The Chicago African Festival of the Arts Reminds Us We Can Celebrate Ourselves and Each Other
At the 2017 African Festival of the Arts in Chicago , the black diaspora came together to celebrate the music, art, fashion, dance and customs of their heritage. Walking around the festival held each Labor Day Weekend September 1-4, 2017, one could see diversity in the black community through languages, skin tones, art, music and dance.
This year the festival organizers were deliberate in creating programming that reflect many regions of the world that represent the black diaspora in the United States. African Americans represents the largest majority. Black people in the United States come from Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, the continent of Africa including countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, and South Africa. South American countries like Brazil, and Afro Latino people from Central America. They speak in French, Portuguese, Jamaican Patois, Haitian Creole, Swahili and tribal languages from different African countries.
The festival opened Friday night with “Millennial Night” that featured popular artist WizKid from Nigeria along with guest Taylor Bennett, brother of Chance the Rapper. Although WizKid canceled due to illness, his music crosses genres like Afrobeat and Hip-Hop. His song “Come Closer” featuring Drake is a current global hit.
Saturday night, the festival focused on an all day “Reggae Block Party” where Chicago top djs performed. The headliner for Saturday was Wayne Wonder, an award-winning dancehall singer who is known for the hit song “No Holding Back.” Wonder’s performance was rained out, but he stayed an extra day to open for Sunday’s main act Wyclef Jean.
Wyclef Jean, from Haiti, is known for being lead singer in the 1990s Fugees band. He rocked the Sunday show paying homage to black music from the diaspora. Jean shared how growing up in Brooklyn New York, he got first opportunity to rap with Jamaican dancehall singers. The crowd went wild when he played Caribbean Carnival music, Haitian kompa music, and popular African dance music by P-Square. He sang some songs in Spanish that he had written for artists like Shakira and Carlos Santana. During his performance, tons of people waved Haitian flags along with some waving the Jamaican and Ghanian flags.
Another highlight on Sunday “Inspiration Night” was the world music stage where a Mexican American named Lady Sol, performed and taught dancehall and hip-hop dance to an audience. The day was filled with unity among people who culturally are different but share a common root.
The festival closed Monday with a “Soul Fest” that celebrated African American music. The featured band “Heat Wave” are known for their 1970s funk/disco music.
The richness of black heritage spans regions, skin tones, and languages. We can learn a lot from celebrating ourselves and each other. As with any people, black music and culture is influential is worthy of celebration.