Going to Ake festival for the first time: My experience and thoughts on one of Africa’s biggest art festivals

yamiemlangiza.com

This year I attended the Ake Arts and Book festival for the very first time. Just in case you are not familiar with Ake, it is an annual literary, cultural, and art event based in Nigeria. It was founded in 2013 by the Nigerian writer Lola Shoneyin and has become one of the most prominent book festivals on the African continent.

I had the opportunity to attend Ake this year because I was one of the contributing writers to The Water Birds by the Lake Shore anthology, an Afro young adult fiction anthology that was launched at Ake. The anthology was a product of Goethe-Institut which is a German cultural association that promotes international cultural exchange and relations. They are the ones who sponsored me (and all writers featured in the anthology) to attend the festival under their Moving Africa campaign. So thank you Goethe.

This year the Ake festival took place from 24th to 27th October in Lagos but I am writing this now because I have been debating with myself whether not to write this. But then my experience of the festival was so profound that I have decided that it is something I need to share.

So in this post am sharing with you my experiences and thoughts on my first ever Ake arts and book festival which was hosted under the theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’.  

Transit to Nigeria

I left Malawi for Nigeria on 22nd October 2019. I used the Ethiopian Airways and travelled via Addis Ababa. Prior to leaving for Nigeria, I noted on my itinerary that I was having a 12 hour layover in Addis and I was anxious about it because I thought I was going to spend all of it in the airport. Lucky enough, I qualified for a hotel so the Airways paid for my one night stay in a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia before I connected to Nigeria the next morning.

I left Addis the next morning and arrived in Lagos around one in the afternoon. In Lagos, moving through the Immigration check point was easy, the hard part was getting my luggage. I had to stand by the luggage carousel for close to any hour before I spotted my bag.

Getting out of the airport, I was tired but I was in Lagos so the weariness didn’t count much.

Welcoming dinner

When I finally arrived at the hotel, I took a bath and caught on on some sleep before we had to leave for the welcoming dinner that the Goethe Institut had organized for all of us writers. I expected some sort of a formal dinner with speeches and some stiffed conversations but I was in for a surprise. The dinner was more of a casual affair more than anything. I met and shared conversations with wonderful creatives (including a photographer and a DJ) from Nigerian and all over Africa. Great food and stimulating conversations, my first day in Nigeria was heaven.

Opening ceremony of the Ake festival

Then the next day came the Ake festival… the welcoming ceremony.

From the word go Ake festival was a vibe. You could feel the excitement as it buzzed through the participants and it was contagious. The opening ceremony was filled with great performances and great speeches.

One performance that deserves special mention is the spoken word that was done by the Jamaican artist D’bi Young Anitafrika. She gave an outstanding performance where she talked about Black women (which fitted perfectly with the theme for the festival).

Attending Ake festival for the first time

One speech that deserves special mention is the speech that was offered by the CEO of Sterling bank (they partnered with Lola on the festival). In his speech he emphasized the role that storyteller play in our society. He said, and I quote

I am convinced that everything we know about ourselves and our history is the work of artists. The greatest books in the world are the Bible and the Quran because those who told these stories told such compelling stories that centuries later, our everyday lives are being determined by the stories they wrote. It is still a reason for people to go to war today, is it still a reason for people to give up their wealth today, it is still a reason for people to get married today….

Abubaker Suleiman- CEO Sterling Bank

In his speech, he emphasized that story teller do more than entertain people. That rather, they create the context through which people understand the universe which in turn forms the foundation for everything these people do. So story tellers have the duty to tell stories that will inspire Africa to be all that it can be. It was such a short yet powerful speech.

Art Gallery

The opening ceremony closed with an art gallery show through which we appreciated forms the black body encompasses and the beauty there in.

With the Ake officially opened, the rest of the days consisted of various panel discussion, movie screenings and various activities including the lunch of our Anthology.

My thoughts on Ake festival 2019

So these are my thought on Ake festival:

Venue

The festival was held at Alliance Françoise- Mike Adenuga Center in Lagos. It is a new building and it showed in how shiny it was. I personally thought the venue was functional and big enough for the festival but other people who had been to the festival before said the place was much smaller when compared to the venues for the previous festivals.

The food and drinks

As invited guests, we had access to the Green Room where there were free lunches and dinners and drinks. The food was amazing, there was such a wide selection of choices (once there were six different types of rice) and I loved how delicious it was. It was such a nice combination of Nigerian cousins and western dishes that catered to the diversity of the guests present at the event. However, I had a problem when it came to drinks. Apart from water, all other drinks were alcoholic. So for someone who never indulges in alcohol, the only drink I could take at the festival was water (or I had to buy from the vendors).

The Conversations

The conversations that were had at the festival were amazing. I loved that they always had more than one thing going at a time so one always had a chance to choose what talk/show they wanted to attend. Some of the talks I attended were on ‘Writing Historical fiction in Africa’, ‘Speculate fiction in Africa’ and the ‘Toni Morrison movie screening’.

Attending Ake festival for the first time

The Village Arena

And there was a Nigerian village arena at the festival, courtesy of the Sterling Bank. The village was a tent that had this Nigerian village vibe. On the two doors to the village stood very muscular almost-naked men guarding the village. They looked like those guards you see in a Nigerian movie set in the village.  Inside the tent there were ‘maid’ (ladies dressed like maids you see in Nigerian movies) who welcome everyone who went into the village and assisted them. There were local games one could learn and play, a throne where you could  have your picture taken, someone doing face art, henna art, and there was palm wine (for the alcohol takers). Overall it was a nice experience being inside the ‘village’.

Attending Ake for the first time

Eat the book session

I loved ‘Eat the book session’. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I raved about it and that’s because I am a certified foodie.

In this session we were given food to eat and try to remember which character from what book ate that food. I am not proud to say I couldn’t match any of the food to any book (it was my first time trying most of the food there, in my defense) but it was delicious all the same. And it was such a unique and interesting concept that it remains one of the highlights of the festival to me.

The Bookshop

And because I love books, I have to mention the bookshop that was at the festival. I swear that place was designed to wipe me clean of all my money. Because my self-restrain fails me when it comes to buying books, each day of the festival I visited the bookshop and each day I ended up buying one or two books. There were a lot of great titles present and for some of the title, their authors were present at the festival, ready to give you an autograph. So do you really blame me for spending more on books that I had planned to spend at the festival?

Attending Ake for the first time

Closing

 Overall I enjoyed my time at Ake festival 2019. There was a lot to love and very little to dislike. It is an event I would recommend to anyone who loves all things books, arts and deep. And I hope in the future, I get more chances to be part of Ake arts and Book festival.

Love,

Yamie.

Related posts: I try and I made it: Review of the Book The boy who harnesses the wind

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