Event Review: Walthamstow Garden Party @ Lloyd Park (London; Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th July 2019)

Returning to leafy Lloyd Park for its sixth year, Walthamstow Garden Party served up an eclectic mix of big names and young performers, bringing together an international line-up for an international crowd.

A festival ‘made locally’ and produced by Barbican Centre, Create London and the people of Waltham Forest (declared London’s first Borough of Culture for 2019), the two-day garden party gave us as many highlights on the stage as on the fringes, including community choirs, a samba bateria in the shadow of The William Morris Gallery, a parade, and a Bollywood keep-fit class, all expertly dispersed around a very compact site.

Tássia Reis brought trap beats and sweet lusophone vocals from Jacareí, the inland part of São Paulo, on Saturday, whilst deejay collective WheelUp Soundsystem, who build battery-powered speakers in – you guessed it – wheelie bins, soundtracked the skate jam with tunes, not trash.

Mbilla Arts got Sunday started with a djembe circle on the News from Nowhere Stage, presenting a performance created with local primary school children, whilst Walthamstow Muslim Culture Forum, a collective of makers and curators, were at full yurt capacity for their puppet theatre production of The Magical Mishti Shop, set in a fictional Brick Lane sweet shop.

Zara McFarlane was the jazzy, dubby highlight of the weekend on the excellently mixed Barbican Music Stage. An alumnus of Tomorrow’s Warriors, McFarlane scatted with her drummer, gave us ethereal jazz, like ‘In Between Worlds’, and closed her set with ‘Fussin’ and Fightin’ from her acclaimed album Arise, which joins the musical dots between jazz and Jamaica.

Talking backstage, we spoke of her own opportunities, via Tomorrow’s Warriors, to perform on professional stages and `learning on the job’ as just this happened all around us. McFarlane told us about a previous project with The Barbican, in which she had to step in (and up) for a delayed Hugh Masekela in rehearsal with Jazz Jamaica Allstars ahead of a concert with the late South African legend, amplifying the point about learning by doing.

With Lloyd Park almost at capacity, all that was left was for Mali’s Amadou and Mariam to close the weekend and take us from Bamako to Birmingham (Alabama that is) in the amazing company of The Blind Boys of Alabama.

A sponsor-free festival with plenty of picnics, I left feeling proud of Waltham Forest and excited about the creative energy being nurtured in the borough. Oh, and all this was free.

Photo ©: Gar Powell-Evans