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Meet the People: Paul Duhaney

It’s nearly time again for Africa Oye – the UK's biggest African music festival that takes place right here, in Sefton Park. Ben talked to organiser Paul Duhaney about his life and gripes

Published on June 25th 2008.

Meet the People: Paul Duhaney

So, Oye. How did it all start?
Originally was at places like The Irish centre, The Picket and Cream - mostly downtown venues as opposed to a main festival site. Then it ended up being a sideshow within that so we decided to bring it back to Liverpool. This will be our eighth year in Sefton Park.

How much do you rely on support from other sources?
We’re actually getting less than what we did last year from the Culture Company. Funding from the arts council has always been very supportive. That’s where the bulk of budget comes from now. There used to be a parity back in the day where the city council would give us as much as the arts council. It’s disappointing because we were always led to believe that Capital of Culture would be about organisations such as ourselves being able to put on the best show we’ve ever put on. The Capital of Culture people said we were the jewel in the crown and the most culturally diverse event in the calendar, but it hasn’t really transpired like that to be honest.

I would love to do an Africa Oye in France. I’d love to do an Africa Oye in Spain. I would love to do an Africa Oye In London… if we did a free African music festival in London, there’d be a million people there.

And it’s in a slightly different place than usual this year?
Yeah. The council were given funding to upgrade and restore Sefton Park. Where we normally have our site, it’s just a big work site at the moment so we’ve had to move to another field.

What’s your story?
I was brought up in Tottenham…

A spurs fan then?
Yeah, yeah. Why you Arsenal?

Erm no…
Right… Erm, my mother was Jamaican, my father was English. I moved to Liverpool in ’99.

What brought you over here then?
I met my wife in London. I didn’t really want to live in London. I’d had a bellyful. We both needed a fresh challenge. I’d been doing some event management stuff in London and then got taken on as a trainee at Oye and just learnt the job being thrown in at the deep end.

So Africa Oye – why should we go?
It’s Africa Oye but we put on Brazilian music, Cuban music, Caribbean music – not directly from Africa but there’s always a link. And it’s free.

So it’s the biggest Free African Festival in the UK?

How do you choose who to book?
There’s an event I go to every year called WOMAD. Basically it’s a five-day event. Every night there’s about 10 different concerts and I have a look at the artists perform. Then during the daytime, you have trade fairs where you talk to the agents and the promoters about when their artists are touring. You end up coming back with load of CDs and DVDs that you have to listen to for a couple of weeks and then it’s just a process of elimination. Are they available? Are they affordable? Do they need visas or work permits?

Anyone to look out for this year then?
Bedouin Jerry Can Band from Egypt. They’re playing our festival but now I’ve seen WOMAD and Glastonbury have both booked them. They’re going to be really big this year.

What’s the future hold?
I’d love to tour Oye or have Africa Oye in different venues throughout the UK and the world. I would love to do an Africa Oye in France. I’d love to do an Africa Oye in Spain. I would love to do an Africa Oye In London… if we did a free African music festival in London, there’d be a million people there.

What else does the festival offer then apart from some damn fine music?
There are foods from all over the world, smoothies, coffees, art and crafts, drums, massages, hair demonstrations... It’s a real village of activity. Even if you don’t go there for the music, you’re going to an authentic market.

Anything for the kids?
Climbing walls, bouncy castles, face painting… loads going on.

Back briefly to the African music, did you make it to the Africa Exprez thing at the Olympia?
No, I didn’t. That’s another thing that I have a little bit of a gripe about to be honest.

Imagine what it’s like when they (The Culture Company) turn round to us saying they have no extra money and then they put money into a project that is basically run by millionaires. Damon Albarn could have paid for the whole thing himself…

But he didn’t....
Yeah and we haven’t got a pot to piss in! At least give some recognition to us. The next day in the press it was all “Africa Exprez rocks Liverpool, blah blah blah”. It’s almost like it was the first time African musicians had come to Liverpool. It’s insulting to us.

The Culture Company would need no more than 20 full time staff. They’ve got about a hundred. They’ve got these minions that they can control because if you’ve got sensible people in there they’d be turning round and saying, “I’m not being funny, but that’s not going to work”.

I don’t think it would matter who was in charge. It’s a very incestuous nepotistic cliquey city.

That aside, you like Liverpool?
Yeah. Take all of that away from it…the people side of it. I love the people. I feel relaxed here.

I’ll just switch off this tape recorder…
I probably sound like a whinging bastard, don’t I?

The all singing, all dancing and all happy Africa Oye takes place this weekend, Saturday/Sunday June 21/22 in Sefton Park. Free.

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