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We Out Here Festival Heads to Dorset to Celebrate the Best of Jazz and Hip-Hop [Festival Review]

V13 heads down to Dorset for a celebration of all things Jazz and Hip-Hop at the wonderful We Out Here Festival. Read the review here…



We Out Here Festival © Sienna Grey

Travelling to Dorset from Liverpool for the We Out Here festival had filled me with a great deal of excitement, for it was WOH that sparked my now fully-fledged interest in New British Jazz with their 2018 compilation album on Giles Peterson’s Brownswood Records. Having been a lifelong lover of jazz in its many forms, this album awakened me to the community that has been working hard in London for some years now, nurturing new talent and collaborating with each other via the Future Warriors project to keep jazz evolving and opening the genre up to new and younger audiences. The recent announcement of Ezra Collective as nominees for the Mercury Prize has given added cause for celebration this weekend, a position fellow WOH colleague Nubya Garcia found herself in 2021.

This year’s festival in its new home, in the shadows of the majestic stately home at Wimbourne St Giles, is also celebrating in fine style 50 years of Hip-Hop, from old school to the newest sounds around, so the decision to attend was not a hard sell.

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

Arriving late on Thursday after a long drive and a battle with our tents, we land (the other being my 18-year-old son Alfie) via the much-anticipated beer tent at the main stage in time to catch Nia Archives set. Already dark, what is immediately refreshing is the presence of so many families with teenagers in tow and babies in arms and trolleys. The pounding jungle set and the darkness don’t conjure any feelings of danger, and we know immediately that this will be fun, inspiring and, above all, safe. The crowd are loving the first night thrill of being outdoors, en-masse and part of the party, so we soak it up for a while before exploring the site a little more.

At the Lush Life stage, where we would spend much time over the weekend, we find Omar mid-set, sublimely performing a glistening cover of Roy Ayers’ stone-cold classic, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” Omar asks the audience if anyone remembers him before launching into an elongated version of his most famous hit, “There’s Nothing Like This,” from 1990. Thankfully, he doesn’t know when to stop, and the groove becomes ad-libbed and abstract.

It’s a brief session but entirely fires us up for the three days of lovingly curated music to follow.

Friday morning finds us back where Omar had stood just 12 hours previous, at Lush Life, now bathed in sunlight and inhabited by a small crowd of jazz heads, catching the early morning rays. Liverpool’s Ni Maxine is performing a beautiful set that has everyone present mesmerized. Her voice is rich and evokes classic jazz vocalists from Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday. It is no surprise that her set includes a cover of the latter’s “God Bless the Child,” which is one of the most mesmeric performances we heard all weekend. I will be checking out further gigs from Ni on scouse soil.

Following hastily is B.Ahwe, who addresses the family audience as Motherfuckers and also her band members. She is clearly very excited, and her enthusiasm is noted. Pleasantries out of the way, “Do it in my own Time” provides the dreamiest of vocals, supported by a small choir that includes her sister. Her singing voice is deep and dark, whilst her talking voice sounds like a helium-fueled kid at a party; it’s an interesting contrast. Her short set is impressive and ends with “The Sexy Song,” described as “One of the most famous songs I’ve ever written.” A few more Mofos and she’s gone.

We head for what becomes one of our favourite spots this weekend, Rhythm Corner, a small stage encircled by high haystacks that feels quite separate from the rest of the festival site. At one point, we see the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup being screened here. On our first visit, festival curator cum label owner and resident Saturday afternoon DJ on 6 Music, Giles Peterson, is on the decks, celebrating the Hip Hop anniversary in style. It’s a long set, and the section we witness and thoroughly enjoy includes classic cuts from The Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan, Tribe Called Quest, Fugees, Eminem, Mob Deep. MF Boom and Arrested Development. It’s accessible and truly a glowing tribute to the genre. Giles, as always, is loving it.

Having not listened to Wu-Lu in any great detail prior to today, I leave the main stage a convert. His afternoon set is much heavier and guitar-driven than anticipated, and he looks as cool as can be. A long intro bears heavy with two drummers and verges on grunge, almost Nirvana-like at times. The screaming protest of “South” is a highlight for me, and the set veers between such similar sonic assaults from his 2022 LOGGERHEADS album and quieter moments like in his newer unreleased material. A truly electric set.

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

Returning to the haystacks of Rhythm Corner with delicious burgers from Cheeky Burger (recommended festival foodies), we enjoy a section from DJ Koco, who is playing some guaranteed Hip Hop favourites from Run DMC and Malcolm McLaren’s World Famous, and even slipping in a cheeky “Pump up the Volume” from M/A/R/R/S. It is these small moments that make the best memories.

Back on the main stage, Manchester’s Children of Zeus have attracted quite a crowd. Headed by Konny Kon and Tyler Daly, their sound today is laid back and shimmering, full of summer vibes with vocals that undeniably sound like Stevie Wonder; sorry, but it had to be said – however obvious. They have created a groove, and it remains constant through the set, veering between rap and soul, which is not long enough for them to expand into different moods. Satisfied, we head for The Grove to explore the more chilled-out area of the site.

A small lakeside area provides an opportunity for folks to take a natural swim or pay for a hot-tub session; we opt for a relaxing sit and listen to the very mellow vibes of the Sanctuary DJs Lex Blondin and Chris E. This is a welcome breather before returning to the main stage for London rapper Knucks.

We notice as the day rolls out that the older jazz fans from the morning sessions are becoming invisible with the presence of large groups of festival goers in increasingly bizarre attire. From Mario Mushrooms to assorted fruit, the costumes are as much a spectacle as the acts onstage. Sadly there is also a contingent of folk more interested in their own appearance and loud conversations than the music, and the Knucks set is marred by groups and individuals with backs to the stage, driving the other festivalgoers mad and distracting from the music.

Knucks is undeterred and delivers storming versions of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (the line “I was busy listening to Sade” determined our Monday drive home playlist), “Hide and Seek,” and the Craig David referencing “7 Days.” He has the right people in the palm of his hand.

We Out Here Festival © Perry Gibson

We Out Here Festival © Perry Gibson

Before retiring, we take a chance on Space Afrika in the now pitch-black Rhythm Corner. The Manchester duo describe themselves on Bandcamp as “overlapping moments – oblique mosaics of dialogue, rhythm, texture, and shadow, half-heard through a bus window on a rainy night.” Their music is an abstract spellbinding soundscape that is totally unexpected and, without a doubt, a festival highlight and a perfect end to the day. Sitting on the ground against the haystacks, the golden light flooding out across the audience is one of the most spectacular images I have seen all weekend, captured here on my humble phone.

Saturday Morning, and it’s raining hard. The incredible saxophone-wielding Chelsea Carmichael is playing to a small crowd who seem unaware of the weather, and Chelsea is grateful. “Thanks for standing in the rain; it’s a big ask.” Chelsea is one of at least three fantastic female saxophonists we see this weekend and should surely be higher on the bill. One standout tune features a slow-burning intro and a breathtaking double bass solo that almost raises the spirit of Charles Mingus. Another starts with a slow-burning sax solo and eventually takes on the personality of a full-blown 1960s New York set movie soundtrack. Chelsea is generous, and each member of the band gets almost equal spotlight time in stunning solos. This is an epic sound from the London-based musician who is also part of SEED Ensemble, who were 2019 Mercury nominees. Her album, The River Doesn’t Like Strangers, will be a permanent fixture on my Spotify playlist until I can get hold of a physical record. Excellent.

Jimetta Rose and The Voices of Creation follow on the Main Stage, and their song “Let the Sunshine In” does the trick, bringing the sun for the rest of the day. The enigmatic leader of this incredible gospel choir is nothing short of iconic. The power she holds is immense, and the choir garbed in white and gold are radiant. The mood is lifted on their first Mic blessing breath and never drops an inch.

Following on from a solo career and numerous collaborations, this latest venture that has already released one soul-soothing EP is something else entirely.

The magic continues with Muva of Earth on the Lush Life stage. This Brownswood artist’s music is described by her agency as “…like planting your feet in rich warm soil; blending spiritual mantras and conscious lyricism, her music is truly transformative.” It’s a perfect description. Running her fingers through her electric harp and letting flow the most astonishing vocals is astounding art. Her voice becomes almost abstract on “Free Song” and becomes a searing force, whilst “Your intuition is your friend” is solid and soulful throughout. “High” at one point plays with the melodies of Omar’s “There’s Nothing Like This”. A fantastic and sadly short performance.

We Out Here Festival © Sienna Grey

We Out Here Festival © Sienna Grey

Kyoto Jazz Massive takes the main stage, and the sun is burning and high; I lie on the grass and allow the music to flow over me, and it is a fine festival moment. The music is slightly 80s-tinged smooth jazz, to my ear at least, and sometimes even veers into disco. Whilst enjoyable I am expecting something perhaps a little more unusual from a Japanese jazz outfit, but this feels like solid Westernised, often cinematic fayre.

A break from the sun and a spot of lunch, and we are back at the main stage in the late afternoon for Joe Armon-Jones, better known as the keyboard Wizard from Ezra Collective. He is onstage with Dubstep legend Mala and Sax genius Nubya Garcia for a blistering set. Mala has recorded recently with Armon-Jones on the excellent “A Way Back” and “The Truth.” This set is filled with hypnotic dub and anti-war sentiments allowing each musician a chance to shine and spread the word of peace. In all honesty, I can state that this is some of the most electrifying Jazz music I have ever heard, frantic and constantly exciting. The words, “I see the rain come down while the sun is shining,” fit the moment perfectly.

Nubya Garcia changes outfit into a shimmering green dress and returns to the stage with Tuba legend Theon Cross, Sam Jones on drums and Joe Armon-Jones back behind the keys. As the We Out Here album illustrated so well, these are all interchangeable artists, helping out on each other’s projects, and the familiarity of each other’s material makes for tight and essential listening. Sam Jones and Joe Armon-Jones are literally omnipresent all weekend, making many appearances and building on the family atmosphere that Nubya promotes throughout her set. Along with Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia is undoubtedly one of the single most important new jazz artists today. Her talent cannot be overstated.

The short format of the festival set means that some of the long pieces from her excellent 2020 album Source are pared down a little, but still, they lose none of their power. New tune, “Solstice,” is given room to breathe, however, and is slightly less action-packed than her previous work (Not a criticism in any way), suggesting another side emerging from her routine. Also aired is her recent single, Lean In, which is less of a departure. Album favourite “Source,” with its dub undercurrent, makes an appearance, and the show closes with live regular “Pace.” Nubya Garcia is the reigning Queen of Jazz, and I think we are still to hear the best of her work.

Headliner Roisin Murphy has called in sick sadly and is hastily replaced by a DJ set from Bonobo.

We Out Here Festival © Ellie Koepke Photography

We Out Here Festival © Ellie Koepke Photography

We have a breather and a relaxing drink after the chaos of the last couple of hours and take in the atmosphere of the site after dark. A wander into The Bowl, a stage tucked away in a hidden corner of the site, reveals an almost pitch-black arena, illuminated only by a mystical red glow from the stage as Calista provides some well-received late-night beats.

Sunday provides an even more exciting day, and it couldn’t start more perfectly. Burning sun beats down on Maddy Coombes Trio, the third female Sax player to completely blow us away this weekend. Ably backed by drums, keys and double bass, this is classic modern jazz – perfect Sunday morning material. I arrive as she is performing “To Speak of Love”, a beautiful piece that is inspired by feminist writer Bell Hooks. “Heaven on Earth” and “The Process” provide a further case that this young, London-based musician is one to watch. Close your eyes, and you could be lying in Central Park in the ’70s; open them, and there are two very happy hippy guys spinning around like shot-down aeroplanes, joined by a guy in a pair of Spongebob dungarees.

The excellent Akin Soul with his Soul Tribe is up next. Born in London and raised in Texas, he is beyond his young 21 years. His classic vocals fall somewhere between soul and reggae at times, occasionally dipping into scat singing against a two-woman choir. Beautiful. “Mr. Love” is a standout in the set, and the Supremes inspired “Castaway.” The set closes with Akin perched on the edge of the stage crooning the Otis-like “A Whole Lotta Blues.” Backed by a beautiful staccato piano, his vocals alternate between old man blues and sweet soul. The drama and crescendos recall James Brown’s cape routine from “Please Please Please.” Yes, it really is that good.

Speaking of The Godfather, Near Mint Records, the onsite record store is an absolute must, and I managed to pick up a new copy of James Brown’s Funky People on double vinyl. Seminal. Some excellent dealers are here, including the brilliant Dig Vinyl from Liverpool.

A highlight of the whole weekend next with Brian Jackson on the main stage. Long-time musical partner of the late Gil Scott Hero, Brian, is still touring the classic cuts and releasing his own new music along the way. We caught him last year on a freezing night in Manchester’s Deaf Academy, but the sunny fields of Dorset are much more suited to this man’s vibes.

Starting as always with “Offering” and then diving headlong into “Lady Day and John Coltrane,” the whole crowd is singing along and swaying in the sunshine. The atmosphere is electric. “We Almost Lost Detroit” and “Winter in America” keep the mood. Brian states how relevant these songs still are and admits he had no idea they would stand the test of time when he wrote them with Gil. He also states that he’s been playing these songs for 50 years now. The combination of Brian’s flute and Steve Walters’ bass complement each other perfectly on “Winter in America.”

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

Brian tells his monologue about a Gorilla which then becomes “Guerilla,” a fan favourite from back in the day, eschewing any of his own more recent material today, before rounding up with two surefire hits, “Home is where the hatred is” and “The Bottle.” It’s as near-perfect a set as you could wish for, and it’s perfect for WOH.

Yazmin Lacey follows onto the main stage with a serene jazz intro. Her voice is beautiful, and the mood is just right on songs like “Fools Gold” and “Match in my Pocket,” but for my tastes, her set isn’t varied enough (unlike Liv.e) apart from some flavours of reggae and a nod to Sade as she briefly dips into “Sweetest taboo.” Sade is here in spirit this weekend. We leave the set early to catch R.A.P Ferriera in the Rhythm Corner, a very talented rapper from Maine.

I take to the haystacks and absorb the vibes that he is giving away this afternoon. He describes himself and his DJ as “Genuine black American rap stars, imported just for you,” and they proceed to rap to some dreamy ambient soundscapes, verging on the cosmic.

As he sings “Bang Bang Goes the Blacksmiths Hammer,” he tells us, “I went all the way to Japan for this beat; it was worth it.” These little asides make the performance all the more enjoyable, and he has won everyone over. When singing about “Jesus Freaks,” he claims that Jesus was two black guys – “Now you can tell your Grandma you met Jesus.” “I’m just having fun with words with total strangers,” he tells us. It’s an excellent set and I will be checking his stuff out for sure. Towards the end of his set, he asks, “How do you spell poem? R.A.P.” Clever.

We can feel the festival nearing its end, but there are still treats to come. The legendary Sun Ra Arkestra appears in full regalia on the main stage, wearing colours I swear I have never seen before. We see old folks with dyed red hair, a pianist playing tunes with the palms of his hands and after an absolute cacophony of sound intro, a tune that sounds like the New Orleans funeral march from the start of the Bond film Live and Let Die. It’s a lot to take in. An elongated “Space is the Place,” familiar from Ezra Collective’s majestic cover version, lifts the roof.

The band has been active since the 50s, hence the age of most of its members, and they have been keeping the memory of Sun Ra well and truly alive since his death in 1993. Truly outstanding.

We Out Here Festival © Ellie Koepke Photography

We Out Here Festival © Ellie Koepke Photography

We have to miss the end to catch Liv.e at the Lush Life stage. Giles himself is present for this one, and for good reason. Liv is from Dallas and is excellent; she has the range that some other young performers sadly lack. Two albums in, and her style has already evolved into what most performers would achieve over four or five releases. This set sees her perform material mainly from her Girl in the Half Pearl album, missing out on some of her more soulful, laid-back early material. We find her whispering into the mic before bawling, folding herself tight on the floor and screaming during “Ghost.” It’s all over the place but completely controlled at the same time.

Highlights include “No New News, RESET!, Gardetto,” and “A Slumber Party.” At one point, she breaks out into The Pointer Sisters’ “Number Count” from Sesame Street. Her drummer is as fascinating as her, verging towards Keith Moon-style arm windmills; this is the most manic drumming I’ve seen in a long time. A truly brilliant set; the future is bright for Liv.

Brixton’s Cymande takes the main stage to celebrate 50 years of their Second Time Round album and are introduced by Giles. The set is electric, and being unfamiliar with their work, we were immediately compelled to listen to their music on the journey home. The live set is quite different and more showy, but this is no bad thing. The audience is clearly more familiar with them as they sing along. We recognize “BRA” and “The Message,” two classic Soul pieces, and “Brother on the Slide” gets the mightiest crowd approval. Even though they have only recently reunited, this is a tight soul package that doesn’t fail to entertain at any point.

We are almost at the end; the toilets are overflowing (Wee out Here), which always signals the end. Before the big festival finale, however, we get a set from the legends that are Black Star. Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) and Talib Kweli make a rare appearance tonight, and although they have aged somewhat since their iconic 1998 self-titled album, they still have the energy and word power that has given them their status. Mixing tunes from that album and the recently released No Fear of Time alongside Bey’s solo work, this is an eclectic set. Standouts are “Definition, The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” and “Brown Skinned Girl.” The songs are epic, and the delivery is incredible, sung whilst scattering rose petals and creating live graffiti. Special.

The festival ends with Ezra Collective, who sums up everything that WOH is about. This is my 3rd Ezra gig in a year, and they just keep getting tighter and tighter. Starting with the dub-heavy “Ego Killah,” the mood is immediately set for a party. As the gig progresses the sound just grows and grows. Drummer Femi Koleoso as always, MCs the gig, focusing on how we should all unite, fight the powers that be, live our very best life and find joy. The mission of every gig is to climb a spiritual mountain, and through pieces like “Welcome to My World” and “You can’t steal my Joy” with its mass audience participation, this becomes a manageable mountain. Ezra Collective are the one act that have graced the main stage and managed to keep the attention of literally everyone. Creating dancing circles and making the whole audience crouch down and then leap into the air, they are the ultimate party band.

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

We Out Here Festival © Rob Jones

Band members move into the crowd during “You Can’t Steal My Joy,” becoming one with the fans, and the climax comes with a frantic “Sao Paulo.” Frantic scenes.

We Out Here was phenomenal and a weekend that we won’t want to forget in a hurry. Completely safe, always dedicated to the music and the artists, and respectful and friendly at all times. I am already airing my tent in anticipation of next year.

For more information on next year’s We Out Here Festival, visit the the Official We Out Here Festival Website.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.