Africa Oye Preview 2011
After the amazing success of last year’s Africa Oye, when an unprecedented fifty thousand people attended the festival, the event is gearing for its Twentieth Anniversary. Held in Liverpool’s iconic Sefton park over the weekend of the 18th and 19th June, expectations for 2011’s event are already building. Nerve met up with Festival Director Paul Duhaney to discuss this year’s event.
Following the massive success of 2010’s Africa Oye, which saw over fifty thousand people attend the World Music festival, the event, which initially started in Hardman St will celebrate in twentieth anniversary. The mixture of the finest in roots, reggae, Afrobeat, salsa and dancehall drew twenty-five thousand people on the Saturday last year, with the figure the following day topping thirty-one thousand, the kind of numbers usually associated with stadium gigs. In addition to this, the festival raised £1.7 million for the city’s economy, due to the influx of visitors into the city.
Festival director Paul Duhaney alongside original founder Kenny Murray are in the process of finalizing the line-up, sifting though hundreds of CDs, emails and attending scores of shows to select the line-up for this year’s event. The majority of the acts were selected from the WOMEX World Music Expo in Copenhagen, in January, a three day event that sees three thousand delegates, agents and artists from across the world attend and participate in the trade fair. Whilst the trade fair takes place during the day, the evening hosts fifty showcases across three days, where people “Go shopping for artists” as Paul describes it, estimating that “Seventy to eighty percent of our acts come from there.”
In addition to this, Paul and Kenny leave space free for other submissions. “We always keep a few slots back, as we get sent hundreds of band’s CDs” Paul explains. The final bill, comprising of six acts a day will be unveiled by June. Logistical problems that arise from bringing the artists over to the UK present one of the largest hurdles to the organizers. “Luckily a lot of the artists we’re dealing with, the visas will be obtained by the agents who are selling their shows in France.” Paul explains. “The only ones where we have problems are the ones where we’re dealing with the artist directly, bringing them from Africa, because then the onus is on us to secure the visas. There could be problems, ‘cos who’s to say an agent contacts us a few weeks before and says unfortunately says the tour’s been cancelled, because we’ve had trouble securing the visa.”
“It’s always a risk that not everybody will secure their visas” he continues. “What I will say though is that if we’re in a position where somebody was to drop out, we can replace them in an instant there’s that many bands who are the reserve list who are top quality.” This additonal list of roughly twenty bands is compiled in case the organizers have to slot in replacements. As Paul explains, “Every band we put on that stage can hold their own on any stage in the world, whether they’re up-and-coming, or legends of the game.”
For what people can expect this year, the organizers have selected the bill with several factors in mind. “The bill is particularly African orientated this year and we’ve got more women on the bill than usual” Paul states. “Miriem Hassan, Fatoumata Diawara, Kakeyce Fotso, we did consciously try to do that. We had a situation previously we weren’t getting CDs from many women artists, now that we are, we’re definitely going to showcase them.”
The booking Paul is proudest of is Faoumata Diawara from Mali, along with singer Bonga who played the festival several years ago. A personal favourite of Paul’s, he describes the Angolan vocalist as having “One of the best voices I’ve heard in World Music.” The flexibility in the booking arrangements mean that, “People will still be asking for a gig two weeks before the festival. We’re looking to secure a reggae headliner, we always have every year.” Africa Oye’s ethical credentials and reputation amongst gig goers and musicians also ensures the quality of the bill remains high. “The artists know that we’re not a festival that’s going to be charging a hundred pounds a ticket. Being free in the past and being only a nominal fee now, we’re able to get deals other festivals probably wouldn’t be able to secure.”
Considering the attendance figure in 2009 was twenty thousand people across the whole weekend, the festival’s popularity has sky rocketed. “To be honest I was” Paul nods when asked if he was surprised how successful the event was in 2010. “I actually thought if we have exactly the same number of people we had the previous year, or a five or ten percent increase, I’d have been more than happy with that. But to get the numbers we got last year, at one point, I was shaking my head saying, ‘How many more people can you get?’ The main field was completely rammed, and the offshoots that weren’t part of the festival. People were having to put up stalls there, ‘cos it was so packed. That was a real achievement and that put us in the position we’re in today, after the success of last year.”
A development that has caused minor controversy in the run up to this year’s event is the festival charging for the first time. Partially a consequence of the huge numbers the event attracted last year, one newspaper article described the festival as being a “victim of its own success” in having to charge an admission fee. Whilst there is some truth this, the huge numbers last year meant that there had to be a greater emphasis on health and safety for the forthcoming event. The organizers are pains to emphasize however that the £5 charge is a nominal fee that is mandatory due to the cost of staging the festival. As Paul states, “If you’ve got a family where there’s two adults and three kids, you have to buy two tickets, the children can come for free, which is only a tenner and you can bring your own food and drink. In the grand scheme of things it’s not unaffordable for people.”
The capacity for this year has been set at twenty thousand people per day, the figure decided on largely due to ticket prices. As Paul explains. “The reason behind it is that if we had gone to thirty thousand capacity per day, the ticket prices would have had been raised because all the infrastructure would treble. If it was ten thousand and under, the license would be free. The next band is twenty thousand and under, which we fall under, and then the next band after that is thirty thousand and under. If it’s thirty thousand and under, you’re talking about the ticket prices could be as much as ten pounds each” Paul states.
“The reason we capped it at twenty thousand is to keep the ticket prices low. What we’re hoping is that we sell enough tickets so that next year we won’t have to raise the ticket prices, because any extra money that we make we put back into the festival. We try to make it clear that that’s a nominal fee, the calculations that we’ve worked out in our budget mean that the ticket price is just enough to make the festival work without breaking people’s pockets. To get six acts a day for a fiver who are top quality is a great deal.”
In addition to the fees going towards meeting the cost of putting the festival on, the money will help secure its long-term future. Expanding on what the money will be spent on, Paul explains. “Additional security, the fact that it now has to be fenced, the fact we now have to buy a license as opposed to it being free beforehand, police costs, all the additional stuff that comes with box office facilities and additional staff.” In stark contrast to many other festivals that won’t allow food and drink into the arena where the bands are playing, Africa Oye is the complete opposite. Food and drink is fully allowed onto the site, one minor change being that people can’t bring barbeques due to Health and Safety restrictions. The subsidized Black Star Liner Bar will also be making a welcome return.
A major part of the festival and one that has grown over the past few years is the Oye Village, which incorporates the various food, clothes and craft stalls found across the site. Now a big part of the event, the stalls are set to increase in number, with seventy already confirmed and the number over the weekend bound to be higher. “‘Cos we’ve got that many stalls, the beer tent’s got a sound system, you’ve got the Learning and Participation Zone, Children’s Entertainment, there’s other things for people to be doing. There’s more a festival feel about it, it’s not just about what’s going on onstage, it’s about the whole ambience of the arena” Paul says.
The Learning and Participation Zone, which includes children’s play areas and drum workshops will again be present, despite the current worries over funding. As Paul says, “Obviously the economic climate at the moment for funding isn’t as forthcoming as it was, we will find a way of incorporating a Learning and Participaton Zone, into the festival, sure.” Another addition to the Oye Village in 2011 is a separate merchandise stall. “Last year we had a lot of enquiries about T-shirts, we’ll have a dedicated Oye merchandising stall this year, which will have CDs of all the artists” Paul states. The festival is still seeking corporate sponsorship for this year’s event, yet have had some difficulty, as Paul says, “At a time of cuts, that’s one of the first things that goes from a company’s point of view.”
Paul and Kenny are delighted that Liverpool City Council have matched their funding from 2010 for the festival this year, yet at a time of council cutbacks, understandably, there won’t be additional funds available. “The City Council have been really supportive” Paul nods, “they could have basically withheld our money completely, but in times of cuts, they’re still going to part-fund the festival.” Another aspect charging for the time has allowed is for the organizers to be able to arrange the site more to their liking. “We’ll redesign the site this year, because it’s enclosed. The way it is now, where it’s going to be completely fenced, gives us carte blanche to redesign and put the stage wherever we want,” Paul states.
As the demand for tickets grows, the organizers are keen to ensure that residents of the city will be able to purchase them first. “We obviously gave people in Liverpool the opportunity to buy tickets first” Paul nods. “We would hate it if people turned up with their children on the day, trying to get in to something that’s full.” To whet appetites prior to the main event, the Black Routes Tour will visit the Picket in May, with Jamaican reggae legend Yellowman heading the bill. Part of Oye Touring and Trading, the tour spreads the word about the festival far beyond Merseyside and has become a significant success in its own right.
Beyond this year’s festival, Paul is always looking to take the festival in new directions. “The Avery Café in Sefton Park, there’s room to have an acoustic stage in there, that’s something we’ve always talked about, something a bit more mellow. In Sefton Park itself there’s room to have six, seven, eight stages if we wanted it, so that’s definitely something we want to look at in the future. The possibilities are endless. Camping is the other thing we want to introduce in years to come, that would make such a difference, there is room for it.”
The ‘Book early to avoid disappointment’ rule applies with Africa Oye as with any live event, but the organizers are keen to have some last minute tickets available on the day for £7. As Paul explains, “We might hold some tickets back, as on the day there will be some people who will be turning up without tickets. We’ll see how the tickets are selling by Easter then make a decision.” Following the massive success of last year, tickets are likely to move fast for what has become one of the biggest World Music events in the country.
The Black Routes Tour featuring Yellowman visits The Picket on 13th May, tickets from Dr. Herman’s and online.
Africa Oye will take place in the Review Field,
Sefton Park, Saturday 18th June and Sunday 19th June.
Comment left by johno on 5th May, 2011 at 15:45
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