Africa Oyé breaks new records – but faces uncertain future over remaining a free festival

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Gasper Nali

Africa Oyé continues to be a festival free at the point of delivery, but it needs your input if it is to stay that way argues Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody.

The biggest free celebration of African music and culture celebrated a record-breaking audience on a sunny festival Saturday, as Africa Oyé crowds took over Sefton Park.

Topping the bill on a packed opening day, and joining Oyé as part of Windrush Day, reggae legend Horace Andy rolled back the years with a closing set for the ages, but not before Liverpool and been blessed with mesmerising sets from the likes of Malawi’s Gasper Nali, and South African powerhouses, BCUC.

The Diaspora was well represented across the two days of main stage music with Haitian stars, Wesli and Moonlight Benjamin providing memorable performances.

It’s free at the point of delivery. As is the NHS. But someone has to pay for it.

There are no barriers. There’s no gate and there are no fences. Anyone can come.

We had a mate who lives in Edinburgh text us earlier in the year asking whether he should bring his kids down for the weekend. He was worried about whether they’d need tickets and whether the place would be too full, such they wouldn’t get in.

Negative on all counts. They came and they loved it. The vibe, the music and above all the fact he didn’t need to worry too much where the kids were while he and I were queuing for a beer.

It’s an award-winning festival and, as we have said repeatedly on this website, it is one of the best things Liverpool does. Period.

And that’s not just because it’s free on entry. It always has a stellar bill. And in the 27 years the festival has been going (although we can’t claim to have been to every one of them) there have always been surprises and new discoveries.

2019 was no different and, indeed, may have been the best yet with Moonlight Benjamin delivering one of the most magnificent sets we have ever seen in Sefton Park.

Moonlight Benjamin

But over the years we have been to Oyé we have seen many acts that are now up on the top of our iPod playlist, Daby Touré, Victor Deme, Haja Madagascar, Mokoomba, Sona Jobarteh. These are all acts we discovered thanks to Africa Oyé.

Artistic Director, Paul Duhaney said of the festival, “Liverpool has outdone itself again. The outpouring of love during the weekend and in these last few days from the audience and from those who performed has been unbelievable. We feel like we’re still on cloud nine and are so grateful to everyone who made this happen.

We want to keep this event free as much as everyone else and if everyone who had a great time could go to africaoye.com and donate whatever amount they can – no matter how little – we can make sure it does.

Oyé’s mission is to keep the festival free and ‘open to all’, and nowhere was this more evident than on the main stage where BSL interpreters featured throughout the weekend – often translating an entire act’s set. The Accessible Viewing Platform also made a welcome return for wheelchair uses, and the festival site hosted a dedicated Access Tent featuring free BSL workshops.

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On a weekend of rain and shine – mostly shine I’m happy to say – Liverpool showed us more than ever why ‘the best festival audience in the world’ isn’t just a slogan for us; it’s 100% true“, Paul continued.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to all our funders, sponsors, partners, supporters and friends; we couldn’t do this without you“.

It is remarkable Oyé can stay free year after year and continue to produce such heavyweight line ups, but it does need support from the end users to keep it that way. Buying Oyé branded merchandise helps, or simply making a donation. Africa Oyé is a registered charity and all proceeds go back into the festival.

2019 was the 27th Africa Oyé and the weather on Saturday played its part in making the attendance that day a record and an estimated 50,000 people in the park over the weekend.

There are plans afoot for a massive celebration in 2022 for the thirtieth year. Let’s hope Africa Oyé is still free for all to enjoy for that one.

It’s worth paying for and if you want to keep it that way, then you know what to do.

Images by Getintothis photographers

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