Investing In Africa: How Afro Nation Ghana Changed The Game
Afro Nation returns to Ghana for its second edition, Dec. 29-30, taking place at Accra’s Black Star Square, right next to the beach around Marine Drive – a historic site wedged between Osu Castle, the country’s former seat of government, and Black Star Square, the site of Ghana’s Independence Day celebrations. It used to be a security zone, off limits to the general public. Today, and particularly during Afro Nation Festival, it welcomes everyone.
Pollstar reached out to Obi Asika, co-founder of Afro Nation (and co-head of UTA UK), and Ruddy Kwakye, executive producer of Afro Nation Ghana, to talk about the impact Afro Nation has had on the local live entertainment market.
According to Kwakye, it’s been huge. There was “no doubt that the festival’s impact in the market is going to be felt for a long time to come. We’re not new to shows, but haven’t had a stage of the size, magnitude, and build, the sheer amount of planning and organization in the market for generations,” he said.
Since the festival launched in 2019, the local producers have been stocking up on fencing, VIP toilets, and other parts that go into a state-of-the-art festival experience. “Almost all of the suppliers we worked with on the 2019 premiere have purchased new gear post-event. They asked, ‘are you guys coming back?’, and when we said, ‘yes,’ they said, ‘then we’re going to invest’. We’re building a proper inventory in the market, going forward you won’t need to ship anything. You just sit on a plane and come,” Kwakye said.
This year’s festival will feature the main stage of Afro Nation Portugal, which has been shipped to Ghana, where it will remain – a state-of-the-art stage that is going to take the possibilities for shows in West Africa to another level.
See: Afro Nation Portugal Transports Main Stage To Ghana
“We really want to help with the touring side of things,” said Asika, “There’s a lovely stadium, there’s a lovely arena in Rwanda, there’s people building arenas in Nigeria at the moment. I’d love to see the top artists in the world coming in, not just for a one-off, but bringing their real show, the full production, and do four shows in the space of a week. It’s not something we’re going to be able to do on our own, but there’s lots of people on the continent that want to make it happen, and lots of artists that want to make it happen as well.”
For a long time, artists would do one-offs or private shows for rich people, not investing much in production and charging double the fees to make the journey worthwhile. Local infrastructure simply wouldn’t allow for a fully fledged African tour leg, and a lot of agents would seize these opportunities without ever thinking about developing a sustainable touring industry in the market.
“It used to really affect me, being African, and knowing how much culture, music, so much of what people like and find inspirational in our industry, comes from the continent,” Asika said, “but when things get difficult, you’re not trying to help, you’re just trying to take more money than you would even in the world’s wealthiest countries?” And he added, “We want to be a part of the growth of the industry!”
Lugging tons of steel around the world is no small investment, many in the biz questioned Asika’s and Kwakye’s sanity when they announced that they were going to take the stage from Portugal to Ghana. But Asika knew, that “you have to take a leap of faith sometimes in life. Some people get freaked out by doing shows in Africa, but I’m African, I feel as secure doing the show in Ghana as I would anywhere else in the world. Being one of the few Black executives in the European business, pulling off something like Afro Nation in both Portugal and Ghana is very deep for me.”
Afro Nation Ghana is a holiday event that aims to attract tourists travelling to Ghana over New Year’s. Around 90% of guests at the 2019 premiere came from abroad. But flights and hotels are expensive right now, and many airlines cut down on the amount of trips they’re doing into the region. “It’s difficult, but we’re used to overcoming obstacles,” said Asika, pointing out that they had already sold a lot more local tickets for this year’s edition. In 2019, a lot of the locals didn’t think Asika, Kwakye and their team would pull a 20,000-capacity state-of-the-art festival off. That’s changed, which is why Asika expects around 75% of guests to come from the area.
“The team made everything much more simple than the 2019 debut. “It was the first year we’d done it, the country had never really seen anything like it for a long time, and no one knew what to expect,” he explained, adding, “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles in the debut year but running festivals is always a game of problem solving, and now with our improved new site, we are just looking forward to an excellent return.”
Africa boasts many such historical sites, in addition to vast cultural assets that the country isn’t leveraging when it comes to entertainment, according to Kwakye. He said, Afro Nation arriving on the shores showed him the true potential of what could be achieved, including “creating jobs for people. Seeing the economic impact was really mind-blowing. It meant a lot to see that you could get an entire industry involved in a single project, and everybody would bring their best to the table to create this amazing experience. Let’s get to work with people that are here. And let’s empower them to think about solutions that will work and leave a legacy behind. That’s the mission.”
Above all else, Kwakye is happy for the country itself, seeing that people are getting used to entertainment at a certain level, and welcoming people from all over the world to experience it together. He said, “You have no idea how many people from surrounding countries have been flying into Ghana to have conversations with us, asking, ‘how did you guys do it?’ And I’m like, ‘we learned, we got a team that were willing and open for us to make our own mistakes, build our own capacity, and deliver at that level. That part alone is an incredible story. This is how you build ecosystems anyway, you could either have a savior mentality, or you can have an empowerment mentality, it’s two different things. And Obi and crew, they have an empowerment mentality. ‘You’re going to be able to learn, understand, and deliver’, rather than, ‘this is how we do it where we come from’. Local solutions really deliver local impact!”
Ghana’s population is young, with a growing middle class, that’s only just getting a taste for spending on leisure. “The opportunity to leverage that and connect the continent to all these experiences is amazing. Whenever I talk to Obi, and he tells me there’s thousands of festivals in Europe, I look at those numbers and I’m like, there should be thousands here as well. But it starts with things like bringing over a stage. It has unlocked the market, literally, there are shows being planned because the logistics have arrived. Skills are being transferred from building to security to fencing, instead shipping it from elsewhere. It has changed the game.”