If you didn’t know by now, Afrochella has been the must-attend event for all diasporans returning back home (Ghana specifically) for the past two Decembers. Founded by CEO, Abdul Abdullah, and Co-founder Kenny Agyapong, Afrochella is a one of a kind festival featuring art & fashion installations, interactive activities, the best of African cuisines, and of course, a killer musical lineup. In the past, Afrochella has brought out Stonebwoy, Joey B, Kwesi Arthur, Odunsi, and more. This year, dubbed the Year of Return, is significant for many reasons. 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first African slaves landed in America. The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, along with related agencies such as the Ministry of Tourism in Ghana, and now Afrochella, are all rolling out the red carpet for everyone to enjoy and experience Ghana this December. We got a chance to talk to Co-Founder, Kenny, and Afrochella’s Spokesperson, Gifty Boakye, about the upcoming event and what it means for the community.
Ayo O. for Onetribemag:
How did the idea for Afrochella come about?
Kenny: It was actually Abdul’s idea. I moved to Ghana a couple of years ago and Abdul came in 2014. As we hung out, we realized we only went out in the evening as there was not much to do during the day time. Abdul came up with the idea that we should throw a festival. We told a couple of our friends but some of them didn’t agree. We started to plan some things out in 2015, like finding a location and building a team, up until our launch in 2017.
Was Coachella the original inspiration?
Kenny: Not at all, we just wanted to do something for the culture. Growing up, it wasn’t cool to be African. We just wanted to explore and showcase the African culture so people can be proud of who they are. That’s why our motto is Food, Art, Music, and Culture. We wanted to highlight all 4 of those pillars.
How did the first event go in 2017?
Kenny: It was great, we had over 4000 attendees and in 2018, we had over 10,000 attendees.
I remember seeing a tweet from Abdul after the first Afrochella where he mentioned some setbacks you guys had. What are some of the lessons you guys have learned over the last couple of years?
Kenny: That particular tweet was about us learning from our mistakes. During the event, we realized the venue was too small for all of these people. So Abdul and Vernell (Culture Management Group) wanted to block access to the venue because we couldn’t contain the crowd as it is. It was a teachable moment for us because just because the more people enter, the more money can be made, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. It wasn’t about the money for us, we wanted to give people the experience of Afrochella. We didn’t want to squeeze all of these people there, no one will enjoy it. We also had to learn a lot about rules, permits, and having an organized checklist.
With so many music festivals out there and the globalization of African music, more and more of our artists are performing on American stages. How important is it to you guys to keep Afrochella homegrown as it relates to your partnerships, artists and the community?
Kenny: It’s very important. One thing Abdul always says is that we always want an African to headline. They don’t have to be from Ghana but as Africans, we have to showcase ourselves. It’s a festival for Africans.
Gifty: This year’s festival, we’re inviting everybody home. Not just Ghanaians, but everybody. We’re welcoming everyone in as Ghanaians to not only get into the culture but pay homage to where it all started.
What are some specific activities you guys have planned in connection with the Year of the Return?
Kenny: Right now, we have 4 different ‘Afrochella Talks’ events, highlighting more creatives and learning more about them and what they do for the diaspora. The first one, in Accra, is about the visual arts, features individuals like Amarachi Nwosu, Adjo Kisser, Hanson Akatti, and more.
Gifty: In addition, each year we do a charity and this year we are bringing awareness to education and our charity is renovating a school in Ghana on the 3rd of January. We will be remodeling the ceilings, floors, providing backpacks, books, and more, with the mission of improving education in the Youth of Ghana.
Kenny: We also have ‘Afrochella Feed’ which will be taking place December 26th. Using our Afrochella Food Truck, we will set out to feed 1000 kids driving around the city of Accra. We also have ‘African Royalty Night’, January 1, which is a Gala to close out the Afrochealla events.
It sounds like Community is really important to the Afrochealla team. What kind of direct impact have you guys seen so far in the surrounding community in the past two years?
Gifty: Aside from the charity aspect, we’ve highlighted the importance of creativity in Ghana. As Africans, we tend to pay more attention to industries like law, medicine, etc., but Afrochella celebrates individuals in music and art. Beyond that, we are also reminding people that Africa is not just monkeys and trees but we’re showing people that they can experience something that is just as high tech and lively and a well put together production in Ghana that a lot of outsiders wouldn’t expect.
I noticed that this year, there’s a lot more focus on tourism and sightseeing through Ghana, what’s the thinking behind this push?
Kenny: We didn’t want people to come to Ghana just for Afrochella and go home. We wanted people to experience what Ghana has to offer. The tour is something we did already but it was separate. Now we just combined it with the Afrochealla experience. On the 31st of December, attendees go on the Accra city food tour, on January 1st they go to Cape Coast, then the next day they get to see Shai Hills, and so on. We wanted people to know what else is going on around the country, learn something about the culture and history so you can take something back with you.
Shifting towards logistics, people may know not what it takes to execute something like Afrochella, so how many people are responsible for making Afrochella a success?
Kenny: It’s funny you say that because 2 days after 2018’s Afrochella, we started planning this year’s. We have indirect and independent contractors that we hire along with security, the cooks, drivers, artists, production team, and then the core year-round team, you’re looking at hundreds of people. Special shoutout to the people behind the scenes like ‘Scarecrow’, Kayla, Kelvin, without any of them, Afrochella wouldn’t work.
Who decided which artists perform?
Gifty: She’s the boss! She gives the green light.
Kenny: We all have input but Khadija is in charge of the artists.
How many people are you expecting this year?
Kenny: We’re trying to fit 15,000 – 18,000 people. That’s my personal goal.
Last year we saw a lot of public figures from Ebro, Naomi Campbell, Rosario Dawson etc came to Ghana. Are you guys planning some celebrity popups this year?
Kenny: We are definitely in communication with a lot of celebrities but we can’t disclose at this time. But you’re definitely in for a surprise!
There are a lot of things to do in Ghana this December, namely Afronation who just had a successful Portugal event. Do you guys look at these events as competition or just another event that uplifts the culture?
Gifty: I’m excited that everyone is trying to uplift the culture and bring people back. I think competition is healthy and as far as Afrochella goes, there’s only one Afrochella and we believe in our brand and where we’re going.
Most typical African parents only want you to pursue engineering, medicine, law, etc. What do your parents think of Afrochella?
Kenny: It’s interesting because they’re always pushing us [Kenny & Abdul] But before, back in school, I actually flipped my tuition. When I used to do events in college, my parents transferred payments to my account and I used that to bring Fabolous to school and got in so much trouble for that. But now they can’t stop talking about us and Afrochella.
What do you want your audience to take away the most out of this year’s Afrochealla?
Gifty: Come home. We want everyone to know that Africans are welcoming. You can be comfortable here. Learn something, have something new to talk about, change the narrative on what Africa has to offer. We want people to leave with the mindset that Africa is Sexy. People who came last year had nothing negative to say and were surprised at how much fun they had.