Africa Oyé is the UK’s largest free celebration of African music and heritage, aiming to combat any negative stigmas the continent may face by showcasing the vast range of culture, music and food that make up Africa. Running since 1999, where it originally comprised a handful of small gigs in Liverpool’s city centre, the festival now takes over Sefton Park each year, bringing a joyful musical atmosphere to thousands. Paul Duhaney is the Artistic Director of the festival, and we chatted to him about why he loves his job.
When did you become artistic director of Africa Oyé and what does your job entail?
I started in 1999 as a trainee and I was working alongside somebody until he retired and then I continued solo. It’s all about programming, designing the site, as new elements are added every year, and making sure the traders are all sorted. But mainly making sure it all comes together.
How would you describe the vibe of Africa Oyé?
The festival is known for its unique ambiance. I suspect that’s because of the music: everybody always says to me, when they go for the first time, that they’re surprised about the quality of the music. Even though it’s a free festival, many great artists perform. Pat Thomas, for example, plays to crowds of about 50 000 people in his home country. There’s the ambiance and the music, it comes together to create a carnival atmosphere. Then you’ve also got the traders, selling food, arts & crafts, all sorts of knick-knacks from around Africa and the diaspora. There’s activities for kids and there’s also the Afrobeat tent, which covers projects for young people aged 14-21 years. We’ve almost got all the bases covered. No matter your walk of life, or what your social standing is, everyone is welcome. It’s basically non-restrictive and fully-inclusive which is unique when it comes to festivals.
Is there anyone in particular from this year you’re excited to have on the bill?
Pat Thomas. He’s headlining on Saturday and I think people are going to love him and his band. Also, on the Sunday, there’s a really interesting band from Congo called Mbongwana Star. They’re a very cosmopolitan band; they mix western instruments with their own to create a sound that’s almost like rock music; a really innovate stage show that I think people are going to love.
Are there any goals with Africa Oyé you’d like to fulfil?
Just to keep doing what we’re doing and to be successful, not just in Britain, but around the world. What I’d really love to do is to take the festival, or a strand of the festival, on tour. I think it’s something we could achieve. So I’d like to get people into the festival here, but also tour it around the country, or even internationally.
Africa Oyé takes place on Sat 18 & Sun 19 Jun in Sefton Park, Liverpool.
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