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Review: Yam Carnival, ambitious and necessary festival sorely misses the mark

As another August bank holiday weekend without Notting Hill Carnival passed in London, the debut edition of Yam Carnival was a disappointing alternative

  • Words: Tope Olufemi | Photography: James North
  • 6 September 2021

Yam Carnival as an event represents a lot for Black British audiences. Black Africans and Caribbeans in the UK have been longing for an event that brings together the food they love, culture they’re familiar with, and artists they enjoy for a long time. The only festival accessible to Black British people in such a way is Afronation, which takes place in Portugal, meaning many may not have the means to get there.

For its debut edition on the August bank holiday weekend, Yam Carnival brings those big names, Davido, Kehlani, Yemi Alade, NSG, and others to Clapham Common, making music that’s almost impossible to catch in the UK, easily accessible. But much of this convenience proves theoretical, as in practice, poor organisation means Black Brits have to reckon with another year without a competent UK event that celebrates their heritage.

Long queues, presumably due to COVID checks upon entry, meant that many were waiting in line for an exhaustingly long time before gaining entry, and by then, they’d missed the artists they’d come to see. Many artists arrived late and underprepared for their sets, spending time they’d be performing setting up, moving DJ decks to and fro, and trying to keep audiences entertained with dancers on stage. A few artists were no shows at the festival, with Rema on the billing for Yam Carnival, but appearing at All Points East at the same time as his set was supposed to take place.

The smaller tents delivered decent sound and atmosphere, with the likes of Honey Dijon, Richy Ahmed, Nao, and Major League DJz delivering electric sets that were well-received. Major League DJz delivered engaging amapiano that got people moving, and Honey Dijon’s bright, edgy visuals and excellent mixing proved a high point among an otherwise disappointing festival.

Read this next: The beautiful chaos of Amapiano, South Africa's emerging house movement

The main stage is where most of the issues with the festival cropped up. While a ‘golden circle’ of sorts is common at festivals and appears on a festival-by-festival basis. The set-up for Yam Carnival meant if you didn’t splash out, you were incredibly far from the stage, which marred the atmosphere that could have been created if that circle was smaller.

The entire day was affected by poor sound, especially on the main stage. Artists couldn’t hear themselves through their ear-pieces, and the sound output from the array of speakers hanging above the stage was weak. This often meant that the crowd drowned out the performances, and couldn’t hear what was being played, or what artists were saying to them in-between tracks. Many in the crowd were speaking to one another about the poor sound quality, wishing that it’d be turned up.

This all came to a head during Kehlani’s set, as she began to perform, realised that she couldn’t hear herself and how low the sound was, and asked for it to be fixed, saying that since she hadn’t performed for a crowd this large in two years, she wanted to give festivalgoers a good show. There was then a 30-40 minute intermission where attempts to fix her sound were being made, and when she came back out, the sound was substantially louder than it had been for the rest of the day. Despite this, the singer still complained that she couldn’t hear herself and only got to perform three songs before being cut off due to the festival’s schedule.

This lead her to tweet after her performance: “yam carnival crowd, they owe you a fucking concert!”

Davido, the headliner of the festival, delivered an incredibly charismatic final performance of the night, coming onto the stage with glittery, diamond chains wrapped around his neck. He then went on to play a number of his hits from his long-spanning career, to the crowd's delight. Older tracks 'Dami Duro' and 'Gobe' featured alongside his newer hits such as 'Fall' and 'D&G' - and though the sound throughout the performance was quiet, his stage presence and willingness to engage an irritated crowd made his performance the best of the day. The fact that his shirt was almost transparent at the end of his set served as proof that he brought the most energy to the main stage.

Overall the event was disorganised, slow, and left many seeking compensation. One can only hope that if Yam Carnival continues, they can fully deliver what those paying to attend deserve. Spaces like these are majorly important for Black Brits, and they’re right to be disappointed in the quality of the event - hopefully the organisers take these criticisms forward to work to deliver a better festival in the coming years.

Tope Olufemi is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow them on Twitter

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