Sandwiched between Positive Vibration and the new look LIMF, Shaun Ponsonby finds Africa Oyé is still the greatest weekend in Liverpool’s cultural calendar. 

Coming just one week after the all-conquering success of Positive Vibration and a few more before the new look LIMF in the same location, we approached Africa Oyé slightly differently than we usually would.

It wasn’t trepidation exactly.  We were in no doubt that they would deliver, but there was a certain level interest that we arrived with as reviewers, where usually there would be pure joy.

We weren’t sure what would happen on the Saturday. Between the drizzle and the first weekend of the international footballing, we were almost certain that we wouldn’t see the kind of record breaking numbers we saw last year.

To a certain degree, that seemed to be the case for the first couple of hours. Not to the level of Mbongwana Star’s drenched performance in 2016, but it was certainly far more sparsely attended than previous years for the first half of the day.

Those who waited for the rain stop, however, missed a masterclass performance from the legendary Mim Suleiman, and probably the first universal classic of the weekend in the form of Mingi.

Thankfully though, by late afternoon the weather had done a complete 180, and it became a pretty perfect summer day. Naturally, the crowd swelled afterwards.

This was especially good news for Marema, who was making her UK debut – further exemplifying the consistently great job performed by the Oyé bookers. Mellower than most of the acts on the main stage, she managed to cool off any lingering Friday night hangovers and gave us a pretty beautiful afternoon in the park.

At various points throughout the weekend, we would wander around the smaller stages, where DJ’s were stationed more often than not.  Many of them were locally based, from Radio Exotica, to No Fakin and Dub Defenders.

Each one had a different area of expertise, and though each helped create the community feel that is so vital to Oyé, it never felt that any were there purely for their association with anyone behind the scenes. Each one is a vital piece of the larger Oyé puzzle.

Ghana’s Rocky Dawuni was an inspired choice to close the first day. CNN has named him one of the top ten of Africa’s biggest global superstars, and he proved his position at Oyé.

A unique style that encompasses reggae, afrobeat, highlife and soul he prowled the stage like the boss he undoubtedly is. If there was any advertisement to come back tomorrow, it was right there.

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Early on Sunday afternoon we were treated to more of Oyé’s up and comers, and were delighted to find MC Nelson on stage. We have raved about him elsewhere on the pages of Planet Slop, but rest assured he rose to the main stage challenge. Out of all the MC’s in Liverpool right now, he is up there with the best of them, and his potential outside of the city is beyond that of many of the acts the local scene seem determined to push.

More than the music, though, exploring the Oyé site reveals its true heart. Not the stalls, not the Oyé village – just the people. At one point during Son Yambu’s Latin tinged set, we found a girl in a wheelchair, with dozens of strangers surrounding her, dancing, entertaining her. The smile on her face was one of pure happiness.  If there is one image that sums up the heart of Oyé, it would be that.

Sunday brought what was possibly the finest set of the weekend.

Lura is a star. She came on stage with the kind of je ne sais quoi afforded to the likes of Diana Ross. She was graceful, and didn’t put a foot wrong throughout her set, whether she was singing ballads or dancing around the stage with abandonment. She dedicated the last song of her main set to women everywhere in an impassioned feminist speech. The reaction to her was so huge that she was afforded a well-deserved encore.

She may have been difficult to follow, but Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo stepped up to the challenge, marrying together the sounds of the day. Multi-cultural in the purest sense, their music encompassed not just Afrobeat and a touch of Latin pop, but flourishes of

It is rare that Oyé manages to get a band with an all-time classic to end the festivities.  They rarely misfire with their bookings, but to get a big track that everybody knows no matter who they are? That is hard given the format of the festival.

But with Inner Circle this year, they managed it. Mass singalongs of massive hitters like Bad Boys and Sweat (A La La La La Song) gave this Oyé maybe the greatest finale of its existence. The only marring was out of either the band’s or Oyé’s hand – a small scuffle near the front of the stage which threatened to dampen spirits a little, though managed to be over as quickly as it began.

That small incident aside, Africa Oyé is without a doubt one of the absolute jewels not only in Liverpool’s current cultural crown, but in the entire history of the city. And we have a lot of them. That they can stage such a flawless weekend on an annual basis is actually pretty amazing, and we cannot take it for granted.

Therefore, we implore you to DONATE to Africa Oyé to ensure it remains the incredible free experience it is.

To donate, text the code DYYV03 plus the amount you wish to donate to 70070 (e.g. if you were donating £5, you would text ‘DYYV03 £5’ to 70070).

We can’t lose Oyé. It’s the greatest and possibly the purest weekend in our cultural calendar.

Pictures by Mark Holmes and Graham Smillie