The First-ever Global Women of the World Festival Celebrates Inspiring Female Musicians and Their Local Culture

Featured Image: Women of the World Festival via Facebook


Ten years ago, Jude Kelly curated the first-ever Women of The World Festival in London. It is a one-day celebration of women’s achievements, acting as a much-needed platform for discussing gender discrimination. Kelly designed the festival after hearing stories of women, who were too ashamed to admit their problems. She saw this was due to society’s unwillingness to admit sexism. With this in mind, she set out to remove the taboo associated with feminism. Not only has the festival continued every year since, but similar events have been held all over the world. Kelly has since left her job at the event’s venue and founded her organisation, which is dedicated solely to the creation of WOW festivals and events. She has now reached over two million people, with around 65 festivals across 6 continents. Her foundation has even secured royal approval from their official president, The Duchess of Cornwall, while Jude Kelly has been awarded a CBE for both her theatre work and the festival.

Jude Kelly (Andy Miah / CC BY-SA)

Next was the “Diva of the Sudanese Desert”, Amira Kheir. Fusing customary Sudanese melodies with modern Soul and Jazz, Keir has been compared to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. She sang completely unaccompanied, her voice alone was enough to wow her audience. She, like many of the performers, voiced her support for racial justice protesters. However, she also sang in celebration with the Sudanese people, as this year marks the first anniversary of the Sudanese revolution, which ousted a thirty-year dictatorship.
In fact, the main highlight of the event was getting to experience culture from all over the world. As well as musicians from Africa, the foundation showcased three First Nation artists from Australasia: Emma Wumara, Mihirangi and The Singing Potatoes. Sarah Yaseen and Anandi Bhattacharya, were broadcasting from India, whilst Meih Han from China, demonstrated Zheng playing, plucking a beautiful melody on the Chinese variant of the Zither or harp.

Despite each artist playing completely solo and without an audience, every performance was captivating. The first musician to play was Nigerian-British singer-songwriter, Helena Epega, otherwise known as Venus Bushfires. Dressed in traditional Nigerian clothes, Epega spread messages of hope and unity, both through her music and inspirational speeches. She is famous for composing the first-ever Pidgin English opera, from which she chose the song, ‘Semiola’, to perform for her global audience. It was stirring to hear her powerful voice accompanied beautifully by a steel drum. She even sang her own African call-and-response style piece, inspired by the festival, inviting her viewers to join in on her cries of “WOW!”

An hour later, we were greeted with a wonderful performance by Zimbabwean, Hope Masike, the “Queen of the Mbira” herself. She was given this title due to her mastery of the traditional Zimbabwean instrument, which was labelled “demonic” during colonial times. Now, she hopes to push the Mbira into new contemporary spaces; this was evident in her choice of a jazz piece as her second number.

Hope Masike

Next was the “Diva of the Sudanese Desert”, Amira Kheir. Fusing customary Sudanese melodies with modern Soul and Jazz, Keir has been compared to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. She sang completely unaccompanied, her voice alone was enough to wow her audience. She, like many of the performers, voiced her support for racial justice protesters. However, she also sang in celebration with the Sudanese people, as this year marks the first anniversary of the Sudanese revolution which ousted a thirty-year dictatorship.
In fact, the main highlight of the event was getting to experience culture from all over the world. As well as musicians from Africa, the foundation showcased three First Nation artists from Australasia: Emma Wumara, Mihirangi and The Singing Potatoes. Sarah Yaseen and Anandi Bhattacharya were broadcasting from India, whilst Meih Han from China, demonstrated Zheng playing, plucking a beautiful melody on the Chinese variant of the Zither or harp.

However, the event was not purely limited to traditional music. The festival contained a much-anticipated performance from frontwoman, Shingai Showina, of the Platinum-selling indie-rock band, Noisettes. Shingai lived up to her name (which literally translates to bold and strong in the Shona language) performing full of boisterous energy. Other big names included the first all-girl Roma band, Pretty Loud, and West African supergroup, Les Amazones d’Afrique. There were also hip-hop artists, rappers and even an Irish songwriter, who describes her sound as “Sahelian-Electrosoul”.

Shingai Showinia (Nika from Montreal, Canada / CC BY)

Every artist was innovative and gifted in their own way. What was most remarkable about the festival was how it has created so many role-models for young women. Who wouldn’t feel like they could change the world after hearing Tunisian singer-songwriter, Emel Mathlouithi, sing her protest song, ‘Kemit Horra’, which became the anthem of the Tunisian revolution? Who wouldn’t feel inspired after listening to the first-ever woman to win a film score award in Sri Lanka, or even the first female oudist to be accompanied by the Syrian National Orchestra? Those who listen will undoubtedly be motivated by every single female artist on this incredible festival’s line up.

What Jude Kelly has achieved is astonishing. She has provided a platform where men and women alike can come together, even during a global crisis. Women like Jude Kelly not only provide hope for the music industry but the world as a whole. The first step towards combatting the world’s problems is to create a united world, leaving behind the divided one which we live in today.

Find WOW Foundation on:

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Podcast | Google Arts and Culture

You can still watch Wow Global 24 online:

Local Channel | Global Channel

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