Spectator Sport: African World Festival 2015

by Zuri McWhorter

Around 1 pm on Friday, the 33rd annual Detroit African World Festival events were underway, but the crowd was pretty lack luster. People were still at work, it was too hot to sweat, and, of course, it was the first day. No one does anything until the last minute. Fortunately, this was the perfect time for me to do my shopping and be anti-social at the same time.

On one end of the block were the food vendors. Surrounded by jerk chicken, grilled corn cobs, oxtail, meat pies, mac and cheese, I unconsciously spent $15 on meal tickets. Though, when I walked around again to check prices, I noticed my tragic defeat: a jerk chicken combo was 19 tickets, and my $15 had only bought me 18 tickets. With stank face and all, I order mac and cheese and a meat pie.

“We ran out of meat pies.”

With that handy information, I went to the bar and got two, nine ticket drinks.

On the opposite end were the clothes and natural product vendors. So many colors and textures all crammed into half a block could have sent me into the farther if I’d stared any longer. It was eight thousand degrees outside, and I needed to not have on jeans anymore. At the end of the street was a small red tent full of flowy, vibrant dresses. I found the perfect peasant dress in ten different color combos, all in my size. It took a bit of self-evaluation not to buy that many dresses, so I just bought two. The nice woman working the booth even let me put one on and held my purse while I got too close to naked in the corner.

AWF is more than just stocking up on your year supply of incense and shea butter; there is art to be seen, felt, and heard. I go all three days of the festival, mainly for the shows. The shows are free. You see the connection? One can spend all day going from stage to lounge to lawn and see marvelous entertainment. This year, the fest had three stages and a jazz club, tucked away in different corners, displaying local musicians, dancers, poets, and dramatic artists. You’ve got to keep your eyes and ears open to find these little treasures.

On Saturday, I caught a tribute to the ancestors on the Main Stage. We watched as a group of kids, with tribal painted faces, released butterflies into the air. The children jumped and giggled as the 50 flies bounced around them before pleasantly scattering across the audience.

On Sunday, I was lucky to catch a couple of my favorite local artists, Indigo Black, a hip hop collective, and Alex Way, an acoustic songstress, at the Baker’s Jazz Club venue. This indoor stage hosted an incredible afternoon Open Mic, full of poets, singers and hip hop.

Once I was done exploring, it was about 9:30pm. Something is happening, I thought, something important. As I was walking back to the Info booth, a loud “Ooh yeah!” echoed through the speakers, followed by cheers and whistles. Julian Marley, who played a two hour set on the last night of the fest, had the place slappin’.

This weekend, the flair of the African World Festival effortlessly sent me to a place of bliss. Not many things can compare to the freely roaming down different avenues of culture and still feel at home.

 ***Check out Indigo Black and Alex Way 

Posted on August 26, 2015 .