This weekend saw music, food and dance from countries across Africa as Madison’s annual Africa Fest returned.
Africa Fest, an annual celebration of the continent’s 54 countries, came back at McPike Park to bring cultural awareness to Madison. The festival saw many people cycle in and out in its 12-hour celebration as attendees got a taste of every corner of Africa’s food, arts, culture and entertainment.
“We want to portray the importance of our culture. We want the Madison community and beyond to be very familiar with African culture. That way we can all get along much better,” said Ray Kumapayi, president of the African Association of Madison.
One of the ultimate goals with African Fest, and a point Kumapayi wants to get across, is that the festival is meant to educate on the importance of African culture to improve race relations between Madison’s African community and predominantly white city. The exposure to new cultures in a focused setting paves the way for awareness of African cultures and sets the stage for further support in philanthropic endeavors.
The festival started off with Strides for Africa. The 5K run or walk aimed to provide funds to build water wells for rural African villages. To show the importance of building wells, a demonstration in the form of a team relay brought participants in Strides for Africa a chance to experience the realities of sourcing water in the rural African villages.
“We saw the need for water over there and one way to sustain it was an idea that we had —started a 5k run walk to kick off Africa Fest. We brought that idea forward to the African Association Madison in February of 2010. And they said yes, and we’ve been partners for the last 13 years,” said Chris Jimieson. “It’s a way for us to celebrate cultures locally, but it’s also an opportunity, with our Strides for Africa, to give back to Africa.”
Teams in the relay had to carry a five-gallon jerrycan for four miles. The cans, when filled with water, weighed 45 pounds. The journey to carry the water the distance allowed for Stride for Africa participants a small taste of what African villages all over the continent have to experience on a daily basis. Currently, Strides for Africa has funded 44 wells to increase access to water. Multiple others are in the works, and the funds from the event allowed them to continue to spread awareness on the issue and build even more wells.
As the day continued, the festivities followed. Entertainment kept going with new performances every 15 minutes. Local musicians with African heritage took to the stage to perform as well as individual groups taking to the area in front of the stage to dance.
Dance groups represented their individual countries clad in its attire and paired with traditional dances as attendees were encouraged to join in — but the festival did not really kick off until the Parade of Nations.
The Parade of Nations celebrates the true start to Africa Fest. Around 1:00 pm, each nation paraded around the park with its flag held high. The march around the park aimed to represent each country fully, even the ones without a thriving population in Madison.
Vendors representing most African nations were also in attendance. Attendees had their pick of food, art, clothing, jewelry and many other goods from places like Tanzania, Gambia, Nigeria and goods from a number of the 54 African nations.
One vendor, who came from Milwaukee, sells artwork from artists in Africa to help make them money and get them some exposure.
“We are a fair-trade company dealing with a lot of artists in African artwork, giving them some exposure and getting the money back to the artists,” Moustapha Drame, of Africa Alive, said. “I like it here in Madison because it brings a mosaic of people —it’s really diverse. And the people coming in having good food and good music. I like it.”
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Gov. Tony Evers also made appearances at this year’s Africa Fest. The two spoke on the importance of the festival bringing awareness to the diverse cultures that the festival brings. The Mayor also drew attention to Madison’s two African Sister Cities and how the importance of the festival paves way for further efforts in supporting Bahir Dar, Ethiopia and Kanifing, The Gambia.
“Madison has a really proud tradition of having sister cities and we actually have two sister cities in Africa. And I was blessed to be able to go to our sister city kind of thing in the Gambia, the smiling coast of Africa,” Mayor Rhodes Conway said. “I say this because part of the reason that we have Sister Cities is so that we can learn about each other and so we can appreciate how big and beautiful and amazing this world is.”
Africa Fest closed out at 10 p.m. with a performance from a Mali group, Tani Diakite & The Afro Funkstars. Africa Fest will return to Madison next year around the same time.