Dubbed by producers as the Bonnaroo or Coachella of African events, AfrikCan Boston is a major music and arts festival dedicated to celebrating and honoring African music and culture. It boasts an all-star lineup featuring internationally established artists like Grammy Award winners Oumou Sangare (from Mali) and DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown (aka Erykah Badu), as well as South African house music legend Black Coffee and Cote d’Ivoirian reggae big Alpha Blondy, to name a few.
Local talents such as Lamine Toure and DJ Adam Gibbons of Uhuru Afrika were also set to rock Roxbury’s Ramsey’s Park for five straight days as part of the event, starting Tuesday night and ripping through the weekend, but plans for the fest have suddenly changed in the 11th hour. No more live murals and art, no more fashion, no more food. The same goes for the planned discussions about activism and civic engagement meant to give attendees a platform to voice ideas.
According to Marie-Claude Mendy, AfrikCan’s creator and prime producer, she was given two primary reasons for the cancellation. First, the city maintained there were not enough resources to support an event of this magnitude, especially since another large arts festival—Outside the Box—was taking place that same week in Boston. Second, the city asserted that Boston solely allows for three-day festivals (AfrikCan was a five-day festival). Mendy claims she had cleared the five-day event schedule months beforehand. This is after spending six years putting it together. Mendy notes other festivals, including Outside the Box, boast a five-day lineup.
In a statement to DigBoston, city officials maintained that paperwork for the event was not filed with enough advance notice: “The City of Boston is happy to work with the organizers of the proposed AfrikCan event to find a date that works for the organization, the community and for the City of Boston. However, for an event that spans several days, an organization should start working with the City’s Office of Special Events at least a year in advance. Events of this magnitude take considerable coordination between multiple city departments including the Boston Police Department, Boston Fire Department, EMS, Parks Department, Inspectional Services Department and others.” Producers say the festival is now slated for September 9-13 at a private location to be announced later, and that they do not plan to work through the city of Boston.
In the wake of the abrupt cancellation, questions loom in the minds of producers, artists, and supporters who were pumped for AfrikCan. One source I spoke with wondered if it was due to fear of large numbers of people of color gathering, or if the old white man’s club overseeing the city’s departments either doesn’t understand or isn’t interested in the festival itself.
For others in the community I spoke with, AfrikCan means more than just top-notch Afropolitanism (or the distillation and representation of the ordinary people’s experience in Africa), music, and entertainment. Instead, it is a step forward in combating what Mendy (who also owns the Senegalese restaurant Teranga in the South End) says is the concern that African cultures are both under- and misrepresented in Boston. “With AfrikCan, I wanted to make sure I put African culture on the map here in Boston,” she says. AfrikCan also symbolized a potential forward shift for Boston both artistically and socially, and marked an opportunity to upgrade Boston as a city of diverse artistic and cultural celebrations on par with other major metropolitan cities.
Might AfrikCan offer Boston an opportunity to better provide for its artists and cultural practitioners, and in doing so work to create a better quality of life for the city? Might AfrikCan also pave the way for Boston to better represent and support Black and African cultures? Might this work to change Boston’s tired truth as one of the most segregated, racially backward cities in the US? Hopefully.
We’ll just have to wait until September—when the festival is rescheduled—to find out.
AFRIKCAN FESTIVAL. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT AFRIKCAN.COM
Micaela is a Boston-based journalist and sociologist who covers dance, culture, and immigration for DigBoston, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and other outlets.