An exciting six-week festival is about to unfold at the Albany in Deptford, celebrating a synthesis of food and creativity with a rich programme of events and unique performances. But, if you’re thinking ‘food festival’, then think again. Yam Yam! seeks to challenge boundaries, and experiment with the way we think about food in an entirely original and stimulating way. Imagine a Hook-inspired food fight, a performance in which the audience cooks and eats a meal together, and a three-course meal punctuated with live poetry. A paean to Deptford, south-east London, with an injection of West African flavours, Yam Yam! takes its inspiration from the community surrounding the Albany.
The festival itself is an offshoot of the Albany’s larger Café Culture project, which has seen chickens take up residence in the garden and allotments spring up to provide food for the café. The project has transformed the Albany’s café into a township café, a community arts venue where people can come together, use the space creatively, connect with artists or simply hang out.
Funded by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food scheme, the festival is a celebration of the marriage of the different cultures which form Deptford’s local community. “There are two visible communities at the heart of Deptford – a large West African and an East Asian community,” explains Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes at the Albany.
The name of the festival – Yam Yam! – is redolent of just how culturally layered the project is. “The name encapsulates the project. It savours strongly of eating and food, but also holds significant cultural references,” explains Carter. Yams are prevalent in a lot of non-European diets, particularly in West Africa and East Asia. But, there is another interesting dimension to the festival’s name. The verb “yam” in Caribbean slang means to eat something really quickly, to wolf something down. Yam Yam! is not only inspired by the crossovers of these cultures, but seeks to honour their symbiosis which forms a rich local culture, unique to Deptford.
One of the festival highlights will be brought to us by the Groundnut collective, a South London-based creative partnership. Its inspiration? One of Britain’s best-loved, yet much-maligned and misunderstood dishes: fried chicken. In this free workshop, the Groundnut Workshop will share experiences from local restaurants, and address the racial stereotypes surrounding fried chicken with a tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted style. “Young people might not know that much about the history of fried chicken, perhaps due to the bastardisation of its concept by fast food companies. But there’s a deeper, more culturally-rooted meaning,” says Carter.
Uncover Theatre, the Albany’s Youth Theatre, will host The Big Food Fight, a performance food fight which invites audiences to get stuck in, and, more importantly, get messy. The food fight promises to be a visceral response to the freedom of using food; an exploration of the ways in which humans connect with food which draws its influence from the imaginary food fight in the film Hook. Uncover Theatre will be experimenting with a space that influences how the story is told, echoing its past performance When It’s Night Time, which took place in an outdoor ball court. “Using a Perspex boxing ring, this piece will interact with the space in a way that just wouldn’t work in a theatre,” adds Carter. Although the piece seeks to entertain, it will also raise important questions about bigger issues such as sustainability and avoiding food waste.
Elsewhere in the programme, wordsmiths Come Rhyme With Me will be serving a West African Special where audiences can expect an evening of spoken word and poetry delivered in three courses, paired with West African food to match. It’s a cultural and culinary offering all in one sitting, exploring shared experiences and togetherness, as well as the physicality of food.
Other highlights include Only Wolves and Lions, an intimate theatre piece for just 25 people, in which the audience are invited to bring an ingredient and cook a meal together. The piece will examine ideas surrounding community, isolation and the meaning of the word crisis in a night of collective cooking and storytelling. And to end the festival with a bang, the Groundnut guys will be hosting a big blow-out club night, Mogadisco, celebrating the sounds of Africa, from Afro beat to Ghanaian Hi-Life, Congo Jazz to Ethiopian Funk.
The events kick off on Sunday (6 October) with a massive launch day, with a whole host of free events to start the festival off. There’ll be a petting zoo, cocktail-making workshops, live music, tasting events and an autumn BBQ. The festival strives to bring people together with a line-up of free and affordable events to entertain and delight. Yam Yam! will be “bringing together some of the finest artists from across the country and beyond to create work that truly speaks to and engages with our community. With art created in collaboration with local people, and food grown in our garden, Yam Yam! is a great example of the creativity thriving in the heart of Deptford” says Gavin Barlow, Chief Executive of the Albany. But it doesn’t end there; the Albany is hungry to continue this tradition of celebrating its local community with another festival in February. With a mix of rich cultural events, and food for thought, this is an event not to be missed.