Photography via Listen-Up PR
This year has been a remarkable one for the Afrobeats music scene. From Burna Boy and Mr Eazi playing Coachella, ‘Drogba’ shaking up the US charts, Universal Music launching a Nigerian division and, of course, Beyoncé’s Lion King album, it’s been an exciting time internationally for Afrobeats artists and fans alike.
Afro Nation makes its debut this weekend in Portugal, and the announcement had Black Twitter rejoicing, imagining a meet-up of sun-soaked whines and beach parties, all soundtracked by some incredible artists. As a proud African, Afro Nation is something I and many of my peers have been waiting for. Describing itself as “Europe’s biggest urban music beach festival” and featuring acts such as Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido and Femi Kuti, it was clearly celebrating the burgeoning, exciting Nigerian scene (in Nigeria alone, Afrobeats sales have been forecast to grow to $88 million in 2019). Needless to say, people were hyped: booking flights, buying beach looks, some were even investing in BBLs.
“Is it that people genuinely believe Afro Nation is fake, or is it a case of people doubting black-owned, particularly west African, events?”
But, as time went on, in spite of the festival selling out, scepticism began to rise – some people were even going as far as comparing it to Fyre Festival. Is it that people genuinely believe Afro Nation is fake, or is it a case of people doubting black-owned, particularly west African, events?
We’re all aware of how social media can present a false reality and in this post-Fyre Festival era, people seem to be on the edge about new festivals. The Bahamian-based festival that seemed to be a dream was just that. But is there an internalised, underlying racial tone to why so many black people think Afro Nation will fail? When I first saw the line-up I was a bit doubtful simply because the line-up was my ideal bill. Perhaps this is because I had never been presented with a festival that featured so many of my favourite African artists before. As black Brits, we haven’t been presented with many festivals that are created for us – Glastonbury remains so white, while destination festivals are typically techno parties in Croatia. With limited options for large black gatherings, for one to go off without a hitch feels rare. So it left many asking: what’s the catch?
“Though more often than not black people want to support and attend black-owned events, there tends to be a concealed scepticism about them”
When it comes to black-owned events, black people tend to have an interesting relationship with them. Though more often than not we want to support and attend, there tends to be a concealed scepticism about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a black-organised party and people will purposely turn up late because they assume that the event is disorganised – assuming that the organisers themselves will be running late. That mentality is rarely shared with white-owned events. It’s almost a catch 22 as people often go expecting these events to fail and then get disappointed if they do.
It could also be that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other people and events. As there’s such a lack of our own spaces, often when we are met with such an event people expect them to be without a fault. Equally, with the hangover of Form 696 and the standard run-up to Notting Hill Carnival being marred with policing and rumours of violence, maybe it’s just difficult for us to imagine 20,000 black people dancing together stress-free.
As this is a new festival, people can only go by what they see on social media. So far there have been some slight hiccups with the brand. The most notable one was when London-based group NSG dropped out of the festival – members of the group weren’t pleased that they were selected to be opening acts, resulting in a back and forth between them and one of the organisers on social media. The festival also received some backlash when singer IAMDDB said she wasn’t aware that she was due to perform at the festival. But are these hiccups of acts pulling out – which happens at plenty of other festivals – enough to say that the festival is a scam?
“To the undiscerning consumer, it seems too good to be true. But when you see the reputable names behind it, it makes perfect sense”
Jojo (founder of night out Recess and BLKINTHEDAY) thinks it’s not. He says, “I think that the Fyre Fest documentary made people sceptical to new festivals that start off big. The Afro Nation lineup is incredible and to the undiscerning consumer, it seems too good to be true. But when you see who’s behind it, it makes perfect sense. You have the likes of Smade [the UK’s number one Afrobeats promoter] and Live Nation behind the event – these are reputable names. 20,000 people of the European diaspora attending a festival? That’s a big feat already. We should pray that it goes smoothly because these are the things we need here. We can call out bad customer service and whatnot, but to project negativity is counterproductive.”
Speaking of projecting negativity, online speculation even outside of acts dropping out has been unprecedented – the girl who tweeted her uncle had a prophecy that there would be an “incident” at Afro Nation was something else (her account has mysteriously disappeared since making the claim). People have expressed annoyance that tickets for afterparties, pool parties etc are separate to the main festival cost, even though this wasn’t initially announced. Less to do with the festival itself but instead the location the organisers decided on, people are rightfully expressing concern about racism in Portugal too. Twitter has also been full of women telling each other to stay safe, with one person even warning about an attempted abduction – which, again, is an issue with location that maybe needs to be discussed in future.
“Being surrounded with people that look like you, while listening to music from your origin is a special experience and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted”
In spite of all the lingering negativity, there’s still a sense of community and positivity around those who are attending, with people gassing up strangers they’ve seen around the festival and sharing checklists of things to bring.
Though there may have been some slight hiccups online, I for one am rooting for Afro Nation all the way. With Afrobeats slowly having international success, this festival is a celebration of the African diaspora and its sound. While I was at The Ends Festival, I thought about how overdue music spaces like this are. Being surrounded by people that look like you, while listening to music from your origin is a special experience and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. I hope Afro Nation will exceed expectations. Though I’m not able to attend I’ll be vicariously living through all my friends’ Instagram stories this week – the videos and photos emerging already are full of black joy, and I’m so here for it.