The Blackest event of the entire year just happened over the weekend. And even better, it happened in the Blackest city in the country, Detroit. Founded in 2019, Afro Nation has taken the West African sound all over the world with their travelling festival. After a successful stop in Miami earlier this year organizers decided that Motown would be the perfect place to have their next celebration. And after a weekend full of dancing, singing, and Black unity, I’d say that they were right.
The festival attendees a diverse mix of Black people from all over the dysphoria. Outside of a few white couples and non-Black friends in a Black friend group, the attendance was almost completely Black Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, with their flags draped over their shoulders. Black Americans, repping their city on their hats and T-shirts. And even some Black Canadians who proudly wore Toronto Blue Jays merch at the event. Every kind of Black person was there, and they all had a great time together as one.
However, even though there were people from all walks of life at the festival, it was obvious that many of the attendees weren’t fully familiar with Caribbean and West African culture. As the opening artist and DJs rocked their stages, some in the crowd could be seen dutty wining and working their waistline while others awkwardly bounced to the music. That’s not to say that everyone wasn’t having a good time though. You could clearly see how interested and engaged the newcomers were despite their lack of movement. When a DJ or artist would temperature check an audience by asking them to shout, the response was consistently loud and enthusiastic. They were locked in with everyone that hit the stage, they just didn’t know exactly how to show it.
You could tell with one look at the festival grounds that Afro Nation was organized by veterans in their filed. As soon you entered through the gates, almost everything you could need was in view. Food trucks and bar tents, restroom areas, merch tables, and of course the two stages. As people poured in, it was easy for them to find something fun to do. The only thing that could be asked for is maybe a seating area. But considering the festival allowed ticketholders to bring their own lawn chairs, this issue wasn’t too bad.
Not only were the festival grounds inviting and well designed, but they were abundantly safe. Security and DPD officers were extremely visible and the double fence surrounding the event was under constant surveillance. The festival was full, but not overpopulated. If a panic attack occurred, it would take an attendee less than a minute to brake away from the crowd and get plenty of space to catch some air and regain their composure. And medical staff was never more than 5 minutes away no matter where the emergency was located.
It’s honestly refreshing to see a festival prioritize security instead of stuffing their venue or cutting corners for a bigger profit. Despite the huge number of people in attendance, everything felt well under control. Hopefully, other festivals take note of how Afro Nation takes care of the people in their space.
The two-day festival featured some of the biggest names in Afrobeats, and every single one of them did their part to bring West Africa to Southeast Michigan. Openers like Nissi and Ebony Riley established the energy for the festival, completely unphased by the awkward crowd. The American Rap and R&B artists (Ari Lenox, Masango, Latto, and Coi Leray) played a big part in getting the audience connected with the culture as well. Not only did these artists perform songs that the average Black-American could easily sing along too, but they also added a bit of Afrobeat flavor to their classic records to fit the theme. However, it was Davido and Burna Boy who took the event to from great to unforgettable.
Burna had the people absolutely captivated on Saturday as he sang hits like “Gbona” and “Alone”. Animalistic screams could be heard from the crowd as he shed his top layer of clothing and danced across the stage. It got to the point where he couldn’t help but smile at the amount of love the city was showing him. Sunday night belonged to Davido, who lit up the stage with his high energy track “Dami Duro” and “UNAVALIBLE”. The atmosphere only got more intense when he brought out Latto and Victony on stage to preform along side him. And to top it all off, OBO jumped into the crowd and let the fans touch him and shake his hand.
Both artists put on an amazing show. Yet through all the noise and excitement, they still made sure to take the time to publicly send their love to their fellow Nigerian artist, Wizkid. Whose mother passed away the day before the festival. Burna even went as far as asking the crowd for a full minute of silence in memoriam.
Afro Nation was THE event of the 2023 summer in Detroit. Thousands of Black people from all over the continent assembled to enjoy two days Black music and culture. Having such an Afro-centric event in the Blackest city in America felt poetic in a way. Like we were finally reunited with our cousins from the Africa and shown the parts of ourselves that we long forgot. Afro Nation Detroit 2023 was more than a festival, it was a moment. And it’s not a moment that we’ll be forgetting anytime soon.