Originally posted August 2017.
This summer I attended the 35th African World Festival held in Detroit.
One can imagine my excitement and expectations of this event especially with me being an African (Nigeria) living in America. From the title itself, one would expect a congregation of the different African cultures showcasing their individual arts, music, fashion, cuisine, literature, history etc. You know, because Africa isn’t a country. Let me say it louder for those who fail to listen: AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY!!! What goes in Morocco has no effect on the culture in Swaziland. The food eaten in Djibouti I’m sure is quite different from what is eaten in the Ivory Coast. Not every country has lions and elephants roaming about, not every country eats jollof rice, not every country wears Dashiki.
But somehow the planners of this event yet again revealed what most Americans – looking at you African Americans – do. They shoved the entire continent into one vague, Hollywood devised country – thank you Coming to America. And in my opinion, they did a poor job at it.
There was nothing to identify the individualism of the different nations of Africa. Nope! I felt like I had just stepped out of the airport to be greeted by tourist targeted shops that sell what you think is merchandise native to the country of Africa at an overpriced mark because they sellers know very well that your image of Africa is what Western culture has given you i.e. Dashiki, head scarfs, wooden jewelry, huge wooden masks, and more Dashiki. And how could I miss the huge section of pro-black, pan-African vendors selling “Black Live Matters” shirts, Africa shapes on any item, and Egypt.
Anyway, my friends and I came across a tent that had musicians playing what sounded like Atilogwu (a dance from the Igbo culture) music. To our dismay, what we saw looked like a dance troupe of middle aged women rocking head scarves and flowing skirts dancing barefoot with moves reminiscent of again, Coming to America, nothing like the Atilogwu dance, all being led by the instructor who probably took an African dance course taught in her American university. We were not impressed.
As for the food…DEAD. I don’t understand how majority of the vendors were selling fried chicken, fries and greens. I didn’t know that was an African staple. Caribbean food was also pretty popular too. And don’t get me started on the sad looking yellow rice with vegetables that they tried to pass off as jollof. What disrespect!! The thing is that I know there is a diverse demographic of Africans in Michigan. One of my favorite restaurants in the area is Ethiopian. Did the Africans not get the memo about this festival?
I guess not enough Africans were consulted. The whole festival just seemed like an event planned by African Americans for African Americans in an attempt to get in touch with their “African” heritage because hell, we all come from Africa, right? I should’ve known better when I saw that the musical headliners were African American gospel choirs, jazz musicians (an American genre) and Eric Benet. Yes, Eric Benet. I wouldn’t be mad and probably would’ve enjoyed myself more if the name of the festival was, I don’t know, African American Heritage Festival. But no, it’s the African World Festival. And somehow, I, An African, felt like a foreigner out of place in the midst of it all.