Review: Walthamstow Garden Party @ Lloyds Park (London, 16th & 17th July 2016)

It’s not common to enjoy a sunny weekend in London. It’s even rarer to enjoy a sunny weekend on a green. If we want to move into the realm of the extraordinary, how many times have you enjoyed a Saturday and a Sunday lying on the dry and soft grass of a city park and listening to some great music?

We had the pleasure to experience this combination of factors last weekend thanks to Walthamstow Garden Party. The third edition of the two-day festival, organised by the Barbican, Create London and Waltham Forest Council was indeed kissed by the sun, but it wasn’t only about the nice weather… the line-up on the two stages was remarkable too.

The festival, which offers spoken word, theatre, dance and circus performances in addition to music, broke the ice with the soulful, upbeat and groovy sound of Mo’ Kalamity and the Wizard. The mood became even more cheerful just an hour later, with an exhilarating set from Romanian big-band Fanfare Ciocarlia. The ensemble from Zece Prăjini celebrated a 20-year career by giving the crowd a flamboyant show built on their experience, outstanding synergy and incandescent, traditional gypsy tunes and pop-rock evergreens in Balkan sauce. Minutes later, Sam Lee and a bunch of skillful friends brought British folk traditions to the open air News from Nowhere Stage.

It was then the turn of Brazilian MC Emicida to entertain the audience in the Barbican Music Stage tent. The rapper, supported by his band, revived his latest album masterfully blending together rhymes and grooves inspired by his native country and West African sounds from Angola and Cape Verde.

Asian Dub Foundation, with their acclaimed live soundtrack of La Haine, brought the first day of the festival to an end. The London born-and-bred musicians, who have developed a 12-year relation with Kassovitz’s film, demonstrated why the French movie is today more relevant than ever. The urban, electro and shadowy beats played by the band perfectly fitted the mood of La Haine, a raw representation of the precarious conditions of migrants living in European city suburbs.

Walthamstow Garden Party returned in style early on Sunday afternoon with an imaginative blend of Afro-Cuban folklore and electronic music, with Middle Eastern scents, by Ariwo. The quartet got the party going, then Bafula picked up the baton to hypnotise the crowd thanks to the enchanting Gambian melodies of kora master Jali Bakary Konteh.

The atmosphere literally became highly enthusiastic when Angolan-Portuguese act Batida jumped on stage. Pedro Coquenao and his music partners brought a whole load of alegría to Walthamstow. They tempted everyone to dance thanks to their compelling kuduro beats and created an energetic and direct bond with the audience through their hearty approach and distributing handfuls of plastic whistles.

The festival eventually brought down the curtain on its stage with a grand finale. Almost simultaneously, French-Chilean rapper and songwriter Ana Tijoux and legendary Jamaican reggae roots singer Max Romeo gave life to the final act of the event. If on the News from Nowhere Stage was all about Latin sounds and conscious rhymes played and sung by the Lille-born MC, under the circus-like tent of the Barbican Stage one of the most significant figures of Jamaican music recalled his 40-year career and classic up tempo hits.

It was a worthy conclusion to another striking edition of the North East London festival, which gathered together more than 35,000 people, dozens of artists from all over the world playing the most diverse styles, and much sunshine.

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