This year, Afrochella, the Ghanaian music festival that has been running every December since 2017, faced a number of challenges.
Not only was the festival hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit earlier this year because its name is similarity to Coachella’s, Rolling Stone reports, it also had to compete with the AfroNation Festival, which overlapped it by one day and is only four miles away.
But Afrochella, held on Dec. 28 and 29 in the nation’s capital of Accra, plowed on. And unlike AfroNation, which featured Meek Mill as a headliner this year, Afrochella featured major headliners who were all Africa-based musicians.
“Afrofuturism” was the theme of this year’s festival. The scene on the ground was calm with an undercurrent of excitement for most of the day. Many attendees were clearly interested in connecting to their roots. Outfits featuring African-inspired prints and futuristic hairstyles such as locs wrapped in shiny metals could be seen at all turns.
Afrochella CEO and co-founder Abdul Karim Abdullah said in a statement earlier this year that the festival would explore the “endless possibilities of what ‘Afrofuturism’ could look like.” The festival’s activations did not disappoint.
Multiple artists, including Ghanaian muralist Moh Awudu, painted a mural in real time. Other attractions included a floral UFO-like photo activation, a traditional face-painting station and plenty of other art installations worthy of picture-taking. But the activation that seemed to be the most popular wasn’t in a stationary location.
Horses adorned with ornate metal panels weaved through the activations behind a father-and-son horse jockey team leading the charge and offering rides to attendees. Aside from the unfortunate side effect of horse droppings, the animals were a sight to behold.
Jonathan Lawal, who said he started riding horses when he was 7, owns four of roughly six horses used during the event. Lawal was born in a stable in Accra and recalled watching his grandmother care for horses.
He hopes the future of Ghanaian horse-handling won’t end with him. So far, his son Ebenezer Nartui is continuing the tradition and has won numerous medals, said Lawal. On the opening day of Afrochella, the horses seemed to be one of the most attractive and Instagram-able opportunities for festivalgoers.
The performers for the festival’s first day, including Ghanaian artists Kwesi Arthur, DJ Juls, King Promise and Stonebwoy as well as Nigerian artists Fireboy DML and Ayra Starr, began their sets just after sundown.
Starr’s energy-filled performance was a highlight of the night. In the middle of her set, she slipped on the stage, but the audience didn’t have a moment to worry as the 20-year-old got up and continued with possibly more vigor than before. Starr even hopped into the crowd to sing her final hit song, “Bloody Samaritan.”
Burna Boy, who was set to perform Wednesday, instead took the stage on Day 2 of the festival. Ghanaian superstar Shatta Wale, best known outside of his massive loyal fanbase as a Beyoncé collaborator on the song, “Already,” from 2019’s “The Lion King” soundtrack, stormed the stage, surprising the crowd, which erupted into a massive celebration.
The crowd was in a frenzy during Shatta Wale’s set — more so than for any other performer. Audience members stood on couches and shouted along to his catalog of songs. He commanded the stage like he was the only performer on the bill and the audience undoubtedly absorbed his energy and confidence.
Toward the end of the day, there was another bright spot for the future of African music. Emerging Ghanaian artist Bleau was announced the winner of the Afrochella Rising Star competition on the main stage. She received a recording contract with Sony Music Africa, among other prizes.
The final performance of the day was Stonebwoy’s. He came on the stage with a brass instrument band and closed out the show with fan favorites from his catalog.