A Yam Carnival review: A beautiful mess?

I arrived at Clapham Common by 2pm on a sunny Saturday morning. The area was already buzzing with hundreds of attendees, with locals asking, ‘What’s going on here? Is it some kind of event?’ We were all to excited to reply in chorus – ‘It’s Yam Carnival!’ Which resulted in more puzzled looks from passers-by. And I couldn’t care less, I was so keen to get inside and see how years of planning at this point, had panned out. But this is where you could say the mayhem started.

We got through relatively smoothly, despite customer representatives being unsure of who joins what queue and where – and were showed the areas media had access. Organisers had only told us that morning that there was no designated area for press, nor had they got back to me on requested interviews for artists. In the end, we had a backstage area with no seating spaces or refreshments. I guess they tried to keep us entertained with a cool masquerade performance, but this couldn’t remove the confusion of how to access artists for interviews. Regardless, I decided I would enjoy myself and found my friends in the general crowd.  

It was stunning to see so many Black people together again, all 20,000 of us! It was definitely giving me Afro Nation 2019 vibes. Some people I spoke to mentioned a few rowdy crowds and squabbles, but I didn’t see any drama. Instead, I spotted many friends soaking up the experience, buying drinks at the numerous bars or spending a lifetime in queues at the food station – which became more frustrating throughout the day. In the end I got food, only because a vendor was taking cash only which put off many. 

In terms of performances, it really was a mixed bag. Darkoo came on stage 1 only to find that her mic was not working, twice! The same thing happened with Kehlani, who only came back on with her backup singers only to be rushed off again because her set was running over (due to the bad sound that affected her in the first place). She was extremely vocal about how bad this was and said that Yam Carnival owned us another event in her subsequent tweets. Yet Eddie Kadi did great jobs of hyping the crowd and quelling the boo’s with his severe Congolese dancing. The Compozers did a smashing job as the main band during performances.

Heavy hitters like Yemi Alade and Beenie Man captivated the audience on stage 1 – which was enormous by then. With Beenie Man telling us to ‘hush’ as he explained that he hadn’t been back in the UK for such a long time. He performed personal faves like ‘Girl Dem Sugar’, ‘Rum & Redbull’, and ‘Who Am I’. It was easily one of the best performances of the night, but it was marred by the sound, again. Other Jamaican artists included Koffee, who gave a bright and cheerful performance on stage 2 – she did her well known tunes such as ‘Toast’ and ‘Rapture’. 

By the time we reached 9:30pm, I was well and truly exhausted. I had spent a large chunk of my day waiting for artists, such as Rema, who was meant to perform around 3pm but never turned up. Rumours flew round that he turned up saw the chaos and left, others say he want never meant to perform due to a clash in his schedule. 

Davido ended the night brilliantly, shouting as usual, but this actually made the crowd happy. We sang along to ‘Jowo’, ‘Fall’, ‘Sweet in the Middle’ and my new personal fave ‘La La’ featuring CKay. He smiled throughout his performance, bringing out friends such as Focalistic for ‘Ke Star’ remix to celebrate ampiano sounds and set the stage for the final fireworks.

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Overall, Yam Carnival was…an interesting experience. I had a good time because I was determined too, but I did have high expectations. Sadly, it just seemed like there were no plans, just vibes. I give grace as it was the first ever and we needed something like this on the late bank holiday –due to Notting Hill Carnival being postponed until next year. So big props to the organisers for attempting to pull this off so soon post-Covid restrictions. It was always going to be a hard feat – but the executions fell pretty short.

Though I was glad to see us celebrating Black culture and music in a big way – if Yam Carnival is going to happen next year, we’ll need to see some drastic changes to really enjoy the event. Better food queues, better sound and better information throughout the day. More luck in 2022!

Written Sosa Sharon

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