Africa Oyé 2015 @ Sefton Park, Liverpool, 20-21 Jun
Strolling up Liverpool’s Lark Lane to the vibrant green of Sefton Park for the Sunday of Africa Oyé, it is clear that, here, a strong sense of community and cultural exploration replaces the entrapment and cash-making opportunism at the heart of many festivals. Stalls from local businesses like radical bookshop News from Nowhere and Bold Street Coffee line the field alongside authentic African and Caribbean cuisine, handcraft, and activity centres, offering unique and grassroots experiences. The weather isn’t perfect, but the sense of goodwill is significant; the positive passion behind the organisation of the event seems to be rubbing off on the crowds.
Sunday's first act, Merki Waters, has been booked as part of Oyé Introduces, an initiative to support artists from the Northwest. The idea is admirable but unfortunately the 25-year-old songwriter's thoughtful but production-heavy rap does not quite hit the spot. His reliance on backing tracks gives a synthetic karaoke vibe to the set, while his social commentary suffers from some cliché. As he remains anchored awkwardly to his keyboard for the entire set, one can’t help but feel that a live band would bring more dynamism and visual interest to his act.
Later in the day, Lindigo take to the main stage to sum up what the festival is all about, playing a thunderous maloya – a protest music from the island of Réunion banned in some instances until the 1980s due to its powerful and rebellious spirit. The music excites, involves and entertains, and the band keep up consistent audience participation with streams of infectious call and response beneath beds of djembes and djabaras. This is a performance that emits pride and joy, life bursting from the band's textured grooves and interactive chants.
Headlining the night, Frankie Paul’s band kick off with a beat that immediately confirms their status as authentic reggae masters (Paul began recording in Jamaica in the early 80s and was identified with the first wave of the dancehall scene). The bass rides tightly and naturally with the off-beats while Paul delicately manoeuvres his soulful and impressive register. They are perhaps a little too comfortable, however, as the tempo barely alters for the entire hour, Paul singing snippets of classic songs such as Somewhere over the Rainbow and Don't Go Changing, a gimmick that loses its novelty after the tenth quote. But while there might not be an abundance of creativity in Paul's music, it is certainly enough to dance to, and the audience is tipsy and happy. For another year, Africa Oyé has been a triumph for tradition, as well as the city and people of Liverpool.