Detroit. The birthplace of Motown and techno music. An automotive powerhouse. A city of trendsetters. The first and only U.S. city designated a UNESCO City of Design, which recognizes a city’s commitment to its design industries. And its food scene boasts award-winning restaurants and food entrepreneurs, as well as organizations working to address food insecurity.
So when Afro Nation came to Detroit for the first time, a dynamic cultural experience was guaranteed. Black people from around the world traveled to one of the Blackest cities in America, for the coveted two-day Afrobeats festival.
In partnership with Detroit-based real estate firm Bedrock, Afro Nation took place on Aug. 19 and 20. Thousands of people witnessed performances by international Afrobeats and Amapiano artists, as well as the singers, rappers and DJs that call the motor city home. Josh Koram, who manages artist bookings for Afro Nation, told ESSENCE it was important for Afrobeats to be at the lineup’s core, while integrating Detroit’s hip-hop and R&B history, to make a “melting pot of music and the culture.”
Afro Nation organized events outside the main festival days, including panel conversations, a comedy show and a welcome party with Jerk x Jollof, a traveling dance party showcasing African and Caribbean cuisine and music.
“There are a lot of reasons why Detroit; number one, the Black community,” SMADE, Afro Nation’s co-founder and CEO, told ESSENCE during day two of the festival. “Secondly, the historical background of Black music and how many Black greats in music have come from this beautiful city.” He and his team stood by those words; the day after Afro Nation Detroit concluded, organizers hosted an after-party for festival staff at Motown Museum and donated $100,000 to the institution.
Several Detroiters cultivating intentional experiences in the city were asked to contribute to the event. Amber Lewis, a creative consultant and event producer, is widely recognized in her hometown of Detroit under the moniker “Social N The City,” which is also the name of her consulting business. As an Afro Nation Detroit ambassador, Lewis did pre-festival promotion and was on the influencer content team.
“I’m so happy that Afro Nation came to Detroit because it put Detroit on a global scale, where we always should be,” Lewis said. “It showed people that Detroit does have space for Afrobeats, Black people, music and culture.”
Eradajere Oleita, a Nigeria-born, Detroit-based environmentalist and event producer, echoed those sentiments: “I think it’s going to make Detroit more desirable to Black people all around the world; to come here, live, thrive and grow families,” she said. Oleita helped organizers with logistics and did press with SMADE and Koram. Through her environmental justice organization, The Chip Bag Project, Oleita hosted late-night food pop-ups featuring local chefs and restaurants. “It is resolidifying that Detroit is not only a music mecca but a Black mecca in the United States.”
Having local small businesses at Afro Nation was also a priority. Food vendors served flavorful meals to hungry crowds, while shop vendors sold clothing, jewelry and more. Detroit Vs. Everybody, a staple brand in the city, partnered with the festival for the Afro Nation Vs. Everybody store. T-shirts featured sayings like, “Afro Nation Vs Everybody,” and “Afrobeats Vs Everybody,” and festival-goers could customize their shirt with a small African flag from the shop’s selection.
“I was definitely excited to be a part of this because my family’s from Ghana, so it’s like being back home,” Scott Boateng, founder of Detroit-based skin and hair care brand Preva Body, told ESSENCE. This was his first time vending at an event of this magnitude. Indeed, the festival exposed local businesses to a global customers — even performer Masego told ESSENCE this was his first time exploring Detroit, checking out eateries like The Kitchen by Cooking with Que and Breadless.
As attendees returned home, the consensus was that people experienced the force that was the inaugural Afro Nation Detroit — and hopefully left any preconceived notions about Detroit at its city limits.
“Everyone wanted to support it and everyone wanted it to be successful,” Koram said. “Detroit deserves this; there’s so much negative media around Detroit but it’s such a beautiful place and we want to highlight that.”