AFRONATION: the highs, the lows and why I'll be back again next year
The sun's blazing, the vibes are positive and your favourite afrobeats artists are on stage from 5pm till the early hours of the morning. For any fan of the genre, this sounds like a dream, but for many last weekend at Afronation Festival, this was a reality, as 22,000 attendees headed to Portimão, Portugal for the four-day festival.
A first of its kind, the festival was organised in conjunction with LiveNation by SMADE, the events company responsible for organising some of the biggest afrobeats concerts in the UK. Announced towards the end of 2018, the promotion of the festival was initially marred with taunts from social media users questioning the legitimacy of the event, with many comparing it to 2017’s fraudulent music festival Fyre Festival.
Despite this, the social media campaign for the debut festival went from strength to strength, and included video announcements from confirmed acts, line up releases and details of after-parties, beach parties and VIP tickets.
With a line-up that included Wizkid, Burna Boy and Davido - what many believe to be somewhat of a holy trinity in afrobeats - expectations (for those that had faith in the event) were high.
It’s safe to say that expectations were not only met, but were immensely exceeded. From start to finish, the atmosphere was near-perfect, with all event-goers seemingly determined to both have a great time and not to feed into the stereotypes that were certain to crop up if any one thing went wrong. Seamlessly organised, the whole event felt structured and controlled, taking place with the confidence of a festival that had been running for years. To the average Portuguese onlooker (and every night, there were hundreds), the festival almost certainly didn’t seem like a debut.
Standout performances from headliners Burna Boy and Wizkid were virtually dreamlike, with lighting and staging effects to match. Both performers treated the crowds to performances of their new Lion King singles, as well as a confident selection of recent hits and classics songs.
Whilst Afronation gave us the likes of Burna Boy and Wizkid, artists that are pretty much expected to smash their performances; the magic was also in standout performances from artists that attendees didn’t necessarily expect it from. Veteran afrobeats artist Dbanj gave the crowd one of the best performances of the long weekend, with the Nigerian entertainer reminding us why he remains a pioneer within the game; whilst Caribbean musicians Kranium and Busy Signal entertained the crowd with carefully curated sets that catered to the predominantly African crowd, without compromising on authenticity.
The line-up wasn’t perfect – genre-defying UK rapper Octavian’s set fell flat, with many commenting that it just didn’t feel right for the festival (he performed the same set at Parklife a few months prior and it was brilliant). On top of this, nostalgia and fan-love was the stronger spurring factor behind the reception for J Hus’ surprise performance, which seemed rushed, unstructured in places and almost a little bit unnecessary. The after-parties were weary and tired with repetitive DJ sets, in direct comparison to the energetic day beach parties, which many used as their starting point for the day (and their recharge point throughout).
For a first-time festival, it was amazing that Afronation was able to surpass expectations, making history as the first of its kind at this scale. The perfect example of what the people didn’t know they needed, the post-event reaction and commentary has shown an endearment and pride that almost ensures long-term success for the venture. Those that didn’t attend missed out, and those that did attend are undoubtedly looking ahead to details of the next one – I know I am.