Interview: Paul Duhaney


Paul Duhaney is originally from Tottenham, North London. Before moving to Liverpool 16 years ago he had already laid down the foundation for his current career organising club nights in the Acid House music era in the capital. Once in Liverpool he trained in Events Management and started a 1-year internship at the Africa Oyé Festival – which eventually led to his role as Artistic Director.

Paul DuhaneyHere he tells us a little about the history of this important and exciting festival that celebrates African music and culture, what he thinks about the way the West views the African continent, and the importance of music in black culture.

Can you tell us a little about the origins and history of the Africa Oyé festival?

After finishing university in Scotland the founder of the festival, Kenny Murray, travelled throughout Africa and fell in love with the music. On returning to the UK he decided to start the festival in Liverpool due to its historic links with Africa. The festival was born out of celebrating the positive images of Africa through its music and culture.

Why is this festival important to you?
The festival is important to me because it’s fully inclusive, which means everyone has the opportunity to witness world class music in a friendly environment,  totally free of charge.

How do you go about choosing which acts and artists will appear at the festival?
By visiting conferences and showcases throughout the UK, mainland Europe and the rest of the World. We also receive around 150 artist submissions every year so the hardest thing is actually choosing the final 10-12 artists.

Is there anything about this year’s festival that differs from previous years?
We now have over 80 traders selling foods, arts and crafts, and clothing from all over the world. We have an active zone which hosts free workshops for all ages. We have a DJ area called Trenchtown featuring a two-day programme of world music, as well as the fantastic live performances on the main stage. But we always try to introduce new elements to the festival every year, such as our AfroBeats Tent this year. In future years we would love to have an acoustic stage and possibly stages at other events and festivals.
As we move forward we move with caution as we have always tried to walk before we can run: one error of judgement could mean the end of the festival.
We have been here for over 20 years and we will hopefully be here for another 20.

Do you think a wider deeper knowledge of African culture would have a positive impact on society, in particular black society, in the Western world?
Yes of course. Because of the negativity which is always shown on television and in the media a lot of people’s perceptions of Africa in the West are normally negative, relating to issues such as poverty, disease and famine. The reality is very different. I think people’s perceptions can only really change when they visit these countries. Having said that, in the last 4 or 5 years there are a lot more documentaries portraying Africa in a positive light.

How important do you think the role of music has been in the survival of black people in the Diaspora since slavery?
I don’t think it’s important as such because music has always played a major part in black culture either through communication, expression or religion. So whether it’s through adversity or celebration, music has and always will be a part of black culture.

In Western media the African continent is often referred to as one distant homogenous nation. Why do you think this is?
Lack of education and awareness, which is rather bizarre considering the tools we have at our disposal to learn with. Often the people who I talk to who refer to Africa as one country are the ones you would least expect to do so. I have also seen countless American films and programmes where people talk of Africa and not the number of countries within it. I think that in history lessons, although we may have learnt about Africa, it was never about its component parts. I know in my school – which was very multi-racial – we only ever focused on European studies and very rarely touched on Africa, Asia and places further afield.

The word spirit in ‘We Be Spirits’ refers to the way spirits are considered in some parts of the African continent; beings we are connected to and influenced by but who are not necessarily part of the physical realm. What does the word evoke in you and how do you relate to it?
Spirit for me is what the festival evokes in people. At other times of the year the people of Liverpool may not necessarily come together and celebrate African music and culture, however during this festival people from all walks of life come together to enjoy amazing music and good company. The audience is one of the things that makes Africa Oyé unique, because of the community feeling it creates. I think this resonates with the influence and connection of the definition of spirit.

Are you involved in any other projects that you want to talk about?
The Arts Council England and Womex invited Africa Oyé to be involved in mentoring projects in South Africa, Uganda, Cape Verde and Colombia, which has been up and running for the last three years. This work is also beneficial for Oyé as we have been able to secure artists from these regions and see them perform first hand. We hope to continue this type of work in the future.


June 20th/21st 2015 – Sefton Park, Liverpool
The Africa Oyé Festival 2015

The Africa Oyé festival guide


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