Why London needs @YAMCarnival

It was early on a Wednesday morning and I was waiting patiently for the clock to reach 9am. I was in a Bill’s, eating breakfast, and I had my hand poised ready to buy a ticket for YAM Carnival the moment it was released. This is a new festival, coming from the creators of the hugely successful Afro Nation, that captivated and brought together the African diaspora from across the world. This time the organisers, are working to bring the same vibes to the UK for the summertime. YAM Carnival has already secured a great line up of artists such as Davido, Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade and Wizkid. It also includes artists such as Not3s, Sona and Yxng Bane, ensuring that the British Afro-Carribean sound is not lost.

But what intrigued me the most was the name. Yam Carnival is actually an old tradition in West Africa and practiced in countries like Nigeria among the Igbo tribes. In August and September, communities in the South West come together to do traditional dances, drumming and masquerade parades down the local squares. The yam represents fertility and a chance for farmers to enjoy the end of the harvest season.

For others it goes much deeper, and the yam is offered in thanksgiving. Some take part in special bathing ceremonies after eating the yam, to cleanse themselves of past sins before the carnival. Children are also encouraged to take part and taught incantations to praise the rich tuber. The totality of rituals around the new yam often express the community’s appreciation for the gods making the harvest possible and successful. However, some communities have experienced less dedication to this traditional way of farming due to a drop in yam cultivation. Experts say this is because of declining soil fertility, increasing pest pressure and the high cost of labour.

Yet in a way, YAM Carnival is shedding light on this semi-dwindling custom. By naming this event after a tradition and placing it at the similar time of the year of the yam harvest, the organisers are marking this as unapologetically African and celebrates the uniqueness of our cultures. On top of that, this carnival will be the first large scale concert to do this in and be based in the UK. Events like Wireless, Ends Festival and Glastonbury all include Afrobeats and Black British artists, but none make that its sole focus, but YAM Carnival does.  

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I look forward to seeing how this event will support the thriving Afrobeats scene, showcasing the brilliance of this genre and in a place that is home to one of its biggest followings. YAM Carnival could be just what we’ll need, especially after a time of so much uncertainty and loss. It will be a apt chance for us to honour a tradition of giving thanks for what remains and what will come.

Words by Sosa Sharon

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