World music fest adds the actual taste of what people hear

Tue Jul 29, 2014 4:44am EDT
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By Jan Harvey

CHARLTON PARK England (Reuters) - In their native Iran, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat are best known for their soaring voices, flawless harmonies and dedication to the art of singing in the face of tough restrictions on public performances by women.

But on a Sunday morning last weekend in the Wiltshire region of southwestern England, Mahsa’s chief preoccupation was the correct sourcing of dried plums.

“These are from eastern Iran, from a village near the desert,” she told host Roger de Wolf and the assembled crowd at Taste the World stage at Womad, a festival of traditional music and dance, as she unwrapped the fruit, brought with her from the Middle East. “They’re sourer than others.”

Around her, sister Marjan assembled lemon powder, turmeric and saffron for the chicken dish they were cooking, while in the background, the stage’s sous-chef and kitchen assistants supplied saucepans, chicken and rice.

Within a few moments, the sisters had broken off from the recipe to demonstrate the talent that brought them from Tehran, with a rendition of their fusion-edged Iranian song for the assembled crowd. Shortly after that, the meal they had prepared was distributed to the same audience, so they could taste, as well as hear, a little of Iranian culture.

This combination of food and song is the culmination of an idea dreamed up by one of the festival's organizers Annie Menter, who set up the Taste the World stage at Womad (the acronym stands for World of Music and Dance) eight years ago.

Menter, who had long been involved with the festival in its various incarnations around the globe, had seen how the musicians she traveled with sought out their national dishes on tour, as a little taste of home.

“If you’re away from home and family, what connects you back to those is food,” Menter said. “It’s a comfort thing. If you’re feeling lonely or out on a limb, even a bowl of rice that’s traditional for you instantly raises your spirits.”   Continued...