Review: Walthamstow Garden Party 2015 (London, 18-19th July 2015)

This is only the third year that Walthamstow Garden Party has lit up the North London borough, but it could have been a decade or more. People are already getting used to the two-day-long festival that brings music, art and delicious food onto the grass of Lloyd Park. And like last year, a crowd of music lovers more than thirty-thousand strong flocked enthusiastically to the park.

For the second year in a row Barbican and CREATE joined forces to present a surprising event that paid homage to the lively cultural community living near Waltham Forest. If the 2014 edition was a triumph of eclecticism and colour, this year’s Walthamstow Garden Party offered quality of all shades. More than fifteen acts played on the two stages and at least four of them would be worthy of being presented as highlights at major events like WOMAD or Glastonbury – and some of those already have.

Saturday snapped out of its sizzling early afternoon siesta with an exciting Balkan brass blast. The Macedonian big band Dzambo Agusevi Orchestra, consisting of nine remarkable elements fired up the audience, thanks to its Gipsy roots and Turkish allusions. Then it was Kasai Allstars and their explosive Congolese musical energy carrying on from where Dzambo Agusevi left off.

The sixteen-piece collective filled the stage with energy in a flash, thanks to their razzmatazz and rhythmic drive. That ensemble then led the way for the South African ‘shangaan electro groove of Nozinja. The musician, dj and producer who has become a celebrity back home simultaneously captured and surprised the people around the stage with his ear-catching, flat out tunes. Finally, to wind up the first day of the festival it was the turn of La 33. Directly from the streets of Bogotà, the Colombian dozen left their fans out of breath thanks to their wild salsa dura.

Sunday was a top-notch day. It started off just after midday with the high-life and afrobeat rhythms of Ebo Taylor and went out with a bang six hours later with another African icon, Femi Kuti. The two musicians inevitably revived the memory of afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti with magnetic sets that won the crowd over, triggering even the most passive feet into motion. Their performances were grand tributes to their native regions. The borders of Ghana and Nigeria are just fifty miles apart, and they seem even closer if you listen to their musical heartbeats.

However, the second day of Walthamstow Garden Party wasn’t just a tribute to West Africa. Minutes after Ebo Taylor, the ska roots vibrations of the legendary Skatalites accompanied by the adorable voice and presence of the ‘Queen of Jamaican Ska’ Doreen Shafer, put a smile on everybody’s face thanks to its upbeat tempo. In little more than one hour the musicians recalled all the unforgettable tunes of the band like ‘Guns of Navarone’, ‘Latin Goes Ska’ and ‘My Boy Lollypop’, showing that even if all the original members have unfortunately passed away the legacy of the ensemble is still in good hands.

Before the conclusive performance of Femi Kuti it was Ghostpoet who dramatically broke the lighthearted up-tempo mood inspired by the Skatalites.

Born and bred in London this vocalist and musician changed the mood of the show presenting his urbanized sound built on a dark rock background, hip-hop attitude and impulsive character.

After two days and seventeen acts, Walthamstow Garden Party finally left the stage amidst wholehearted applause, demonstrating for the nth time the all-embracing cultural identity of London and showing that is possible to organize a successful, well-managed free music festival.

Saturday Pictures

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Sunday Pictures

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