The history books may remember the end of August 2019 for bringing us the end of British democracy, but I’ll remember it for the beginning of Maiden Voyage festival. Basked in sunlight on the historic Three Mills Island in east London, the day festival’s inaugural edition was a grand success, showcasing a variety of acts and a new way of doing festivals; all for the affordable price of £35.
The Camden-based Jazz Cafe organised this new festival, and this is reflected in its vibrant aesthetics and a line-up packed with stars and up-and-coming artists alike. Aside from the names within the line-up, what was significant about Maiden Voyage was how there was no discernible hierarchy among the artists. Unlike most other festivals, where there is an obvious headline act who plays the final slot and for the longest time, Maiden Voyage had a more equitable balance among its acts. For instance, Roy Ayers, who is known by some as the “Godfather of Neo-Soul”, played only a forty-five minute slot in the mid-afternoon, while Awesome Tapes From Africa – Brian Shimkovitz’s obscure record label that collects cassette tapes from West African street markets – occupied the longest slot of the day.
This welcome innovation was made to work by the fact that all artists had to share the same stage and crowd. The advantages of this were that there were no clashes, which tends to cause festival-goers frustrating dilemmas, and the less well known acts were able to achieve far more exposure to a new audience.
The music itself did not disappoint. Charlotte Dos Santos, a Brazilian-Norwegian jazz singer based in Berlin, was one highlight as she and her band were able to reproduce the smoothness of her studio-recorded songs without this preventing them from improvising extended jazzy interludes. Madlib provided the crowd with a relaxed DJ set, epitomised by his regular toasting and sipping of a big glass of champagne, and the inclusion of his and Freddie Gibbs’s new hit single ‘Crime Pays’. However, the best act was Gilles Peterson and Bradley Zero’s back2back DJ set to close the day which mixed through modern dance, funk, and bossa nova jazz. The atmosphere was unrivalled as the blistering heat passed. Once the sun had gone down, we saw a in a new burst of energy from the DJs and the crowd to finish off the day.
All in all, Maiden Voyage’s first edition was fun and different – fun perhaps because it was different. Let's hope there will be a 2020 edition for the history books.