Africa Oye 2010 Preview
The Review Field in Sefton Park will play host one of the biggest free music festivals in the UK on the weekend of the 19th and 20th of June. Held in the shadow of the magnificent Palm House, Africa Oye is a celebration of world music and culture, which attracted over 20,000 people last year. A huge success, but this year’s event promises to be even bigger. Expect to hear Afrobeat, dub, roots, reggae, salsa, dancehall, and many other genres. In anticipation of the weekend Nerve spoke to festival director Paul Duhaney.
The original inspiration for Africa Oye came from festival founder Kenny Murray’s travels around Africa during his student days. A Scot who went on to settle in Liverpool, he began to think about bringing the music he had heard on the continent to a wider audience. As festival director Paul Duhaney says, "Kenny saw the links between the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Liverpool, and wanted to create something that brings accentuates the positive from that, which was the music that was brought to these shores, the food and the culture."
The festival plays an important role in accentuating the positive side of Africa, its music, traditions and culture, as well as that of its host city. Paul is certain Liverpool’s Capital of Culture tenure did a lot for the festival, attracting visitors from all over the north west and further afield. The story of two Haitians who came over two years ago specifically to watch one of their favourite bands play is a clear example of its pulling power.
To assemble the eleven acts for the two days, Paul attended the WOMEX World Music Expo in Copenhagen, where thirty to forty world music acts showcase their talents. The four day event yielded half of this year’s bill, with the rest drawn from Paul’s list of contacts and the hundreds of CDs, DVDs and emails he is sent. To ensure the musicians the organisers wanted to play were available, the festival line up was programmed in November of last year. The logistics in assembling a varied bill of musicians from all over the world has presented its challenges due to uncertainty over work permits and visas. Despite this, the organisers have succeeded in securing all the acts they wanted for this year’s bill.
From the outset, the ethos of Africa Oye couldn’t have been more different, compared to the corporate, commercialised festivals taking place over the summer. The organisers feel it is essential that the festival remains free and are delighted with the continued funding and support they have received from Liverpool City Council and the Arts Council. As Paul says, "We’re almost like the ‘anti-festival’ if you like (in view of commercialised events), because we try to make it fully inclusive, which means anyone, from any walk of life can feel welcome there, and feel comfortable." As Paul goes on to say, "We’ve made (the festival) completely unrestricted, although we have a bar there and all these traders selling stuff, we don’t say to people ‘We’re going to search you, you can’t bring your own food and drink’, if you want to, you can, but if you don’t it’s all there for you as well."
The just-announced subsidised bar set in a five hundred capacity marquee will also ease the burden on people’s wallets. Having experienced upwards of a twenty minute wait for overpriced warm beer containing dead flies at several festivals, this is a very welcome aspect of Africa Oye! By being free, the festival has also side-stepped sponsorship problems some festivals have encountered this year, due to the slump in advertising following the recession.
The event’s centralised location in view of the landmark Sefton Park Palm House is a major plus for the festival, as it provides excellent transport links by road and rail. Another first for this year is the backing of the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post. Radio Merseyside has also come onboard and will be covering the event, interviewing musicians, stallholders and festival-goers over the two days, as well as providing valuable pre-publicity.
A notable new addition to the site this year is the Health, Learning and Participation Zone. Excellently timed, as it coincides with Liverpool City Council’s Year of Health and Wellbeing. The zone will include attractions such as free dancing, drumming, percussion workshops as well as free massages and holistic therapy. Hoping that it will be become a permanent addition to the festival, the zone is similar to those found around Glastonbury, and according to Paul it makes the event become "Even more of a festival". The zone will mirror the act that happens to be appearing onstage at that time, an aspect that will be most noticeable in the dance workshops that will take place. So when Les Freres Guisse take to the stage for example, expect a Senegalese theme in the zone. In addition to this and the main stage there will be sixty stalls, a twenty percent increase on last year, selling food and drink, as well as arts and crafts from all over the world.
The event has experienced a huge promotional boost from Africa Oye’s touring package backed by the Black Routes Foundation, that has played over twenty dates the length and breadth of the UK. As well as providing a huge publicity boost for the festival, Paul hopes the tour will also become an annual fixture on the live circuit. The festival has also developed the enviable knack over the years of booking acts before they go on to greater success. The weekend after appearing onstage at Oye, Cuban band To’mezclao, who also played on the tour will be playing the newly minted Cubana stage at Glastonbury, in addition to touring the country. A highlight of 2005, Timawen followed up a barnstorming set at Oye with a booking at Glastonbury and a slot on the BBCs Later…with Jools Holland.
When asked if he has any particular favourites on the bill this year, Paul will admit to being most proud of having booked Victor Démé (right) from Burkina Faso, whom he saw at perform at WOMEX. Looking to exceed the 20,000 revellers it attracted last year, with its heightened publicity the event could easily surpass that figure. As Paul says, "We’ve got thousands of people in a park, with no trouble, all different races, nationalities and ages. It’s unique and it’s something the city and Africa Oye should be proud of."
One aspect that the festival shares with all others of course is the weather. As Paul states though, "We’ve found even if it’s bad, we’re established now and people will bring tents and waterproofs and will stay." The elements aside then, Africa Oye looks set to have its biggest year yet, and alongside the Mathew St Festival is now firmly established as one of the most notable dates Merseyside’s musical calendar.
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