The award-winning Positive Vibration – Festival of Reggae has come a long way since its first inception in 2013. From its embryonic roots as a small garden event at the Kazimier, the festival has now become one of the most exciting and expansive celebrations of reggae music and culture in the UK.
The festival, which is held every June in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle, is contributing to a renaissance of reggae music and attracting new audiences to this invaluable art form.
The team behind the hugely successful festival are having a busy Summer, which has included bringing the legendary, Big Youth to Liverpool for the first time. This weekend they bring another legend to the city in the guise of, Horace Andy who will be performing at District this Friday night.
Horace Andy is one of the most important and influential figures in contemporary reggae music and has collaborated with many celebrated artists including Massive Attack – appearing on all five of their albums.
Added to the monthly ‘Reggae Socials’ and the return to Liverpool of the exemplary, Benjamin Zephaniah in October, this is an exciting time for Liverpool’s reggae fans.
All of these events are located in the Baltic and further expands the Baltic’s reputation as Liverpool’s new arts and cultural centre. Positive Vibration Director, Rory Taylor puts this down to a number of factors: “The colour and vibrancy of reggae culture, set against the industrial backdrop of the Baltic is something I believe works very well. Reggae has soul, reggae is raw and it is unpolished. In that sense, the Baltic Triangle is a perfect location as it shares many of those qualities.
“One of the reasons we moved from the Kazimier to the Baltic Triangle was because we wanted to be closer to Toxteth where there is a rich tradition and support for reggae music and culture. More generally, we really wanted to create a space that would enable us to connect with Liverpool’s Caribbean community (and others) and provide a place where people could convene and share and express their love for reggae.”
For the last 20 years, Liverpool has not had many places in which people could come and enjoy reggae music. More generally and for a long time, Liverpool’s live music scene has been dominated by indie-rock and dance music – especially in the city centre. It is easy to understand that some reggae music lovers may not feel that they are welcome in the city centre’s sprawling nightlife scene.
Implicit in all of this is Liverpool’s relationship with race – slavery, immigration, colonialism and ghettoization are all a part of the city’s less heralded cultural and social history – one need only visit the International Slavery Museum to appreciate that fact. As Liverpool poet Levi Tafari wrote in 1989 in his poem Liverpool Experience: “Yes living inna Liverpool / is living in hell / especially if you are / black as well.”
Liverpool has had a complicated history with its Afro-Caribbean communities and reggae music had been embraced in the 1970s as a way of those communities expressing dissent, exposing oppression and advocating love over hate. This was particularly evident during the Toxteth ‘riots’ in which reggae music became the soundtrack for civil unrest in the city as it reflected the pain and struggle of many of its citizens.
Time has moved on and things are different today. Indeed, places like the International Slavery Museum symbolise Liverpool’s acknowledgement of its history and its responsibilities to the present and future generations of this great city.
Events such as Positive Vibration festival and Africa Oyé are at the forefront of Liverpool’s burgeoning cultural diversity and have become unmissable additions to the city’s cultural calendar. Indeed, Africa Oyé is a good example of the evolution taking place in Liverpool and how musical forms that were once side-lined or ignored are now increasingly central to the city’s social and cultural fabric.
However, in the early days, the success of the Oyé festival was difficult to foresee as African-root music struggled to find its place in the city’s cultural consciousness. Artistic Director and Africa Oyé festival organiser, Paul Duhaney remembers: “Trying to introduce people to African music was very difficult in the 1990s – at that time pop music and top of the pops was still dominating how people accessed music and what music they had access to. Since the advent of the internet, people’s exposure to world music has increased and tastes have become much more eclectic.”
The importance of the internet and its ability to open up cultural spaces is something which Africa Oyé has definitely benefitted from. However, as Paul is first to admit, its location in Liverpool has also driven its success: “The Liverpool community really embraced the festival as something that is theirs and that sense of ownership is so important to its success. Being embraced by the people of Liverpool means that the event gets more special every year.”
There is the same sense of evolution with Positive Vibration’s approach to reggae and its renaissance in the Baltic Triangle. This renaissance and its increasing exposure to new audiences is something which Rory hopes will cement reggae’s place in Liverpool’s cultural scene and inspire young people and emerging artists to get involved: “What I’d love to see is young people coming to festivals like Positive Vibration or coming to see artists such as Big Youth and Horace Andy and realising that there’s so much to explore in reggae music and culture. Reggae has had a huge impact on numerous genres, including punk, dance and hip hop.
“I want young people to be inspired to say ‘I wanna do this’. Liverpool doesn’t have a reggae band at the moment (as far as I’m aware), but I’d love to see that change and develop in the coming years.
“That’s why we do things like the Reggae Social as it gives people an opportunity to come and experience all the different aspects of reggae and to get involved and contribute artistically and creatively to the event.”
So, if you’re a reggae aficionado or new to the genre, make sure you check out Positive Vibration’s forthcoming events in the Baltic Triangle – positive vibes and good times guaranteed.
Horace Andy W/ Mafia & Fluxy Ft. Matic Horns play at District 1 September – Tickets available here.
Benjamin Zephaniah & The Revolutionary Minds play District 26 October – Tickets available here.