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Tens of thousands travelled far and wide for Africa Oyé 2016

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Akala [All pics by Mark McNulty]

AFRICA OYÉ, the UK’s biggest free festival of music and culture from Africa and the Diaspora, played triumphantly to tens of thousands who travelled from far and wide to attend.

From its humble beginnings at Princes Park in 1992, then across the water in Birkenhead, Africa Oyé has come a long way in becoming the annual cultural extravaganza not to miss.

The African music festival featured artists from nations right across Africa, and also from South America and the Caribbean. The performers included DR Congo’s genre-bending Mbongwana Star, Ghanaian highlife legend Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band, kora-playing pioneer, Sona Jobarteh and UK rapper and poet Akala.
Once Liverpool’s picturesque Sefton Park is transformed into an Oyé village for the two-day festival, it’s just a case of listening and enjoying some of the best African artists around.

ANNIVERSARY

Africa Oyé is now one of the biggest festivals in Europe, this year attracting crowds of over 75,000 people from all over the UK and the perfect prelude for its special 25th anniversary next year.

Over the last 24 years Africa Oyé has hosted artists from countries such as South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Guinea Conakry, Senegal, Angola, Mali, Lesotho, Ghana, Somalia, Morocco, Jamaica, Dominica, Cuba, Algeria, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone Benin and Cape Verde, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad & Tobago.
As well as live music, the festival features the Oyé Village – over 90 stalls selling food and drink from all over the world, arts and crafts, African clothing, hair demonstrations, face painting and much more.

Ahead of its milestone year in 2017, Africa Oyé’s artistic director Paul Duhaney, could not have been happier. He told The Voice: “If anything, it shows Africa Oyé is about community and that says a lot.

“There is no other festival in the UK, that we know of, that has a stage that is exclusively for music from Africa, and the diaspora, and they are the focus of the main attention of the event.”


CENTRE STAGE: Africa Oye was a huge success

He added: “What we have noticed over the years is that the audience is just a complete mix when you talk about cultures, or ethnicity, ages, social background, affluent people, not so affluent people. In fact, it totally encapsulates what Britain’s about at the moment in a positive way.

“In my time that I’ve been doing this festival, which is 18 years out of the 24, and I’m originally from London, I haven’t seen any trouble at all.

“I think there’s been something like 10 arrests in 24 years which is nothing. Africa Oyé is a very unique event, and what I think it is, is the music that emanates from the stage creates the ambience, so there’s nothing threatening, its just about partying and having a good time, and the programming is done specifically for that reason.”
Asked about the 25th anniversary of Africa Oyé, Duhaney likens it to a miracle that the event has grown so big, and getting bigger.

He said: “It really is like a miracle. When I first joined the organisation in 1998, you maybe got a couple of hundred people in a little square, and if it rained everyone ran for their lives and you’d be left with one person and his dog.

SPECIAL

“I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘why am I doing this?’ But when I heard the music – and I come from a reggae, house music, soul, hip-hop kind of background – I thought ‘wow’, this music is special, uplifting and positive. And, I could see that once people hear the music they just fall in love with it.”

MOBO-award winner Akala, who headlined on the Saturday, and first performed at Africa Oyé five years ago, agreed and said he was very happy to be back at the event.
“For me, any festival that really celebrates African culture in an authentic and interesting way, is good,” he said. “When the music manages to move upwards of 20,000 people – like you saw with this audience in front of the main stage – it’s a response you can only describe as truly inspirational.”

On hearing that the festival broke its single day attendance record when 40,000 revellers flocked to Sefton Park, Duhaney spoke of his delight.

“All of the team was saying we’d never seen the park so busy at Oyé on the Saturday. And perhaps in previous years the rain on Sunday would have meant only the hardcore fans would turn up, but this time we still had crowds dancing and setting up on the field for the day and staying right until the end.

“I think that’s arguably the biggest compliment we could be given and is a testament to how far we’ve come these last 24 years.”

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