Afrofest celebrates African diaspora through music, art and culture

Sponsored feature: presented by Afrofest (July 7-8)

AFROFEST. Music Africa’s outdoor music and culture festival featuring live performances, workshops, spoken word, dance, interactive children’s village and a marketplace. Jul 7 & 8, Sat noon-11 pm, Sun noon-8 pm. Woodbine Park. Free. Find out more here.

The 30th anniversary of Afrofest, the largest free festival of its kind in North America, will feature acts from over 20 countries showcasing a blend of vocal performances, music, drumming and dance – all representing traditional and contemporary artistic styles. Headliners this year include Congolese Roga Roga and Extra Music, Ivory Coast Afro-Zouk singer Monique Seka, Juno-award winning multinational group Okavango and many more.

Tatiana King, a media/entertainment business owner and co-host of the African Groove Show on G987FM, remembers the magical feeling she had when attending Afrofest the first time, back when the festival was located at Queen’s Park. Years later, she still feels the same way while watching it all happen at its newest home at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end.

“It’s like a dream come true for Africans in the diaspora,” she says. “This festival gives people a taste of home by way of the food, the smells, the clothing, the cloth – hearing someone from their country and the language that they’re speaking. It gives people that warmth.”

That connection is a crucial part of the festival and a major reason why so many people show up each year. For immigrants, visiting home can be challenging because the costs of international airfare are a huge economic barrier. Music Africa attempts to bridge that cultural gap with the festival and a host of programming opportunities to strengthen the diaspora community in Toronto. 

“Whether it’s an international artist from their country or putting a local group of dancers on stage that are from their country, it is a really dynamic way of bringing community together to make people feel good,” says King.

She explains that not only does Afrofest give people a taste of home but it also brings them together. People regularly reunite and reconnect with friends and family at the festival. At the end of the weekend, it’s hard to get people to go home. “They want to wear something bright, they want to braid their hair, they want to drum, they want that feeling because it’s a beautiful feeling. It’s a summer highlight. You don’t want to miss it. It’s a vibe.”

Afrofest executive and artistic director Peter Toh says a huge part of the festival is raising the confidence of festival acts and attendees.

“When the rest of the world sees the quality of work that is being done, it lifts the self-esteem of all the Africans in who say ‘Wow, this is us. This is our culture. This is how we are supposed to be represented. These are a proud people.”

What began as solely a music festival has evolved over its 30-year history into a vibrant music, arts and culture festival with programming dedicated to African artists and the community overall.

“We’ve created a platform for African artists who are aspiring to take their craft to the next level. We’ve designed an educational program that will give African artists the information and the tools necessary to at least show them the door and how to conduct themselves and where to go. We also partner with various individuals who teach African art and African culture in various schools,” says Toh.

He explains that a festival like Afrofest offers performers an incredibly valuable opportunity, regardless of the genre of African music they play.  

“You’re performing in front of your own people and it is a solid audience that’s more appreciative because the people you’re performing to know and understand your art,” says Toh.

Toronto’s diversity offers unique opportunities for different communities to connect in meaningful ways, which is what Toh hopes Music Africa’s programming will help to achieve.

“Through our work, we are hopeful that African culture will see more mainstream presentation and more Torontonians will support our programs.”

Learn more about this year’s festival at NOW’s Afrofest Spark Page.

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