THIS WEEKEND’S AFROBEAT FESTIVAL: HEADLINING PERFORMERS, TOP VENDORS, AND FAMILY LEGACIES REKINDLED
Published July 14, 2017 | Andaiye Taylor
This weekend’s Afro Beat Festival (Saturday, July 15th in Military Park) marks the debut of what organizer and Newark Social founder Linda Jumah hopes will be a new cultural institution in Newark.
But for Jumah and team, the festival also represents a restoration.
“When I was younger, my father [Maxwell Jumah] started the Africa Newark festival with Barbara King,” she told me last week at Burg, in view of what will become the festival grounds at Military Park. “I just remember that memory of all the vendors and the food and the dancers. It was just such a good time,” Jumah said.
Since that festival ended in 2006, she said, there hasn’t been anything quite like it in the city. With Afro Beat Fest, Jumah and the rest of the Newark Social team hope to bring it back, with an updated twist.
And they plan to go big. Newark Social is organizing what they say will be the largest celebration of African culture in the state, filling a gap opened up when the African-American Festival ended at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel (along with two other cultural festivals they had to shutter due to budget concerns). Afro Beat Fest will be headlined by Grammy-nominted duo Les Nubians, plus Nigerian artist Ayo Jay and Ghanian artist Bisa Kdei. The event will also feature 100 vendors, and family-friendly activities dotting the park from end to end.
Newark Social was founded after Jumah hosted Newark Under The Stars in August of 2016–an event she collaborated on with real estate professional Melvin Sykes and others. The pop-up event, which Jumah said attracted about 700 hundred people, is similar to Dine en Blanc, the flash-dining event that takes place in cities around the world.
Jumah and some friends attended a secret pop-up dinner in New York. “When we were there we thought, ‘This is something that we need to have in Newark. You don’t always have to travel outside of the bounds of this area to experience quality events,'” she said.
Jumah and team hosted Newark Under The Stars on Washington Place, the street adjacent to Washington Park, with Newark Museum as a backdrop. They donated some of the proceeds from the event to the scholarship fund for the Believe In Newark Foundation. “People really loved the location and the event,” she said. “We got a great response.”
Based on that response, the group wanted to produce more social and cultural activities. Newark Social was born earlier this year as a result, and Afro Beat Fest will be the first official event held under the group’s banner.
The event committee also includes Kwabena Jumah, who is Linda’s brother; Malkia King, the daughter of Africa Newark Street Festival co-founder Barbara King; and a broader group of around a dozen volunteers. (While Linda and I spoke, not one but two Brittneys from the team stopped inside Burg to check in with Linda about pre-festival preparations.)
They’ve been planning the festival since March, including attending other festivals to scout quality vendors, which Jumah said will be “the heart of the event.” Vendors will come from as close as Greater Newark and New Jersey and as far away as Atlanta.
The addition of the “children’s village,” Jumah said, was all about making the event feel explicitly family-friendly. They’ll have drumming sessions, printmaking with Newark Print Shop, face painting, and other activities.
The children’s village will, naturally, be located near the park’s carousel. Vendors will line the park’s walkways. The stage will be setup at the far end of the park, near NJPAC, so that no one has to experience the back of the stage. Food vendors will set up on the end near Raymond Boulevard.
Jumah said team member Akosoua Brobby took the lead on organizing the entertainment. Les Nubian, now based in Brooklyn, was at the top of the list to participate. Bisa Akade is flying in from Ghana for the event. Singer/songwriter Ayo Jay, Jumah said, will appeal to a younger audience.
When the festival is done, the Newark Social team won’t have long to catch their breath. They’re also gearing up for the second Newark Under The Stars, which will take place at a secret location this coming August. When we met to discuss Afro Beat Fest, Jumah had been scouting locations for the pop-up dinner the previous day. This year, Newark Social is planning to add a “surprise guest” and hopes to double attendees.
Jumah is also thinking about Newark Social’s calendar beyond their two tentpole summer attractions. She and mentioned a lecture series as a possibility for a series of smaller events.
As for the festival, Jumah thinks it’s an important new entry into a landscape of cultural events that continue to ramp up in Newark. “I think it’s important to identify the different cultures in the city and showcase who we are,” she said, citing Lincoln Park Music Festival, the Brazilian Festival and the Portuguese Festival as examples of events that showcase the city’s diversity.
She also touted newer events coming to town as part of a promising cultural movement, like the Sofar Sounds Newark “secret” concert series (“Elliot [James] is always ahead,” she said) and Newark First Fridays, which was under way a block west from where we spoke.
As for Newark Social’s events, Jumah defines their target attendees in simple and broad terms: “I feel like it’s for people like me, who live in the city and are focused on the good things that are happening here,” she said. “There are a lot of people who want to enjoy themselves here, and they don’t always get all of the attention.”
Jumah is keeping her fingers crossed for good weather (as of this reading, the forecast is partly cloudy, no rain) and hoping the overwhelming response the event has received in terms of pre-registration pans out on festival day. A nice crowd means more people enjoying what Newark Social has taken so much time and care to plan, she said. It will also make the festival a worthwhile commercial opportunity for the vendors.
“The end goal is to get this to where Africa Newark was,” Jumah said. “To me, that is still the gold standard.”
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