Paul Duhaney (Africa Oyé) Talks


Liverpool's Sefton Park turns into an incredible festival site once a year, filled with some of the finest African music on offer from across the world that's sure to keen you feeling like the sun is shining even if you're caught in a Mersey downpour. Africa Oyé celebrates all that is right with African music as the festival has a wonderfully natural vibe that you can't help but let infect every last inch of your body. Just before the 2015 edition takes place, we caught up with artistic director Paul Duhaney for a brief chat about African music in the UK;

To start off with, where does you love of African music come from?

I think the first real tune that comes to mind is Seven Seconds by Youssou N’Dour with Neneh Cherry.  It was quite a commercial tune that got to number one. I was intrigued, because I loved the song and it was in a foreign language… before that I hadn’t really contemplated being into music that wasn’t sung in English, so that led me to do some research on Youssou N’Dour and I found out that I liked his music.  At the time I was into house music, reggae, and all that sort of stuff, so I just added that as another genre to my musical taste and then started to get into it that way. But it wasn’t until I moved to Liverpool in 1999 and started working with Africa Oyé that I pushed these boundaries a bit further and went a bit deeper into it.

Have you been to many African countries and how have your travels influenced your interest in culture and music?

Up until about five years ago most of my trips to source the music that we have at the festival was in mainland Europe because countries like France for example have a really good alliance with the African countries. So, it was much easier to go to places like France, Spain and Germany because those agencies would be bringing in artists directly from Africa which meant that we really cut the costs when trying to bring these artists over.  But, in the last four or five years we’ve definitely tried to get out to Africa a lot more. My predecessor, Kenny Murray travelled all over Africa, literally North, South, East and West … and he has a really, really vast knowledge which he passed onto me.  In the last four or five years I’ve visited places like Johannesburg, Soweto and Cape Town in South Africa, Jinja and Kampala in Uganda, Cape Verde, as well as Colombia in Medellin.  Seeing artists first-hand is crucial, so much better, because you can really get a perspective of what’s going to work on your festival stage as opposed to seeing a video – you can’t really grab the true essence until you see an artist live.  It certainly helps and its definitely something we want to continue to do in the future.

How has organic African music in the UK changed during the time you have been working for Africa Oye?

I think that you could say was almost non-existent, especially commercially, even the aforementioned ‘Seven Seconds’ – that was almost like a one-off, you didn’t really get a massive explosion of African music in the mainstream.  We’ve had things like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon’s Graceland album bringing some prominence. But, all that is almost like, pop South African music, so I don’t think a lot of the ‘rootsy’ stuff ever came over, and much of what did never really got the recognition. Some people who are performing at Oyé this year, like Andy Kershaw and DJ Edu have been instrumental.  Andy Kershaw has long been a champion of sounds from across the globe, and more recently Edu who has been particularly pushing the young Afrobeats scene, which actually is the kind of music that’s really from Africa and has now crossed more into the mainstream in the UK.

With genres such as Afrobeats becoming more popular and the success of Africa Oyé in particular, what do you think the future of African music in the UK will be?

I think its still going to be a steady progression, there will always be smaller scenes and venues playing these sounds, and you do hear much more African music on the radio now.  I don’t think all of a sudden the national charts are going to be filled up with African music, but on the flip side I don’t think the charts in Nigeria are going to be filled up with pop artists from the UK.  So that’s not what my long-term aim is, it’s just really for people to get into African music and music from the wider diaspora, and I think the festival is the perfect vehicle for that, because you do get people from all walks of life that might not have heard that music before. But when they hear it they’re like “wow! love this” and they keep coming back. So as long as we can keep spreading the word, and getting people to listen to African music I’ll be extremely happy.

Africe Oyé takes place on 20th and 21st June in Liverpool's Sefton Park, click here for more information.