Drums and music, prose and poetry, storytelling and spoken word are all quintessential elements of African culture.
So it comes as no surprise that the two annual local pan-African festivals should have all these elements. African Global Roots held its festival earlier this summer, and Afrifest is taking place this weekend in Crystal.
Afrifest’s founder Nathan White was in Chicago four years ago when he stumbled upon the 20-year old African Festival of the Arts. He was convinced then that he would have to bring a festival of its kind to Minnesota.
Now in its third year, Afrifest has had teething problems that have White wondering about the location and cost of production. In its first year, Afrifest was held in the Cedar/Riverside neighborhood, but White found that the location was too far for African immigrants with families who lived out in the suburbs. This year he will try a Crystal location that is convenient to the huge African community in Brooklyn Park.
In the past, White has received community and business sponsorship; however, with a recovering economy he is afraid that his festival will not be able to afford to bring out-of-town star attractions. “Due to budget constraints,” he says, “corporate sponsors are operating on shoestring budgets.”
Even with these challenges, White is determined to put on a good show this year and is confident that in a few years he will replicate his festival in other cities in both the U.S. and Africa. This year, instead of being primarily a concert Afrifest will be a family-style festival during the day and later in the evening will feature a talent show.
Once a month in a coffee shop in Minneapolis, African-Minnesotan artists gather and share their work: they read book chapters, recite poems, screen film clips, and showcase paintings, sculpture, and drawings. Hosted by African Global Roots (AGR), these events have created a community within the local African arts and culture scene. Founded by Eriterian immigrant Petros Haile, AGR has sought to nurture the growth of African immigrants throughout the year.
Haile, like White, is also an event planner. He has been organizing cultural events in the Twin Cities for the past 20 years and this year decided to honor these artists by hosting an African Arts Festival. “There are so many African artists here in Minnesota,” he says, “and we have taken the culture that they bring for granted.”
Spoken word poet IBé Kaba and writer Nneka Onyilofor jumped on board when Haile shared his dream with them.
For its inaugural year, the festival honored various artists, including filmmaker Josiah Kibira for his film Tusamehe, a film about redemption in which an African immigrant couple struggle with the reality that they have HIV. In accepting his award Kibira, was happy that other Africans recognized his work. “We need a lot of encouragement,” he said.
Perhaps surprisingly, Minnesota is now home to some of Africa’s legendary musicians, who were recognized at the AGR festival. Siama Matuzungidi is one such artist. Now teaching guitar at the West Bank School of Music, Matuzungidi, who’s been performing for the last 30 years, once shared the stage with legends with Kanda Bongoman and Virunga (with Samba Mapangala). Even after he moved to Minneapolis, Matuzungidi continued to make a name for himself on the local music scene introducing his new fans to the sound of the lingala, soukous and reggae. Another artist who received recognition was Innocent Galinoma, who regularly plays at the Blue Nile Restaurant in Minneapolis, where he has earned a devoted following of fans who like to listen to reggae classics.
Other entertainment at the AGR festival included a dynamic dance troupe, the Hayor Bibimma African Dance Company, and a fashion show highlighting locally based two African designers: Utamaduni Wear and Bothdol Fashion. M.anifest, a Ghanian immigrant who burst onto the Twin Cities hip-hop stage a few years ago, brought the festival’s guests to their feet when he performed favorites “Gentleman” and “To the Motherland.”
With a large and growing African community in the Twin Cities, there is certainly room for both festivals.
Nekessa Opoti (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and the publisher of kenyaimagine.com, a Kenyan online magazine and newspaper.
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