New music is often the catalyst for a festival to reinvent itself. The headliners need to be in place to capture attention spans, but what about the rest of your weekend standing in a field? That’s when how and where you introduce local acts comes into play. And nobody is doing that better than Africa Oyé. By Alan O’Hare.
All your senses need to be receptive at Africa Oyé. The free festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, always offers a selection of aural and sensory delights for the thousands of visitors who flock to Sefton Park each June.
“What’s that?” is the question you hear most. It could be directed at a taste sensation you’ve just picked up at the ‘Jamaican Me Hungry’ food stall, but usually it’s about a sweet sound drifting out across the park and settling in your soul. After all, the music at Oyé always feels righteous, but over the last couple of years it’s felt something else, too: local.
‘Oyé Introduces’ was, erm, introduced to the event in 2015 and offers homegrown talent the opportunity to kick-off both days of the festival – giving some of the city’s most promising new artists the chance to share the stage with the international Oyé line-up. This year, the fusion of styles and cultures that is Anwar Ali and Dave Owen have got the nod, alongside the lyrical Liverpool eight hip-hop of Nutribe & Butcha B.
ANWAR ALI & DAVE OWEN
Anwar and Dave (main pic) met in The Zanzibar Club – it doesn’t get more Scouse musician than that. “We were both playing a charity event that was raising money for Asylum Link Merseyside,” reveals guitarist Owen, who many will recognise from his earlier work with Pete Wylie and Matt Barton. “That night was boss, as it always is in The Zanzibar, so soon after we started jamming together and playing more gigs in Liverpool.” Anwar was drawn to Owen’s playing from the off: “I’d never played along with a guitar before, but Dave uses a different style and I liked it straight away,” he says. “And he learned my songs really quickly!”
Anwar moved to the UK as a refugee and is originally from the Bajuni Islands, off the coast of East Africa. He likes his new home, though: “Liverpool is a cool city,” he says. “The people are friendly and they support music, too.” The music the duo make – generally joyous Swahili songs about love and good times – is written on an instrument called the oud. “It’s an Arabic lute,” he tells me. “It’s popular in Arabic African countries and also in East Africa.”
It’s a sound that bewitched Lancastrian Owen immediately: “I love Anwar’s songs,” he says. “The melodies are so strong and expressive – and the rhythms are untypical which makes them more interesting to me as a guitarist… I play these songs using mainly down strokes.” Owen agrees with his mate that Liverpool is a great place to make music: “I’ve been given the opportunity to play with some brilliant musicians in this city,” he says. “They make the city and I’ve met some amazing friends.”
The duo are looking forward to finding new faces in the crowd during their ‘Oyé Introduces’ slot. “A lot of people won’t have heard of us so we are going to play the best we can,” reveals Owen and Anwar agrees. “Yeah, we’re really looking forward to it,” he says. “You can expect happy songs, sad songs and nice melodies from all over East Africa.”
Nutribe & Butcha B
Nutribe (pic above) will feel right at home during their prestigious ‘Oyé Introduces’ performance – they filmed a video in Sefton Park during last year’s festival. “So, Oyé marks a year since we started,” they tell me.
The collective, who all work within various collaborations and will be joined by Butcha B in June, have attended the festival throughout their childhoods and have family links back to the brains behind Oyé’s spiritual ancestor, Earthbeat. “We’re so excited to be sharing our music with the Oyé crowd,” they reveal. “We’ve been a part of this festival since we were kids, so it’ll feel like a major thing to perform there.”
The music they make might hark back to a more graceful time (De La Soul are often mentioned) because of its conscious lyrical stance, but the tunes stand in the zeitgeist and are very much Nutribe’s own: “It’s raw organic ripeness,” they say. “We’re movin’ ‘n’ groovy, all flava’ and hypeness.”
Dig it? You will, because this is the future of the festival and it’s lovely to see that it can acknowledge where it came from, to help it get to where it wants to be. “We know people are going to love ‘Oyé Introduces’,” they say. “Big up da’ Earthbeat massive!”
‘Oyé Introduces’ @ Africa Oyé
June 17th-18th 2017, from 12:30pm
Sefton Park, Liverpool
Pic of Dave & Anwar by Robin Clewley
Courtesy of One Fell Swoop