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Olé for Oyé – Joe Viney looks forward to Africa Oyé’s 20th anniversary celebrations
A lot has happened in the past twenty years. Britain has endured four Prime Ministers, five Premier League champions and an unlimited amount of the Next Big Thing. So in an age of the temporary and suggested temperance, it’s lucky that we are able to draw on consistency and constant elements. Step forward AFRICA OYE, Liverpool’s grand celebration of African music, culture, fashion and lots more besides, and join in the party as it celebrates entering its third decade.
Taking place in Sefton Park over the weekend of 23rd-24th June, Africa Oyé promises to provide the city with a hearty portion of genuine African flavour. In the confusing age of austerity it’s a boon to count your blessings. Despite pressures from the enigmatic, infinite powers that be, Africa Oyé has remained at the agreeable price of freefreeFREE! It’s impossible to argue with and ridiculous to turn down.
Taking centre stage will be artists of the calibre of BRINSLEY FORDE, THE RASITES and YAABA FUNK. It’s not just about the music though. There will be over forty stalls selling a wide range of items including food, drink, arts, craft and fashion. If, for some insane reason, none of that happens to tickle your fancy, then you might want to drop by the Oyé Inn; a 500-capacity beer tent that will also play host to a large amount of DJ sets.
For those of you keen to take a more hands-on approach to the weekend’s festivities then the Oyé Active Zone will be just the ticket. Those in attendance will be able to try their hand at singing, dancing, instrumentation and artwork. This year’s Active Zone is promoting Big Dance 2012. It is the UK’s biggest celebration of dance as part of the London 2012 Festival for the Olympics and the cultural Olympiad. It’s an enticing opportunity to be part of something that will go down in history.
With all this and more, you’d be mad not to show up to the party. Bido Lito! caught up with Yaaba Funk, the London-based collective comprising Paul Brett (Analogue Bass, Percussion), Helen McDonald (Vocals, Percussion), Tobias Stürmer (Guitar, Backing Vox, Percussion) and Richmond Kessie (Chief Commander Yaaba – Vocals, Percussion). On the menu for discussion was Africa Oyé, their own music education workshops and the importance in the growth of African culture in Britain…
Bido Lito!: How important is a festival such as Africa Oyé for African music and culture?
Paul Brett: As one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, Africa Oyé is extremely important. It is also a free entry event so the spread of African music and culture is going to be even wider. You have your WOMADs and such but you have to afford the price to get in, travel there etc. whereas Africa Oyé is right there in the heart of the city. I wish we had one in London!
BL!: Africa Oyé prides itself upon being the UK's largest celebration of African music and culture, but do you think enough is being done nationwide to promote the art and culture of the continent?
PB: I can only speak for where I live really. In London there is some great stuff happening in terms of African and African-derived art, music fashion. There are British African artists such as Yinka Shonibare, who did the Ship In A Bottle [exhibition, on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth], and our good friend Larry Achiampong who is a both a visual and sound artist. They are established or coming through. Richmond and Helen are always finding really good contemporary African fashion. I think African music is also really popular, though it's not mainstream, and the Barbican is putting on a great series called Back2Black which is real diaspora stuff.
Helen McDonald: More needs to be done to bring it into the mainstream because popular music owes so much to African music from the diaspora. I grew up in Derby and was born in the Midlands of Jamaican parents, and I know how much impact my people’s music and culture has influenced the UK music scene and language. I'm very aware how much influence my people’s music has had on the impact of popular music in this country.
BL!: Your biography states that the group's core members met in the late 1990s. Has there been a noticeable rise in the popularity and acceptance of African music in Britain since that time?
PB: Definitely, definitely. I bought my first African record in the late 1980s - it's a vinyl of Etoile de Dakar that I still have. None of my friends were into it then. My dad took me to see King Sunny Ade when I was about 15. Now half of London is in an Afrobeat band. People really know and love their African music. I have learned a lot about Ghanaian music from Richmond, and there’s all the Soundway and Strut releases of African stuff that you never could get before so it's a really strong time for African music and culture.
Richmond Kessie: African music, by nature, will always be in vogue but like all types of music it’s cyclical. Sure I remember in the later nineties when African music artists - such as C.K. Mann's Funky Hi-Life - were very big among the big beat DJs and producers: the Chemical Brothers did a track called It Began In Africa, then Timbaland sampled an Africando track; Michael Jackson sampled Manu Dibango on Wanna Be Startin’ Something and later this was sampled by Rhianna on Please Don't Stop The Music; about four years ago the 'indie scene’ picked up on the sound with bands like Vampire Weekend, the Holloways and Fools Gold, whose sound was borrowed from the African guitar sound; recently Kanye West signed an African artist to his label and was surprised to hear someone say they heard it on Eastenders; and the Fela musical backed by Jay-Z and Will Smith definitely brought some much needed attention to African music as a whole. So, in that sense, African music is infiltrating mass popular culture, but we still have a long way to go. The last African band to make it into the pop charts was Osibisia and that was in the 70s.
BL!: Yaaba Funk puts a lot of emphasis on musical education, running a number of workshops. Was this something you intended when Yaaba Funk was formed?
PB: Not really, but some of us have been involved in education for some time - music, theatre, working with young people, asylum seekers, in schools. We've done some great projects between us. When we started it was purely for fun. Then we started getting more serious about the band. And then we thought, well we do the education stuff anyway so let's formalise it and we set up Yaaba Education. Working with kids is great - much better than adults.
RK: I think it is every musician’s desire to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of musicians or artists. So whereas the educational part was not the main focus when we formed the band it was inevitable that it would become one of the main directions we would want to pursue because the look on the faces of the children during the workshop is worth a million pounds. We recently did a week long workshop at the Spark Children’s Arts Festival in Leicester and the joy of seeing 150 primary school kids all vying to play the part of the characters in the story was an amazing experience. We were able to introduce them to African instruments, dance and singing all in one go.
BL!: What is the best part of teaching music to the people? Do you derive the same pleasure from teaching inexperienced musicians as those with more experience?
Tobias Stürmer: Teaching music is ultimately celebrating music making together. The complexity of the musical material covered is by far not as important as the attitude the participants bring into the work as well as the clear definition of educational objectives, solid planning and management. The best part of teaching is when we all celebrate the joy of music, when we come together despite all our differences in a celebration of shared enjoyment.
RK: I'd like to answer this question with a story from our recent trip to Leicester. I was told by one of the teachers before the start of our workshop not to choose a certain kid in the class to be one of the characters because he is disruptive. During the workshop this kid's hands went up as soon as we asked for volunteers. I ignored it the first time but the second time I decided to go against what I'd been told and chose him. He was the best character of that session. Afterwards the teacher came up to me and said it was the best she had seen him behave in all the three years she'd known him. And that to me is the best part of teaching African music dance and culture. Not everyone is academically minded so I am glad to at least maybe show the teacher that maybe they need look at different ways to engage with this kid.
Africa Oyé takes place in Sefton Park this weekend (23rd and 24th June) and is free entry. Follow Africa Oyé on twitter to keep up to date with festival announcements (@africaoye / #africaoye).
Yaaba Funk are currently working on new album No Sleep Til Accra, the follow up to their debut album Afrobeast (which will be on sale at the festival).
Also check out our Africa Oyé Playlist on the Bido Stereo here.