Yesterday I left home, walked up Georgia Ave, past numerous Ethiopian restaurants and a few West African spots to the 11th annual Fest Africa festivities in downtown Silver Spring (third time in that location, ongoing today). Attendance seemed to be pretty good, the mood was right, and there was a lot of great people watching. A delicious smell of fried plantains also permeated the air. I had been to the event last year for my first time and I seem to recall that I did not have as much fun as this year.
I arrived during a fashion show (which continues today) and I have to say I was impressed at the originality of the designs and the appearance of the models. That was definitely the highlight for me, but there were also west African inspired drummers from Mt. Rainier (Farafina Kan), comedians, dancers (AfrikSHOWDEM). The evening concluded with a performance by the Sierra Leonean artist Emmerson, who is a relatively big name on the African music scene (though I must admit that he reminds of the Nigerian J. Martins, whose style of music is not exactly my favorite). Dj Chick, who appears to be based at Nectar Lounge (which I have come to really like), controlled the music for most of the day.
There were a lot of vendors, the biggest hit seemed to be a Jamaican eatery that was serving smoothies inside of carved pineapples (why haven’t I seen that before?). The National Museum of African Art had a tent, but most of the vendors seemed to represent craftspeople. There were also some promoters circulating in the audience, such as representatives from DrumPulse Entertainment. The event is streaming on a radio station, but I’m not quite sure how to access it.
Now on for an irreverent Fest Africa inspired observation (one of several that came to mind under the host August sun):
I was disappointed by the lack of diversity at the event. Although the racial composition of the audience got slightly better as the day wore on, the number of white faces remained rather spartan.
I work with a lot of white people who are often going off to places like Burkina Faso, South Sudan, etc. They come back with African print clothes, crafts whose amazingly cheap prices they can’t get over, and a newly acquired deep sense of local politics that they can’t help but display with those who were not as fortunate to have their opportunities for business travel.
As any semi-regular visitor to the blog knows, I also go to a lot of policy events on Africa at institutions like CSIS, Brookings, and SAIS. These events attract a lot of people of European origins who ask long winded questions designed to show their intimate knowledge of Africa. I suspect these people also like African crafts and have a few kente cloth shirts that they’ve picked up on brief consulting stints in Accra.
So my question is – why do these people not support local events with an African flair? Fest Africa has plenty of crafts and sanitary African street food that I would think would appeal more to non-Africans than Africans.