The 15th annual Africa Fest celebration will be as big as ever this year as thousands of area people will learn about grassroots African culture and traditions directly from Africans living in the Madison community Saturday, Aug. 17 at Warner Park on Madison's north side.
“This is truly a community event. Africa Fest is a great way to showcase African culture to the greater Madison community,” says Godwin Amegashie, chairman of the board of directors for the African Association of Madison Inc. “The theme of the event really mirrors what our hope, our wish, and what the African Association of Madison represents.”
The theme for Africa Fest this year is "Building and Bridging Communities” with the sub-theme of “Building the fabric of the community.”
“One of the unique things in African textiles is that there are a plethora of colors and that mirrors how we want people to look at Madison,” Amegashie says. “Madison is not just one color; it's made up of many. If you look at a Kente cloth [see sidebar at right] you will see all of these beautiful colors woven together. Building the fabric of the community takes into consideration that everybody — all of us in Madison — have a duty to build this community. Its the weaving of that variety of fabric that makes this community strong and that makes Madison what we all want it to be.”
Africa Fest is an annual educational and enjoyable event hosted by the African Association of Madison Inc. and its partners. It is devoted to grassroots cultural heritage and features musicians, artists, performers, cooks, craftspeople, and scholars who will be demonstrating, presenting, and discussing the cultural traditions of recent African immigrants in the Madison area. Featured performers this year include Jam-Ak-Jam Troupe from Senegal, Kikeh Mato Afro-Pop Band from Guinea, WADOMA, Tani Diakite Musical Band, Atimevu Drum & Dance, Nigerian Masquerade, Rwanda and Caribbean Dance Troupes. There will be African hair braiding demonstrations, an African apparel and fashion parade, cooking demonstrations, craft and fashion vendors, wood-carving demonstrations, food vendors and exhibits about Africa. In addition, the Parade of African nations will be featured.
The African Tent Tour will showcase a kaleidoscope of real African textiles with other themes in arts, baskets and weavings, bags, clothing, and culture that adorns the African traditional life. One of the very special guests at Africa Fest 2013 will be Karen Kakou, Miss Ivory Coast USA, and one of the contestants in the recent national Miss Africa USA contest.
The event will kick off at 10 a.m. with Strides For Africa, a run/walk that is a unique fund-raising experience that will change the lives of those half a world away by helping to raise money for water well projects in Africa.
“Strides For Africa is really a way to give back to Africa,” Amegashie says. “People [in Africa] walk miles and miles to get water and water is an essential part of life. What Strides For Africa does is raise money for wells — this year one will be built in West Africa. If we can get water wells built, that will help tremendously. It has an economic development content to it. If somebody goes two hours each way to get water, that's four hours of doing nothing. If they had a well, it gives people an opportunity to do other things.
“This is our way as Madisonians to give back to Africa and share in that common humanity that binds all of us and is carried forward by being our brothers' keepers,” Amegashie adds.
Africa Fest has grown tremendously since its humble beginnings 15 years ago. “I remember the very first time we held it at Monona Terrace [Community and Convention Center],” Amegashie says. “ We used the Hall of Fame Room and had a handful of people. While Monona Terrace was a central location, we were so happy — with all of dancing, music, and sounds — to move outdoors to Warner Park in the open air.”
As Africa is a continent with tremendous history, traditions, and diversity, the Africa Fest organizers are tasked with trying to capture all of that in one single day. “We try to make sure that we cover all of the continent. We have 52 countries. Nigeria has 250 tribes just by itself. It gives you just a plethora of things to choose from,” Amegashie says. “For us, it's almost like being a kid in a candy shop — there's a lot of candy. When you look at our line-up, we try to get as many different countries as we could. We will show many of the fabrics of Africa.”
This year's Africa Fest will feature entertainment from Senegal, Liberia, Togo, West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, the Caribbean, Morocco, Guinea, and more. Africa Fest is a great way to experience Africa without traveling, Amegashie says.
“What's really good about it is that Madison is changing and we have a very diverse community and that is a very, very good thing. People are willing to try new things,” he says. “You don't really need to travel to enjoy the many wonderful things of other cultures. I remember when I came as a student in the 70s, and the idea of a foreign meal was probably a pizza place. Today, all you need to do is walk down State Street and you can eat at a Nepalese place, an Indian place, a Vietnamese place, an Afghanistani place, an African place.
“The world is changing and all we are doing is being part of the world that we want to build,” Amegashie continues. “The world that we want to build is one where everybody comes to the table and brings something to the table in order to create this wonderful mosaic called the United States of America.”
The African immigrant community has brought its culture and customs to America, Amegashie says, and it has been blended into the American fabric. “When we talk about world peace, one of the ways to really create world peace is when people understand each other's cultures,” he says. “It makes it easy for us to interact. Events like this help bring a certain harmony to Madison.”
Amegashie also hopes the event will, more importantly, dispel misconceptions and falsehoods about Africa. “We want to make sure that there is no distorting of our native Africa. There are many falsehoods and misconceptions,” Amegashie says. “Some of the greatest cities in the world are in Africa. If you saw a picture of [Kenyan capitol and largest city] Nairobi, it makes Madison look like a village. The truth of the matter is that for many of us who are new immigrants, there's an educational purpose to Africa Fest. We want to tell people what Africa is really all about.”
The event has become such a great ordeal over the years that people will travel from Minnesota, Illinois, and Milwaukee — and perhaps even further — for Africa Fest 2013. Amegashie hopes that plenty of people from Madison will come and check it out, too.
“People should come out to learn about Africa. A lot of the knowledge about Africa needs to be dispelled,” he says. “This is the 21st century. With the Internet and aircraft, we should know a little more about everybody. We should be learning from our neighbors and friends.
“We hope that people want to learn to appreciate the diversity,” Amegashie adds. “Come and enjoy a great community event in which you become a participant. We like to encourage everybody in attendance to be a full participant in everything. They will enjoy it.”
The 15th annual Africa Fest will take place Saturday, Aug. 17 at Warner Park on Madison's north side.
For more information, visit www.africanassociationofmadison. org/14.html