“If you come to Afro Nation and you’re standing around, you’re at the wrong festival. This is not a festival where you’re standing like a stiff banana…This is Afro Nation!” So declared Nigerian-Canadian actor and host Femi Lawson on the first day of Afro Nation in Detroit.
The event, touted as “the world’s biggest Afrobeats festival,” kicked off its inaugural Detroit iteration on Saturday, Aug. 19, making the city the second in the U.S. to host Afro Nation. The location is significant, as it’s the site of the former Brewster-Douglass Projects, the nation’s first federally funded housing project for African Americans.
Despite social media users expressing doubts about the festival’s credibility in the weeks leading up to the show—people questioned the lack of information so close to the event, including details on the schedule and the venue’s exact address—thousands of people from around the world arrived at what organizers said was a nearly sold-out event.
The Main Stage held performances by singer Nissi (whose older brother is Burna Boy), musician and ‘Young, Famous & African’ star Diamond Platnumz, DJ and rapper Skillibeng, and singer Flavour. At the Piano People Stage, a smaller setup near the Main Stage, people enjoyed Amapiano sets by Aya, Lex N Answer, Ade Smilez, DJ Mobu, DJ Moma, 2woBunnies, Musa Keys, Victonia and DJ Maphorisa.
Detroit artists delivered, too. DeJ Loaf performed hits “Try Me” and “Back Up Off Me” during her evening set, while Donavan Glover, DJ K Dirty, DJBJ 3525, BlaaqGold, DJ Marine and DJ Carter kept the crowd hype with their own sets throughout the day.
“For Afro Nation [to bring] the event to Detroit, it shows how our city is growing and our market is elevating,” says DJBJ 3525, whose real name is Brian Jackson. He added that the energy was excellent, and he performed sets that “kept it real hip-hop, real R&B and vibey, and let the crowd see exactly who I am and welcome everybody from out of the country to Detroit.”
Between acts, Lawson, along with host and comedian Young Prince, kept the Main Stage crowd engaged with songs and dance performances, while DJ and producer Blaq Pages entertained people at the Piano People Stage.
Later that evening, the Main Stage was packed out for Latto, Ari Lennox and the night’s featured performer, Burna Boy. Latto delivered a hot-and-heavy set with songs like “Big Energy,” “B*tch from Da Souf,” “Put It On Da Floor” and “Another Nasty Song.” Lennox slowed things down with “Pressure,” “Waste My Time,” “Whipped Cream” and “Backseat.”
Burna Boy ended the day with a dynamic hour-long set, performing hits like “It’s Plenty,” “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” “For My Hand” and “Alone,” and ended with “Last Last.”
As attendees left the first day of Afro Nation Detroit, a sizable crowd gathered near the public entrances to listen to a saxophonist. The cheering and dancing from the crowd made it clear that people were in high spirits, and those positive vibes would carry into the festival’s final da