The year is 2017. It’s the 29th day of December and the sun is high in the sky over the Accra Polo Grounds. On the lush green fields are more than a few hundred Ghanaians and diasporans, partaking in a day party that is seemingly ambitious in its naming and advertising. Afrochella, a name that sounds a lot like California’s Coachella, is happening for the first time – a story is about to begin.
The year is 2019. It’s been 400 years since the first slave ships took off from the shores of Africa, and black people all over the world are making it a point to return home. Afrochella, an experience that began two years ago, has carved out a true and lasting identity for itself. It’s grown exponentially, to the point where it’s now hosted in the El Wak Sports Stadium. It’s no longer a one-day event synonymous to some festival in California. It’s a full-fledged festival; a celebration of African culture, and a visible connection between the diaspora and the motherland.
Afrochella kicked off in 2017 with co-founders Kenny Agyapong and Abdul Karim Abdullah at the helm, both men who had made names for themselves throwing parties in New York. They arrived in Ghana, reached out to Edward Adjaye, the current Chief Operations Officer, and started work. What took time in starting became an instant success, and for three years running, Culture Management Group, the company behind the festival, have always delivered a great experience and continue to look to the future to doing so. Their run has been phenomenal. From a day festival to being the official closing event for Ghana’s Year of Return Campaign, it’s not in question that these gentlemen deserve their EMY 2020 Discovery of the Year award.
“We were not expecting it [the award] at all, and are super grateful. Receiving accolades was never part of our initiative and so it is very surprising and somewhat refreshing to be recognised for our hard work.” Edward, also a digital personality on Accra’s social media space, spoke.
It hasn’t been a linear path to success for the festival though. As Edward put it, “All the problems that come with managing an event on this scale we have been through. From event centers cancelling on us, to last minute back outs, anything you can possibly think of, we have been through.” And, with COVID-19 still lingering in the air, it seems the path may only be getting rougher. “My team and I will always take the health and wellness of our audience above everything else and so if we have to cancel the event this year then so be it. Strict health measures will be implemented in all our events moving forward. We are also working on creating a virtual experience so stay tuned for that.” Edward mentioned.
Despite being actively involved in the Year of Return campaign and organising several events that were on the official campaign event list, Afrochella isn’t just about connecting the diaspora to Africa. It’s also very much about giving back. In 2018, the festival organisers partnered with WaterAid in order to raise GHS10,000.00 for some underprivileged families in Ghana. In 2019, Afrochella created 700 jobs for locals and the Diaspora worldwide. The Reads and Feeds charity initiative started by Afrochella, which received over $10,000 in sponsorships, contributed to five hundred meals being distributed to underprivileged families in Accra, as well as the renovation of Genesis, an orphanage school in Jamestown.
The impact of the Afrochella festivals has been undisputed. With the hard work and effort put into the organisation of Africa’s largest cultural festival, it is unsurprising that has already achieved international recognition while existing for only three years. The festival has been featured on many international platforms like Essence, CNN, Forbes and Tidal. It has also been the launching pad for a few music, photography, and fashion careers in Accra since it began. And the impact isn’t felt in Ghana only. “My favorite moment from Afrochella outside of meeting artists and celebrities from all the world is the feedback we get from our audience. Having someone in Thailand message us about being excited to be there, people from all over the world telling me they saw people in Afrochella merch. These are the things that fulfill me.” The stage has been set for something truly inspirational to keep growing.
Afrochella’s success is the blend of many things; from hardworking executives to government support, the list is endless. But one thing we can definitely not rule out is the karma of good history. Afrochella was first held on the Accra Polo Grounds. On 6th March, 1957, at that same venue, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah uttered, to a teeming crowd of Ghanaians, the liberating words “Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever.”
And, just like the small West African country that was founded that night on those very grounds, Afrochella is definitely here to stay.