the source of cheerful gypsy music. As I crept closer to the stage, through swaying shapes and across boggy ground, I heard one of the musicians shout, ‘Everyone in a circle for a traditional Romanian dance’. And then, to my wonder, I watched as the crowd systematically arranged itself in the dark and started to move in rhythm, as the storm raged outside. All I could think was, ‘This is life’.

Despite my highest hopes for a sunny Bellingen Global Carnival experience to round off our road trip adventure last week, the skies did  not comply, and instead delivered three days of sloshy rain. Nevertheless, the festival (which was seriously under prepared for the wet weather) still managed to serve up some amazing world music and cultural displays, leaving me feel culturally nourished and renewed with the idea that perhaps, a song and a dance could really heal the world.

Dancing to Grace Barbe at the Bellingen Global Carnival 2011

We arrived on a mildly overcast Friday to set up camp in the festival grounds before the gates opened at 6pm. After a first survey of the festival market stalls, food stands, colourfully flagged gates, circus setups, art installations and themed stages, I started to feel more reassured that we were in for a vibrant weekend of cultural adventures.

A whale made of palm fronts. Of course! Bellingen Global Carnival 2011Traditional Kurdish & Persian music by Madakto. Bellingen Global Carnival 2011

My family and I have been going to the Global Carnival for about ten years now, using it as a meeting place between our busy and separate lives across the country. But the Carnival also serves as a soul cleanser; a place where we can dance like crazy people, chant with the Tibetan Monks, eat six meals a day, and feel absolutely free to explore the feeling of relaxation. And while this year the Carnival didn’t present its ideal sunny, dry and thriving self, it was still a lovely reprieve from the routine of everyday life.

Bellingen Global Carnival 2011

Highlights of the festival included:

  • Toasting Kampai with the Japanese Blues cowboy, George Kamikawa, and Tsugara shamisen player, Noriko Tadano as they worked the crowd into tent-shaking splendour. Traditional Japanese music never sounded so enticing as when blended with western blues.
  • A small window of sunshine between rain clouds on Saturday afternoon, during which we appropriately sunned ourselves, with a book and champagne in hand.
  • Drifting through the soulful New Orleans sounds of John Cleary and the Philthy Phew on Sunday night. Jazz piano and a rainy evening are meant to be enjoyed together.
  • Dancing until my legs shook to the enthusiastic tunes of Mama Kin. Seriously fun music.
  • Crunching my way through a hot, juicy corn on the cob with garlic butter, salt and pepper. Mmmm.
  • Watching in awe as the Sura Indonesia Dance Group rhythmically wove a rope net while performing some of the most coordinated dance moves I’ve ever seen.
  • Trying to shake my booty with the same class and energy as the dancers in the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra. It’s not easy, that’s all I’m saying.
  • Watching as the Indian man from the Chai Tent tried to teach festival goers how to dance to Indian music. Classic.

Impromptu dance lesson at the Chai Tent. Bellingen Global Carnival 2011

Sura Indonesia Dance Group at Bellingen Global Carnival 2011George Kamikawa & Noriko Tadano at Bellingen Global Carnival 2011


Published by Nic Freeman

I feel most like myself when I'm travelling, and enjoy sharing experiences and photography with fellow globe adventurers. Find me on Instagram for regular travel snaps @nicfreemanlife

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