It’s the best weekend in the city, Africa Oyé’s 2019 edition saw sunshine and rain, and Tony Nwachukwu was there to bask in its glory.

We’re a lucky old city, really.

There is so much going on, especially through the summer months, that we can easily take it for granted. And many of us do. Sometimes it’s worth taking stock of what we have, and celebrating it – not just the events themselves, but the people who make them happen.

Africa Oyé is certainly one of these. If there is anything in the city of which we should be proud, it is Oyé. That tens of thousands of people can descend upon Sefton Park without incident is truly remarkable. It’s not a normal festival. It’s an event, a happening. One of the Liverpool music scene’s greatest ever achievements.

In terms of quality of the acts booked to play the main stage, this was one of their prime years. Saturday was especially great, helping the sun baked park to epitomise what the festival spirit should be. 

As always, each day begins by reminding us of the festival’s community spirit, with Batala and especially Staged Kaos setting the tone for the day. This gives way to Oyé Introduces, which provides a platform for young performers.

This year, we catch Satin Beige, who gave us a bit of an Esperanza Spalding vibe with soulful and jazzy feel, and Tabitha Jade. The latter felt far more contemporary, with genuine star potential.

The biggest scoop this year may have been New York based hip hop/soul duo, OSHUN. This was one of their destinations as part of their UK wide tour, and boy did they impress.

There is a feel of Erykah Badu with them. Their sound is like a mixture of eclectic soul, reggae, trap, dancehall and spoken word all infused with a meaningful message. They had a spiritual intonation and they asked everyone to “speak things into existence” and it will be yours.

They easily could have been higher on the bill. Although they performed to thousands of people, those that came later would have missed something special.

Of course, Oyé isn’t just about the main stage. Walking around the site is fun in itself. The faces are beyond diverse. All ages, races, genders seem to be represented. The travelling fair to the side of the main stage – larger than you might expect – is overrun with children and their parents. They’re all laughing and playing. The staff are relaxed, nobody is making waves.

Trenchtown seems particularly relaxed on Saturday this year. The crowds tended to groove along nicely in the sun. Sunday was a different story.  Although Oyé is undoubtedly at its best when the sun is out, there’s something about a rainy Oyé that brings out the enthusiasm of the faithful, even when the park empties in the downpour. Dub Defenders especially, with a little help from Nicky Talent, really tore the place apart.

Back on the main stage, and award winning, Haitian-born Canadian singer Wesli brought so much energy to the stage that it felt like we’d all been given a shot of adrenaline. He jumped from one instrument to another – going from the guitar, drums and then trumpet.

The first time we saw BCUC was at Oyé’s Mandela 8 event at District in October last year. For this writer, it was one of my top five gigs of 2018. When they hit it, you feel like you have been transported to a different dimension – something that doesn’t happen very often.

There was a moment towards the end of their set when they were told they had eight minutes left, before responding that they were only getting started and that their songs are 20 minutes long, and they extended their set to almost half an hour and it was worth every minute.

Oyé has begun attracting some legendary names to top the bill – most notably last year’s set from Inner Circle, who graced us with a genuine Oyé singalong with Sweat (A La La La La Song) and Bad Boys.

This year, we have Horace Andy, known by some for his work with Massive Attack. But that doesn’t begin to cover the breadth of his work. Andy has moved through diverse sounds through the years; from his 1972 classic Skylarking to the even more classic Dance Hall Style in 1983. His voice remains distinctive, and utterly enthralling (as anyone who caught him when Positive Vibration brought him to the city will have discovered). He is a man who has mastered his instrument.

Closing the whole show on Sunday were the sprawling Garifuna Collective, who may have played to a smaller crowd than Horace Andy, but that didn’t mar their enthusiasm. Really, they brought the African sound that most would expect to hear from Oyé, and it seemed only fitting that they would close to the festivities.

What would we do without this wonderful festival? Everything that is great about music, art, culture and people seems to show itself over the course of Africa Oyé. It brings the best out of all of us. It is vital that we do not take it for granted.

We urge everyone to DONATE to Africa Oyé. It’s not just about keeping it free – it’s about keeping that magnificent vibe intact.

Click here to do just that – we already have.   

Pictures by Tony Nwachukwu