Joseph Lichy looks forward to this Saturday’s Asylum Sound festival – a day of music with global roots, held for a good cause

Love is the message… Music is the answer! That, at least, is the claim being made by the organisers of Witney’s first truly international festival of music, live-art and stalls. And the one-day Asylum Sounds event, this Saturday, promises exactly that.

The day will be compered by local poet Owen Collins and brings together a multitude of established musical genres as well some distinctly new ones. This includes West African, Turkish gypsy (‘Turkabilly Gyp-hop’), Gallic flavoured rock & roll and Captain Beefheart-inspired pop.

Highlights include Oxford super-troupe Brickwork Lizards, who play a uniquely upbeat fusion of Turkish Hillbilly with1930s jazz and vaudeville rap; Witney-based Senegalese master kora player and inspirational praise singer Jali Fily Cissokho; and Les Clochards – whose sleek, accordion-laced pop has been inspired by everyone from Gene Vincent and Billy Fury to Jacques Brel and French chanson, and has seen them described as Oxford’s ‘wry Gallic café indie children’.

Another local act appearing on the bill are Wantage’s upbeat festival favourites Bright Works. ‘Mafrobeat’ pioneers, the band craft their own sound from a ‘mash-up of experimental music taking in Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston to the Mars Volta, combined with catchy pop riffs, African rhythms and a poet for a lead singer.

There are also sounds from DJs Si Starling, Danny Prince, FunkSoulStu (Witney Music Festival founder) and Butters (Witney Soul Club).

The event may be at the sunset-end of the festival season, but organisers’ reference to the Summer of Love is more than just a catchy sound bite. For starters, entry is by donation only, so it’s unlikely any peaceful festi-goer will be turned away.

Secondly, Asylum Sounds has a twin function. As well as giving everyone a fantastic time, the event aims to raise money and awareness for Syrian asylum seekers, as organiser Autumn Neagle explains: “All the money that we raise will go towards Asylum Welcome, a local charity staffed by volunteers that supports all asylum seekers in Oxfordshire, and welcomes every single unaccompanied child to the county.”

Autumn and her fellow organisers hope to raise £1,000 to help the charity, and they have some great ideas up their sleeves to do so. As well as donations at the door there’ll be stalls, a raffle and an auction of paintings made by refugees, as well as work by Oxfordshire artist Karima Brooke.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of local businesses who have donated prizes for the raffle,” she says. “Everyone has really been supporting the event. People see the devastation of Syria in the news, but don’t know what they can do about it. So when something like this comes along people realise they can do their bit.”

The event has also inspired support from writer Owen Jones. The Oxford University graduate, Guardian columnist and author of Chavs: The demonisation of the Working Class, Jones has donated a signed copy of his latest book for the auction and recently made an appearance at a Witney band night, partly to help promote the festival.

Local music, charities and connections are at the heart of the Sound Asylum festival, alongside internationals bands and global concerns.

“Music really reaches to the heart, and brings people together,” says Autumn, whose CV includes producing events from Cowley Road Carnival to festivals and concerts across the South East.

“I’m so excited at the opportunity to invite along such fantastic Oxfordshire performers, inspired by Asylum Welcome a local charity, but also performers from beyond. We all just want to do something to help and hope people come along to enjoy themselves, making a positive contribution.”

Bright Works will be trialling some of their new, more family-friendly material at the gig, taking in tunes from latest EP Cox Works. Guitarist – and Oxford Times journalist – Pete Hughes said the band were delighted to be involved.

“We are so excited to be playing,” he said. “It’s been ages since we have played in Witney and we get to play with these great local bands.

“We played with Jali Fily before and he really is a sight to behold when he’s performing; he’s not like any other musician I’ve seen.

“We are all fans of a lot of African music, but gigging mostly in South East England we don’t get to play with a lot of African musicians.

“I would recommend everyone try and catch Jali’s set.”

After going through several line-up changes in the past year, Bright Works have recruited new bassist Steve Bradshaw, who formerly played with the much-loved female-fronted Samba sensation Duchess.

Lead singer Liam Amies, originally from Wantage, will be travelling from his home in London where he is currently studying music, and drummer Charlie Green, originally from Faringdon, will be coming from his home in Guildford where he is also studying music.

Pete said: “We’ve always changed our sound as we’ve gone along, we have very short attention spans, and at the moment I’m in love with pop and the pop-punk I grew up on: really paired-back drum beats, nice melody hooks and songs you can dance to and sing along to.”

If buggies and prams rather than evening escapades currently rule your life, then the festival is also for you as the first half of the day will be more family-orientated. This includes drum-making using flowerpots – with an African percussion session afterwards – and dream-catcher and rhythm-stick workshops. There will of course be face-painting and also the chance for kids to get involved in a finger painting mural that will remain in Witney long after the day.

The day event will also see talks from members of the refugee community, Amel Alariqi from Asylum Welcome and Laura Price from Witney Refugee Action, a local grassroots organisation who are co-organising the event.

The group was set up a year ago to befriend and provide practical support to Asylum seekers. Group member Luci Ashbourne, also from Witney, says: “Asylum Sounds will be a colourful and creative celebration – so bring your family, friends and dancing shoes along for the final feel-good festival of the summer.”

  • Asylum Sounds takes place on Saturday from 1-11.30pm at the Rock Barn, High Street Witney.
  • Entry by donation