Ian Otchere, founder of Priceless Music Consultancy in Accra, Ghana, submitted this report on the AfroFuture festival, which, as he says, is far more than a festival. For six years the event went on as Afrochella, a name that sparked some controversy. But the idea was strong, a youth-driven, community-organized, multifaceted event aiming to improve many aspects of life in Ghana, while also celebrating the country’s emerging music stars. In December 2022, fans were shocked when it seemed the entire festival was being terminated. But not so fast. Ian picks up the story in this exclusive report for afropop.org. There are a lot of new names here, both of artists and community players, but it’s all testimony to the vibrancy of the creative industries in Ghana today.
All photos from AfroFuture
When the organizers of Afrochella (now AfroFuture), Culture Management Group, took to the stage at the end of Afrochella 2022 in Accra, Ghana, to announce that year’s edition as the last of an incredible run that began in 2017, everyone present thought that was the end, but it turned out that was just the beginning of a new phase. What quickly followed was an announcement of the festival’s new name from that moment on..
On 17th October, the festival announced Black Sherif, Jhus and Davido as the headliners for AfroFuture 2023 on December 28-29, 2023, and that was the beginning of everything they had planned for Detty December. As the date approached, Jhus dropped out, but the show went on. Organizers remained committed to giving fans an unforgettable experience, and that was what happened.
Over the years, the festival has morphed into a celebration of Black excellence and a bridge between the African diaspora and the Motherland, and this edition was no different. From activations involving food, fashion, art and music to the Afro Expo spanning December 21 through January 5—which hosted mixers and panel discussions, entrepreneurial pitch competitions, film competitions, wellness sessions, health screenings, a beach cleanup, giving-back initiatives, DJ classes and more—this year’s festival rode the theme “Black Unification & Pan Africanism.” The collaborations with Tech Connect and Earn Your Leisure’s Market Mondays World Tour Final Stop were also great opportunities to get fans of AfroFuture to attend and enjoy enriching experiences. Afro Expo has always been a great way to connect people from different parts of the world, and has fueled many new friendships, partnerships and businesses through networking.
Day One of the festival kicked off with a host of art installations, cultural displays, horse-riding and a vendor market that showcased the many different Ghanaian foods, clothing and artifacts at the El-Wak Sports Stadium. At the center was the TuneCore stage hosted by Mensah JR., featuring performances from the top five finalists of this year’s TuneCore Rising Star competition, namely Romeo Swag, 99 Phaces, Essilfie, Sage the Rager and Big Moon. Each one looked forward to being the one crowned when the 2023 Rising Star winner was announced on Day Two. The winner of the Rising DJ/Producer competition, Tiannah, demonstrated why she came out on top in this year’s competition. The day also included electrifying performances from JZYNO, Aisha Vibes, Supersmash Broz, Afrolektra, DJ Mish and more.
Hosted by Mc Lolahstic and Michael Nicholss, the main stage for Day Two saw top-notch performances from Efya, Samini, Crayon, Odumodublvck and Black Sherif, who brought out Odumodublvck to perform their smash hit “Wotowoto Seasoning” before closing the night around 3:00 am.
Day Two kicked off with more of the daytime activities, and the TuneCore stage in action again. This time, Mensa Jr. hosted Bleau, Larusso, Offei, AraTheJay, Von Dee, Yahyah Rich, Yung D3mz, Eff the DJ, DJ Pizaro, DJ Sleek, MK Dance Competition and more.
The main stage on featured Camidoh, R2Bees, Focalistic, Musa Keys, Adekunle Gold and Davido, who also brought out to perform and King Promise for guest appearances before bringing back Musa Keys for the performance of their hit collaboration “Unavailable” and closing the night and the festival at approximately 4:30 am much to the displeasure of those in attendance. The delayed performances and late closing times did not sit well with festival goers but the show went on just the same.
Beyond the musical performance, the Crux Global x AfroFuture Industry Mixer on December 21 kicked off celebrations for the year, bringing stakeholders from all industries in a bid to inspire conversations on how the power of collaboration can benefit all parties. General Manager of Crux Global Josephine Bonsu welcomed guests to a night of conversation and networking that focused on the Play Ghana initiative, aimed at promoting Ghanaian music in country’s media landscape. That sentiment was championed by Ike Otoo Arhin, Co-Founder of Crux Global, an organization also dedicated to increasing rotation for Ghanaian music at all times.
The Black Ambition Ghana Prize Competition followed on December 22. Three Ghanaian startups emerged winners after rounds of live pitching their businesses for a combined prize of $10,000 split amongst the three. KODU Technology, an agribusiness outfit that produces eco-friendly sanitary pads from banana and plantain fiber, was the winner of the competition and took home $5,000. SPIIKA, an African language learning app, took home $3,000 as first Runner-Up while PorduCare Enterprise, a social enterprise dedicated to the production of quality shea butter, walked away with $2,000 as secon Runner-Up. Founded by Pharrell Williams, Black Ambition is a non-profit initiative working to close the wealth gap by investing capital and resources in high-growth start-ups founded by Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs.
The health pillar of the Afro Expo this year began with the Flower Healing Therapy for Mental Health event on December 23 in partnership with Flower Talk Official, founded by holistic mental health practitioner Maggie Sade, to promote wellness through workshops for men and women, health screenings and celebrations.
Then followed the Black Health Connect (BHC) Q4 Mixer on December 27, which first took place during last year’s Afro Expo. Health professionals from across Ghana and the diaspora once again had the opportunity to connect and share ideas. This was followed by a day of health screenings. Founded by Dr. Duclas Charles, Black Health Connect aims to create and curate both a physical and digital hub for Black healthcare professionals from the diaspora to connect and engage with one another.
Dr. Rashad Abdallah, the Director of Africa for Black Health Connect and the Health Liaison for AfroFuture, said, “My focus has been to expand our mission across the continent through culturally intentional programming and service work. It is my hope that much like the connections across state lines BHC is able to make in America, we can further build a stronger bridge with health professionals across Africa. Our partnership with AfroFuture has amplified our mission across the world, increasing attendance to our mixer from 100 last year to 260 this year, connecting with people from Africa, America and Europe. With 70 amazing volunteers, we were able to screen 400 people while fully covering the cost for emergency services and follow-up for 54 patients, providing much-needed healthcare services to the people of the Nima community (a suburb of Accra) and putting smiles on their faces. We will keep up this work and hopefully make this community engagement a more frequent one.”
Ford Communications partnered with AfroFuture and presented their first-ever Wood X Watta Business Brunch and Art on January 2, 2024. This event featured panel discussions hosted by Lakeisha Ford (MD, Ford Communications), which focused on business across arts, culture, intellectual property and investment for the diaspora, in Ghana and Africa at large. Amongst the panelists were Asafa Powell (Olympic gold medalist, Jamaica), Christian Saint (artist & photographer), Asia Clarke (multidisciplinary artist), Kofi Anku (CEO, Pokuase Park), Leila Mensah (real estate developer), Juls (Grammy-nominated music producer), Ivie Ani (culture journalist) and Kel-P (Grammy-winning record producer) among others.
YouTube Black returned to host their annual YouTube Black Future Insiders’ Summit in partnership with AfroFuture and Jambo Spaces. There were multiple panels and presentations involving Ghanaian artists, popular YouTube creators from across Africa and members of the YouTube Black team. The discussions ranged from monetization of content, how to properly utilize YouTube shorts, game competitions and personal highlights and insights from the YouTubers present all in a day of education, networking, resource sharing and fun. The goal was to demystify YouTube and facilitate access to talent and thought leadership and industry initiatives.
TuneCore returned to host its Artist & Industry Mixer for the second year running featuring a panel discussion on Bridging Gaps & Building the African Music Business, moderated by Kabelo Moremi (Fratpack) and featuring Chioma Onuchukwu (Head TuneCore, West & East Africa), Abdul Karim Adbullah (C.E.O. & Founder, AfroFuture), DJ Juls (artist/producer/DJ), Olele Salvador (entertainment journalist/host, 3Music TV) and Christel Ayibi (Sony Music). During this mixer, the winner of this year’s Rising DJ/Producer of the year winner Tiannah performed ahead of her set on the TuneCore stage on festival day.
To close out 2023, AfroFuture hosted the two-part event that featured a lecture on the “femme” movement in music through iconic visuals, discussing the global impact of Nollybabes, focusing on the ‘90s and 2000s Nollywood. Nollybabes is an archival space dedicated to Nollywood’s most iconic femme characters.
In partnership with Black Film Space and Canes Can: Diversity Collective (CC:DC), AfroFuture held its first film festival competition on January 2. That night, industry giants were honored for their contribution to television and film in Ghana. Among them were Juliet Yaa Asantewaa Asante (veteran actress/C.E.O, National Film Authority of Ghana), Blitz ‘the Ambassador, Bazawule (film director & artist), Bozoma St. John (Hall of Fame marketer/author of The Urgent Life) and Idris Elba (actor/DJ). Black Film Space is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the careers of Black filmmakers. The CC:DC was created in 2018 to remedy the lack of diversity in advertising, marketing, communications and creative industries. Ebenezer Blanche, director of the short film Mathlete, was the winner of the film competition. Stephanie Boateng, director and producer of Locked-In and Andy Madjitey, director and producer of Gbonyo Party were the other finalists.
On January 3, the Multihyphenates x AMAKA Meet Up & Brunch took place with a great networking session, a panel and two presentations. This event was hosted by Louise Darko (Founder & Curator, Multihyphenates / Head of Programming, AfroFuture) and co-hosted by Adaorah Oramah (Founder & C.E.O., AMAKA) who shared a presentation on the work AMAKA has been doing to enable creators to monetize their talents. Other industry leaders then led a panel on How To Build Resiliency.
Rounding out this year’s Afro Expo on January 5 was the maiden edition of Women Take The World (W.T.T.W.). This DJ Workshop was a gathering female powerhouses taking over the decks. There was an intimate panel discussion featuring TMSK DJ and Yelvu, as they dived into the intricacies of being a female DJ in a male-dominated industry. Next, Yelvu joined DJ Kezz to take participants through a DJ lesson for beginners, eventually closing the event with an open DJ session for participants.
Louise Darko (Head of Programming Afrofuture/Afro Expo) said afterward. “As a cultural festival that focuses on music, it was a plus that we kicked off this year’s Expo with a Crux Global Industry Mixer, with conversations around Play Ghana, which has been a focus for Ghanaians in recent weeks. We attract a lot of the diaspora to the festival, but we purposefully focus our attention on bridging the gap between local Ghanaians and the diaspora. We also collaborated with stakeholders across tech, fashion, food, culture, and health and wellness, an example being The Flower Talk mental awareness program. It was an important one because it highlighted the conversations that we need to be having in black communities around mental health. Afrofuture really is more than a festival"
To top it all off, AfroFuture Foundation introduced new initiatives, including a scholarship for young female students, a beach clean-up, and an important dialogue with UNICEF and the UN to forge a path on how the festival could successfully implement its sustainable development goals
Gifty Boakye (Head of Philanthropy, AfroFuture) said, “AfroFuture is a festival for us, by us, and as such, the AfroFuture Foundation tries to leverage the audience from the diaspora and Ghana to make sure that some of the underserved communities in Ghana are not forgotten. First off, the plan with the foundation is to implement sustainable programming as part of our new relationship with UNICEF. They are excited about what we are doing in giving back to our community, especially with the eye of the world watching us now.”
AfroFuture has a fundraising goal of $5,000 to provide a GHC 20,000 scholarship for three Women Leaders of Tomorrow. The scholarship is co-funded by Team Up, an international non-profit that works all over the world. This year’s winner was Alice Adansi from Kumasi. Said Boakye, “Hopefully that can help her achieve her educational goals in this time of economic hardship. We look forward to doing more next year.”
Maayeko, Ahaban, Polo Beach Club and Team Up organized a beach cleanup at the Labadi Beach. Last year, a lot of people who traveled to Ghana for the festival had a great time, but they were disappointed by the condition of the beaches. AfroFurture decided to act.
After seven years of hosting the festival, the team behind AfroFuture 2023 reflected on their new beginning.
Kenny Agyepong (CFO & Co-Founder, AfroFuture) said, “Back in 2017 none of the team had any experience throwing a festival. From then till now, all of us have gained invaluable experience such that even when things got tough during preparations, work continued, thanks to a perfected system and to the sacrifices made by the women on the team. They have been our anchors, making sure everybody had the resources and answers they needed.”
Khadijat El-Alawa (Head of Talent & Music, AfroFuture) said, “We have to appreciate that creatives look to what they need to bring to life their ideas in the best ways. We are a business that runs on a budget and relationships, in addition to the AfroFuture brand. We’ve booked talents for almost every edition, and this year, they even ended up performing during the sets of other artists. We have been able to provide opportunities on the ground in other territories with our other events around the world, bringing homegrown talents along as we work to reach other parts of Africa and the world.”
Exclusively to Afropop Worldwide, AfroFuture has announced a documentary and coffee table book in the works. So stay tuned to Accra!