Carnival Xtra Review, 27 July 2014
By Ella Achola
Pics of the day courtesy of Michael Wornell
Three stages. Five hosts. Close to 40 acts. Over 100 individual performers. This was the challenge Allsortz Open Mic mastered exceptionally well in order to curate the artistic programme of the youth element, CarnivalXtra, of the Great British Carnival at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford last Sunday. Against the backdrop of the Olympic Stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower, CarnivalXtra had an impressive skyline easily matched by the quality of performances.
Allsortz had three stages featuring different acts simultaneously; Ship of Fools, the Spoken Word Stage, and Carpenters Lock. With approximately 60,000 people passing through the Olympic Park on a regular day, it was not surprising that the park almost seemed to overspill at times, attracting many surprised visitors who stopped on bridges and sidewalks to catch a glimpse of the superb line-up Carnival Xtra had to offer.
Ship of Fools
Ship of Fools opened up with a little performance by the two hosts Don and Bowaa who reminded the audience to “go crazy, go bananas” and respect the artists since after all “every act is somebody’s child.” The audience complied when the first band, Blank Fiction, took the stage with what they describe as alternative rock “with a dash of pop and soul.” They played a great set, setting the festival vibe that characterised this stage for the remainder of the performances. I was back at this stage later in the day and was disappointed to find that I could only catch the end of the LC Collective, a group of four female MCs who I saw from afar had attracted a vibrant crowd that had so obviously enjoyed this collective’s engaging hip-hop performance. Another act I caught on Ship of Fools was Hanna’s Marines. Before this band had even begun the grass was packed with all kinds of people –families, couples and groups of friends – bopping their heads to the beats of the DJ. Singer Hanna kept the audience entertained with her music that she sums up as “KT Tunstall inspired by Paramore.” Cielo is a band that ties together pop, rap, hip-hop, funk and jazz with some Latin grooves and “catchy hooks.” Their energy was truly palpable and had the grass packed out once again. Filling the stage with some serious action, the lead singer got the crowd to join in the evident fun Cielo were having during their set, getting the crowd to put their hands in the air and cheering for what was an exceptional performance. Mila Falls closed this set of acts, singing pop music to a funky beat that even kept those members of the audience on their toes who had been dancing to the music on this stage for hours. She had one of the biggest presences of the day that was sustained by her full-blown supporting band. In the words of host Bowaa, “fresh, young talent” really did take over this stage today.
“Awesome, authentic, and original” are the three words Miss K, host of Carpenter’s Lock, used when I asked her to describe the acts that had performed on her stage. The first act I encountered here was Sylvia Mwenze who needed nothing more but a guitar, drums and a back-up singer to let her beautiful voice ring across the river that separated the stage from the audience. Sister Sidney was comprised of two lovely ladies who are actually sisters, Claire Louise and Indyanna Sydney, whose music is a mix of pop, rock and acoustic. They also kept instrumentals to a minimum, again highlighting the beauty of their voices that created a chilled atmosphere as Indyanna strummed her guitar. What stuck out at their performance was their cover of Rita Ora’s ‘How We Do’, which they completely made their own and had me hanging on to every note. I wasn’t surprised to see that DC Scribbla had the crowd on lock when I caught his rap performance of ‘Valentine’, a song I fell in love with during his last performance. Although it was just him on stage DC Scribbla commanded the space and owned it, visibly enjoying every minute of his performance. Next up were De’Vide who kept up DC Scribbla’s energy. Having previously been on The Voice, this duo of rapper and acoustic singer had a set of good music and vibes, also engaging with the audience. I stumbled across Anna Serrano’s performance during what was meant to be a short break, unable to keep myself from writing about her incredible vocals that were accompanied by nothing more than a keyboard. She came on strong with a cover of John Legend’s ‘All of Me’ as her voice took over the entire area and managed not only to keep the large audience that had gathered on the other side of the river entertained but also captivate passers-by who stopped to catch her equally impressive cover of Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’.
Spoken Word Stage
The beauty of writing spoken word reviews is that they easily write themselves. “Consciously deep” and “passionate” are the words co-hosts Ace and Izara B used to sum up the acts on their stage; three words that can most definitely be applied to Farida Momtaz who drew a large crowd with her socially conscious poetry. Talking about her generation that she believes is flooded with Peter Pans – adult men still stuck in their youth and afraid to grow up – she problematized how we are losing out on so many young men’s potential and the “spectacular” destinies they could live out. MOAK was up next and he had the crowd intrigued, stopping passers-by who paused to listen to what he had to say. He brought back two of my favourites from the last Allsortz Open Mic, ‘Look Brother’ and ‘One Of The Guys’, and shared his experiences of navigating Ghanaian values in British culture, urging people to stay true to where they come from. Emmanuel Speaks pointed out that being free is not just measured in actual chains but equally requires escaping mental captivity while also touching on the topic of structural discrimination, important subjects that he tied up in a set of striking lyrics. Ellen Blane switched up the spoken word programme as she filled the air with a voice that instantly reminded me of Ellie Goulding. Her impressive vocals and obvious confidence far exceeded her sixteen years of age as she managed to retain the crowd’s interest throughout her entire 30-minute set. After missing her last performance I was particularly pleased to catch Izara B who captivated the audience. In her own words, her spoken word piece ‘Resurrection’ uses religion as a play on words and revisits her own journey of self-discovery that forced her to learn to acknowledge her entire self, inclusive of all flaws. Breaking with the spoken word tradition once again, the last act I saw on this stage was Gypsy Stars who were able to attract the largest crowd in this space today. Wearing colourful, traditional dresses, the women in the band put on a memorable performance both singing and dancing as the men joined in the singing at times and generally accompanied them on string instruments and an accordion. In addition to the spoken words artists programmed by Allsortz, there were also open mic slots throughout the day.
Generally, it weren’t just the acts that drew me in but I was equally impressed by all hosts across the different stages. On the Spoken Word Stage, host Ace gave the crowd a free lesson he emphasized is never taught in school, reminding the audience that our conscience and sub-conscience are in constant struggle with one another and it is repetition and positivity that truly transform a person as repetition becomes habit and habit becomes embedded into our sub-conscience, the true game changer that takes precedence over our conscience.
The Great British Carnival ended with a literal bang as everyone was brought together in an eruption of fireworks and parade, showcasing a plethora of different costumes and vibrant colours lighting up the darkening sky and giving Carnival Xtra the beautiful finale it truly deserved. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this event again next year!