Afrochella Founders: “Africa is the New Sexy”
Abdul Karim Abdullah and Kenny Agyapong have a knack for throwing parties. In college, it was their hobby; the then Sigma fraternity brothers charged $1 per head or offered free Moet bottles to get people through their dorm room doors. After college, it became their part-time hustle: hosting events around New York City’s boroughs and bringing people together through music. Eventually, their vision outgrew party throwing and evolved into the cultural experience now known as Ghana’s Afrochella Festival.
Abdullah and Agyapong dreamt up Afrochella when they were living in the Bronx. Both of Ghanaian descent, the duo noticed a lack of representation of African arts and culture at the major U.S. festivals and events. They spent time living in Ghana at different points in their lives; Abdullah lived there for seven years as a child and Agyapong moved there five years ago as an adult. For the business partners, it was important to expose the rich arts of the African continent to new audiences. However, bringing Africa to America wasn’t quite in the cards.
The initial idea was to hold Afrochella at New York’s Randall’s Island. Still, according to Abdullah, the permitting and production cost alone were too overwhelming. With their access to resources in Ghana — media and governmental support — Abdullah and Agyapong decided to put on the festival there instead. They would be able to execute the festival at a fraction of the initial cost — plus start bringing visitors worldwide to Ghana.
In 2017, Afrochella came to life for the first time. The one-day festival took place in Ghana’s capital of Accra at the prestigious Polo Courts and hosted a crowd of 4,500.
“We wanted a space where we could celebrate our own culture,” Abdullah says, “and teach [it] from a native’s perspective through arts, music, culture and food.”
From the late Ebony Reigns to Kwesi Arthur, King Promise and B4bonah, Afrochella’s first year boasted top musicians and rising acts from across Africa, as well as visual artists. “Afrochella is holistic,” Agyapong says. “It’s not only about the music; it’s about how everything comes together to make our music pop.”
The success of Afrochella’s first year gave Abdullah and Agyapong fuel to take the second year to the next level. With the help of A-list headliners like Ghanaian dancehall/afrobeats artist Stonebwoy and national icon Daddy Lumba, the business partners were able to double the event’s attendees. Drawing a crowd of 12,000, the festival moved to a stadium venue and opened its doors to visitors from Australia, Switzerland, Japan, China and beyond. What’s more, they prefaced the festival with a pop-up performance from Ms. Lauryn Hill. “She loves Africa, and she’s been to Ghana several times,” Agyapong says.
As Afrochella’s reach expands, Abdullah and Agyapong plan to make the festival a vital part of Ghana’s future. Partnering with the Ghanaian ministry of tourism, the duo aim to bring people from around the world not only to the country, but also to the continent at large.
“We always say Africa is the new sexy,” Aygapong says. “Our goal is to foster relationships through influencers and people from the diaspora that are doing amazing things through their respective countries and fields.”
This year in particular is crucial for Afrochella. 2019, dubbed The Year of the Return by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, marks the 400th year since the first slave ship left West Africa. The Ghanaian government and the ministry of tourism are encouraging people worldwide to come back to Ghana this year as a birthright journey. “I think that there’s a big light on Africa…Our fashion, our food and music. It is just popular culture right now, and people are pursuing it,” Abdullah says. “We’re looking to accelerate that.”
From college partiers to cultural ambassadors, Abdullah and Agyapong have always brought purpose and a sense of community to their trade. “We know that we’ve played a very vital role in getting more people to come back to Ghana,” Abdullah says. “We want to encourage other people that have such talents to be able to come back and create spaces like us.”
The next Afrochella will take place in December of 2019.
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