Liz Searle: How Liverpool’s African music festival Africa Oye included Deaf people

Posted on July 22, 2016

Africa Oye rocked Sefton Park in Liverpool again on the 18th and 19th June 2016. In its 24th year, it is now the biggest African music festival in Europe.

I’ve been travelling up there from Sheffield for the last seven years as its lineups are always exciting and the atmosphere is fantastic.

Liz at OyeThis year and last, I’ve been overjoyed to see BSL interpreters working onstage. It shows how forward thinking the festival organisers are that they understand the importance of making their event accessible for deaf people. You can watch the message they recorded before the event here.

Having the interpreters made a lot of people feel happy and included – and for hearing people watching, it gave an insight into a new world. “Africa Oye” means “listen to Africa”, so the idea of showing people a new way to listen really appealed to me.

A highlight for me was Baloji, (from Congo via Belgium) who blends the traditional sounds of Africa with new styles, rapping in Swahili, French and English.

His live show was high energy and top quality, with a band made up of famous veteran musicians like guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku. Sona Jobarteh was also enthralling-one of very few female virtuosos of the kora (a stringed African instrument that echoes the rippling sound of the harp) she also sings in a strong sweet voice, presenting traditional and new songs and displaying an admirable rapport with her band.

Photo credit: Mark McNulty

Photo credit: Mark McNulty

She’s an inspirational figure too, combining her classical Western music training with a deep knowledge of her heritage, and honouring her roots by setting up a school in The Gambia.

Both these and many of the other musicians performed in other languages, which was beautiful, and adding BSL to the list made the festival even more of a multicultural celebration.

I love visiting Liverpool as the people are so very friendly and funny – you always get a nice chat, a kick of a football and a dance with smiling strangers at this festival.

The audience is made up of people from all around the world. The opportunity to see top quality bands from around the world is also a rare treat…and did I mention it’s free? (Donations in the bucket please)

For me as a musician, and a hearing person with a big interest in deaf culture, it seems a perfect mix-keep it up Oye!

Merseyside Society for Deaf People said:

“Africa Oye was truly a great experience. We were contacted by a Charity called Project Riandu. They are raising money to fund a deaf school in Kenya and we thought that we would work together to raise both profiles. They asked us to get involved as we are a local Charity that works and supports Deaf people.

We did see a handful of Deaf people but that’s only who came over to our Access stall. Throughout the two days we taught Sign Language to passersby and how to spell their name using BSL Alphabet. We have had feedback from the Interpreters and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Especially interpreting the stage performances which were super fast!

Overall, we will definitely be back next year!”

Liz Searle lives in Sheffield and works or the Deaf Advice Team (Sheffield Citizens Advice) and also Voluntary Action Sheffield. She says: “I love the arts, performing in two choirs, at poetry nights, DJing, dancing and doing my own visual art. I am aiming to do my Level 3 BSL this year.”

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Posted in: Liz Searle