Afrofest is a yearly tradition that was started in 1989 and has been growing in support year after year. However, this year felt different. No scratch that - this year was different! There was a need to support Afrofest 2016 because of the City's attempt to reduce it to 1 day due to noise level complaints and the resulting ensuing public outcry via online petitions and emails directly to Councillor McMahon, who oversees The Woodbine/Beaches area, and Mayor Tory. We personally wrote to Councillor McMahon expressing our concern. Below is an excerpt from that email:
"Afrofest is one of the only festivals in the city where people from all cultures and backgrounds can celebrate African culture, music, food and entertainment. It draws upwards of 60,000 people over the course of 2 days, and I have been attending Afrofest for the past 7 years and it is of the events I look forward to the most. As a person of Nigerian background, events like Afrofest really make me feel like Toronto is home because not many other cities can provide an event like this on such a large scale. Also, being that it is 2 days, often I can only attend one of the days and love that there is an option for me to attend on more than one day in case my schedule prevents me from attending one of the days. It is an absolute shame that the city is restricting the festival to one day and it is an absolute embarrassment for the City of Toronto and its Councillors."
Although this was not the only festival in the City, as African people, this one hit home. Not only because this is one of the only festivals you can enjoy many different aspects of African culture including food, music, performers and vendors but we as entrepreneurs see Afrofest as the perfect platform to grow our business and reach the right audience. Many felt as if it the threat to reduce the festival to one day was a direct attack on not only Music Africa, but in large part the African-Caribbean communities that constantly endure such public scrutiny. We have seen this with Caribana several times (increased police presence, fences, etc). People were just not buying the City's reason to reduce such a large festival to one day based on a few noise complaints, but here you can read the response we got from Councillor McMahon herself:
"The content of a festival does not determine the terms of the permit that is issued, nor does it have an impact on how the City views violations. Alterations of permits due to violations are common. Depending on the nature of violations, the City has shortened end-times, changed conditions, and has even completely refused to renew permits for events.
Unfortunately, Afrofest has repeatedly violated the terms of their permit. These violations have included extending amplified music well past the stipulated end-times and constructing of an un-permitted second performance stage.
Over the past 4 years, Parks, Forestry and Recreation and I have worked with the organizers of Afrofest to ensure compliance with their permit. Respecting the permits issued by the City is not optional. Parks staff and I have repeatedly explained to the organizers of Afrofest that a reduction in days was a potential consequence of continued violations.
I have heard from many residents across the GTA about the cultural importance of this festival. I am committed to work with the organizers of Afrofest, as I do with all festivals, to ensure that the event operates within the bounds of their permit.
I support those who attend and perform at music festivals however, the City has a duty not to reward organizers that violate their permits. It is unfair to those event organizers who abide by their permit conditions if repeated violations are ignored."
Either way, the beautiful people of Toronto went to bat for Afrofest and they were allowed to have their 2 day event as usual and this is why it was more important for people to come out on both days and show full support for a festival that was on the verge of possibly being phased out. Well, we showed up for both days so here is our recap of the 2 Day festival in case you missed out:
Afrofest is always jam packed with people from all over the city and from all over the world but it's amazing to see the diversity within a large cultural group. The East, West, North and South African countries are all represented at Afrofest not only with the attendees, but with performers and vendors alike. We arrived at Woodbine Park around 4pm on Saturday (we were running on African time) and it was already hard to find parking. The small stage located at the Coxwell entrance to the park called the BOABAB Stage was already in full swing with MC Bonde representing Zimbabwe from G987 and MC Ebone from Ghana entertaining the crowd and getting them warmed up for the festivities.
First up, was a fashion show, presented by African Fashion Week Toronto which showcased African-inspired designs from the city's best up and coming designers. It was even announced that Toronto Fashion Week will no longer happen this year so African Fashion Week will take center stage in showcasing some of the best in style & fashion. Beautiful models graced the stage and showed off high fashion styles which blended traditional African patterns with modern chic styles.
After the fashion show, the crowd got a short but great lesson in Kizomba by some amazing dancers. In case you didn't know, Kizomba originated in Angola and with a Portugese musical influence, the dance and music are both very slow but sensuous rhythm. Check out the dance lesson below
Afrofest provides you with a plethora of dancing and performers who LOVE to get the crowd involved and the crowd was fully engaged the whole way through with all eyes, all hands, all hips and all waists glued to the stage and moving in tune. This is where the Black Stars TO dance crew shines in every regard. The Black Stars TO dance crew has really been taking over events, killing performances and wowing crowds for quite some time now. What makes them so awesome is the fusion of dance with elements of jazz, hip hop and contemporary moves which they make look easy, but very hard to duplicate. They took center stage at Afrofest and totally enthralled the crowd with smooth waist rolling choreography.
What sets them apart is their high energy and fast paced movements but also being able to get the crowd involved with simplified dance moves that even your most off beat friend can follow. So what did the Black Stars do next? They brought their energy right to the crowd
They cleared some space and dared the best dancers to follow along and it was like an AfroBeats Line Dance with everyone following their lead. It was an amazing sight to see people moving in unison to the beat of the drum.
The energy was amazing and you felt like you were part of the group, although, we are sure it takes more the simple moves to be able to hold your own the the Black Stars. Check out a video of their performance here and follow them on Instagram to see more of their awesome performances across the city.
Now this was all before we even got to walk around and get some food but Afrofest doesn't disappoint in that regard either. There is so much to do, see and eat - that if you are not careful you may just overdose on all three. If you want to get one of the classic African snacks, The SUYA spot has you covered. Suya is a popular West African shish kebab that hits the spot if you are into spice and SUYA SPOT boasts the best in the city so they are at Afrofest every year with long lines of people wanting to get a taste.
If you are feeling for something heavy and want a traditional West African dish, then Afrofest is the spot to sample the classic Jollof rice dishes from Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal to name a few. Each Country claims to have the best Jollof rice, a battle that will never end but at Afrofest, you can try both and decide for yourself.
With our bellies full, we decided to shop around a bit and visit a few of the vendors and there was a lot to choose from. Some were selling traditional African fashion, cloth, jewellery and artifacts. Others were selling books by African authors while others were selling the natural Black Soap. Shea Butter, Scented Oils and other hair and grooming products that are gaining more popularity as the 'natural" look is becoming more of the norm.
To cap of the festival, the Main Stage brought out some of Africa's best with powerful performance from Emmanuel Jal and Ruff N Smooth. Emmanuel Jal, Sudanese born former child solider, is using his music to empower and inspire others with messages of peace, unity and perseverance.
Ruff N Smooth on the other hand got the crowd waving their flags and jumping to their popular hits like Dance For Me! They definitely were the perfect selection to close out the 2 day festival and they had people wanting more.
Overall, Afrofest was an absolute joy to witness and be apart of with a sea of beautiful people enjoying the best of Africa. Afrofest truly appeals to each of your senses; the sight of vibrant colors and patterns from African fashion & style, the sound of Afrobeats bumping in the distance and the voices of the artist belting out their enchanting music, the alluring smell of Suya and Jollof rice emitting from the cooking grills of food vendors, the taste of traditional West African and Caribbean dishes and finally, the feel of being in an open place surrounding by beautiful people from all over, enjoying and supporting each other in peace and unity and positive vibes.
Afrofest is Clutch Life 85 approved and this is something we will not miss, and we hope that you won't miss out either. If all that wasn't enough, the Pineapple Smoothies were to die for!
We hope you enjoyed our recap and we hope you enjoy all that our beautiful city of Toronto has to offer. Feel free to comment and let us know what you like or disliked about Afrofest 2016! To see more pics from Afrofest 2016, visit our Facebook Page and check out our WorldWide collection for some new African and Worldwide flags to rep for the Summer.
As always, Stay Clutch!
Clutch Life 85 Team