Community will celebrate roots Saturday; by Austin M. Davis

When Awelana Akeriwe moved to Regina in 2008, she could easily count the number of other black people she saw. Now, Akeriwe doesn’t try any more – she’d lose count.

The growth of the African community in the city and the rest of Saskatchewan was one of the reasons Akeriwe organized the first AfroFest in Victoria Park, which will go ahead rain or shine Saturday.

“If you’ve grown up in that culture and you move away from home and you don’t live it for awhile, you miss it and you appreciate it more,” Akeriwe said. “We really want to share this with everybody else.”

She said Regina might seem like an unusual location to attract a growing population of African immigrants, and especially francophone African immigrants, but the community has grown exponentially since she arrived from Toronto. “There, they have an AfroFest that runs every year, and I just loved going to it,” Akeriwe said.

As years went by, she enjoyed many of Regina’s festivals celebrating other cultures, but progressively felt like her beloved African culture deserved its moment in the spotlight too. “There wasn’t really something representing the African community. I said we need to do something about it,” Akeriwe said. “I really wanted to hear African music out there, dance to it and enjoy it.”

Saturday’s festival will feature a range of African musical styles including Afrobeat, Afropop, reggae and traditional drumming and from different regions including Cameroon, Congo, Guinea and Ghana. From noon until 8 p.m., seven different groups will take the stage to keep people dancing all day long.

“We’re really looking forward to a very spectacular show. We have a great lineup. These are performers who have travelled across the world. They perform in so many different countries and we’re so lucky to get them to come out here,” Akeriwe said. “We hope they bring the African heat down to Victoria Park.”

Outdoor festivals are always at nature’s mercy, especially considering the recent heavy downpour, but Akeriwe’s not concerned about the weather.

“We are going to be praying for hot weather. We don’t care what the meteorologists are saying right now. They’ve got it wrong before. I’m going to stay optimistic about this,” Akeriwe said.

Festival attendees can take breaks from dancing and enjoying the variety of music to check out the arts and crafts market and try some food.

“A party ain’t a party with no food! We’re going to have food vendors who will be preparing traditional African dishes. There’s going to be food from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, just to mention a few,” Akeriwe said.

A crucial part of making AfroFest a reality was forming AfroFusion Entertainment, a nonprofit organization run by a board of directors who all have African roots.

Akeriwe’s husband, sister and brother-in-law were all involved in the organizing process, but Akeriwe wants all Reginans to come and enjoy African culture for themselves in the heart of the city’s downtown.

“We really want people, whether you’re born here or from another country, to come out and just experience it,” Akeriwe said.

Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children 12 and under.

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