“People in Madison really want to learn about other cultures and meet different people. So that in itself makes our job a lot easier at Africa Fest,” Ray Kumapayi, chair of the Africa Fest Planning Committee, tells Madison365. “I’ve found that Madisonians really want to know and they want to be part of it and learn about Africa … aside from what they’ve read when they were being raised.”
The African Association of Madison, Inc (AAM) will present its 22nd annual Africa Fest on Saturday, Aug. 20, at McPike Park on Madison’s near east side. The theme this year is “Faces of African Beauty” and will focus on the variations of beauty that are found all over the continent of Africa.
The day starts, like it does every year, with “Strides For Africa,” a 5k run/walk for all ages that kicks off the festival at 10 a.m.
“We start Africa Fest with the Strides for Africa early in the morning, which is 3k/5k run/walk for the whole family,” Kumapayi says. “We try to encourage folks to register even if they don’t plan on running or walking.”
Registration fees for this event, in its entirety, provide funds for the construction of potable water wells in rural Africa. There are many options available to participants including a 5K run, a 5K walk, a unique Team Relay, a 1.5-mile fun walk, and a kids fun run.
“Funds raised will go toward building drinkable water wells in rural Africa,” Kumapayi says. “There are a number of countries that we’ve succeeded in constructing wells. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia, so many places that we’ve built wells in those rural communities. Otherwise, those folks will have to walk several miles to get to the water and to get to water that’s maybe disease-borne water that is not really good for drinking.”
Africa Fest is a community-based cultural and educational event devoted to grassroots cultural heritage that will feature musicians, artists, performers, cooks, craftspeople, and scholars who will demonstrate, present, and discuss the cultural traditions of African immigrants.
“A lot of Madisonians that come to the festival, they really love the taste of Africa and enjoy the food,” Kumapayi says. “We’re encouraging them to buy some African dashiki beads and stuff…. there’s so many things for them to engage in or be part of during the day.
“We will have information booths where they can also be educated on Africa and plans for different projects and everything like that,” he adds.
African immigrants in the Madison area will showcase their heritages with cultural performances from local musicians like Tani Diakite and the Afro Funk-Stars, Atimevu, Limanya, Nigerian Masquerade, and more.
Africa Fest is hosted by The African Association of Madison, Inc. in collaboration with MG&E, Inc. UW Madison African Studies Program, Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, Madison Arts Commission and many other local corporations/businesses.
While the event is a unique chance for Madisonians to learn about Africa, Kumapayi notes that some people still think that Africa is a country, not a continent.
“So one of the things that we try to do is to educate people, especially in the Africa Tent that we have at the festival, and to showcase that even though when you look at us from afar, you might think everything in Africa is the same …. when you get closer, you see that there are some differences between one country and another and we try to educate people about that.
“In fact, many years ago, our theme was that Africa is not a country; it’s a continent of diverse cultures. Even though our cultures are similar, they are also different,” Kumapayi says.
I can always tell where somebody is based on their outfits and customs whether it’s from West Africa or the southeast. I can always tell a Ugandan, a Nigerian, a Gambian, a Senegalian or somebody from Equatorial GUinea or South Africa when I see them coming,” he adds. “I can tell right away. We are a diverse continent. When people see the 54 nations in Africa, people tend to think, ‘Oh, it’s like the United States.’ Not at all.”
One of the highlights of Africa Fest is the Parade of Nations, where all 54 African countries are represented by Madison community members in a parade around the park.
“We have flags from all 54 nations and people from those nations carry their flags around the park,” he says. “It’s quite a sight to see.”