It was all love at the inaugural Afronation in Portugal. Here’s Nataal’s festival report


“You know, my friend Smade, who’s a big promoter in the UK, is one of the organisers so when I heard about this festival, I knew it was going to be a shut down,” Adekunle Gold tells me backstage at Afronation, an hour before his soulful performance. “A lot of people thought it was going to be another Fyre festival but it sold out fast and just look out there, everybody is having fun. It feels like a great time to push African music forward and this is the big one for the culture.” This rising star echoes the sentiments of all who recently attended the four-day, sandy extravaganza in Portimão in the Algarve. “On my way here, this Portuguese guy said to me that he’s never seen this many black people before. I said, ‘Get used to it bro. We’ll be back!’”

DJ Spinall

Billed as “the world’s biggest urban beach festival”, this debut outing attracted over 20,000 lovers of afrobeats, who all showed up to show out, soak up the sunshine and express nothing but positive energy. The atmosphere built to euphoric levels by the last evening thanks to the fact that a festival of this size had run so smoothly and truly cemented contemporary African music’s international takeover this year. From Stormzy at Glastonbury to Afro B’s ‘Drogba’ anthem to Beyoncé’s African artist-dipped The Gift album, Afronation adds to the momentum and will go down as the festival this audience had waited for and deserved.

On the fashion front, having the time of your life required an extroverted wardrobe. For the ladies, neon yellow string bikinis with sparkly mesh dresses and iridescent bum bags. The living embodiment of Hot Girl Summer, they were accompanied by guys wearing Hawaii print shorts with white socks and slides. Everyone looked groomed and beautiful as the Hennessey flowed at beach, pool and boat parties throughout the weekend. And keeping it all smiles, Afronation’s irrepressible master of ceremonies, comedian Eddie Kadi led many infectious mass dances including Shaku Shaku, Azonto and even the Electric Slide.

Adekunle Gold

While it has to be noted that women performers were under represented at Afronation, those that were on the bill made a splash. Lady Dynamite took the audience back with a megamix of bashment, old school garage and drum & bass via her classic hit, ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’. Sefflon Don certainly balanced up the testosterone as she let it rain money on her dancers and asked the guys in the audience, “Why do you send gal dem dick picks?” And Teni the Entertainer took the time to teach us a catchy new song. Repeat after her: “Bye bye to useless boyfriends! Bye bye to cheaters, cheaters! Bye bye to stingy boyfriends! In the name of Je-sus!”

“Africans from different parts of the world have come together to celebrate”

It was left to Vanessa Mdee to represent for East Africa on this Nigeria heavy bill with her upbeat bongo flava set, bringing her “swag-hili” flair to proceedings with her new single ‘Moyo’. “Africa’s culture is about experience: it’s in our food, our clothes, the way we speak, the way we dance. So I wanted everyone to be part of the show today and remember how they felt,” the Tanzanian singer told me after her performance. “I am staying for the whole weekend because this festival is making history; this is going to be remembered for a long time.”

The award for the most dapper artist must go to Jidenna. In peach slacks and shiny shirt, he glided effortlessly through his show and invited couples up from the audience to slow dance (“Don’t jealous me,” he teases them) while singing his hits ‘Classic Man’ and ‘Particular’. What was really special though was hearing one of his new songs, ‘Sufi Woman’, his first release in two years, which kept expectations high for his soon-come album 85 To Africa.

Vanessa Mdee

The ultimate showman prize however goes to D’banj. His experience shone through as the Koko Master put in a flawless and funny performance, fuelled by his cross over smashes ‘Fall In Love’, ‘Oliver’ and ‘Emergency’. Once in full swing, he announced, “I need some kokolettes. If you above the age, feel free to come on stage.” And they did. One dancer from London easily beat off the competition, leaving D’banj doing a Hail Mary as she dropped to the floor for the splits. He was also accompanied by The Compozers, who delivered some much need live music to the festival by taking on backing band duties for several acts in addition to their own crowd-pleasing gig. The world really does need more keytar players as this four piece prove.

UK rappers were well represented by Octavian, MoStack, Mist, NOT3S and J Hus, Friday’s surprise headline act. The remaining headliners – Burna Boy, Davido and Wizkid (all already confirmed for Afronation Ghana this Christmas) each lent their star quality to the midnight slot. Burna was smooth and relaxed, riffing on his new aptly titled album, African Giant. Davido roared his way through his set, his full fists of huge diamonds quite blinding in their shininess. And Wizkid came on to ‘Brown Skin Girl’ and then proceeded to spend more time crowd surfing than singing. “I’m single tonight,” he promises as he disappeared into the mosh pit for the umpteenth time.

Taking us to another level altogether was Femi Kuti. “This is Afrobeat. No ‘s’,” he reminded the young crowd as his fiery songs and accomplished backing singers – the original twerkers – versed us in where this whole afro wave truly started. “As the next generation, don’t lose yourself. It is still a colonial system,” he continued. “So reverse back very well. When you have control of your body, mind and soul, you can proceed.” These wise words melted into a faultless saxophone duet with his son and then he rounded off with a three generational twist by singing Fela’s ‘Water No Get Enemy’.

Another Lagos export, DJ Spinall, lent his skills to the BET beach party and to the main stage, allowing him to fully soak up the Afronation spirit. “It’s been beautiful. I’m really grateful for a time like this when Africans from different parts of the world have come together to celebrate. It’s exciting to see us all here, and I’m looking forward to Afronation Ghana,” he tells me as the sun sets across the ocean-kissed site. So how would he define the magnetism of this music? “It’s in the soul and in the soil. I can’t explain it but it’s in Africa,” he says. “Nigerians, Ghanaians, South Africans, Rwandans, Ugandans, everyone – we’re all doing great. Love to African music.”

Afronation Ghana is at Laboma Beach, Accra on 27-30 December 2019

Artist portraits Elina Simonen
Festival photography Samuel Martins / Mai magazine

Visit Afronation Ghana

Published on 12/08/2019