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Photo by Anthony Gebrehiwot.

This Is What Toronto's 2018 AfroChic Festival Looked Like

AfroChic Cultural Arts Festival is not just any annual festival—it's very black and filled with immense pride.

If you have not already, you should visit Toronto, Canada or at least start looking into flights. Toronto is a vibrant city that is bursting at the seams with creativity. Basically, the whole city is a vibe, but during the annual AfroChic Cultural Arts Festival, the city really proved that it is truly special.

When I got off the elevator at the CarlU, I was thrusted into another world. It was a mix of Wakanda meets a magical rainforest. Before checking in at the registration table, a live band dipped into Bob Marley's timeless catalogue and life size paintings of beautiful black women lined the room. Before I knew it, I was headed to the market that hosted all the vendors. I literally spent all my cash on black owned products. Some of my favorite vendors were Mamas Life Products (I basically bought all their shampoo and vanilla scented shea butter), Eyeni, JV Accessories, Anna Fora and Stolen from Africa.

The AfroChic Festival is not just any annual festival, it is very black and filled with immense pride. Attendees don't just pull up looking regular. They show out.


Photo by Anthony Gebrehiwot.


One of my favorite acts of the night had to be Trap Yoga Bae, who walked us through various ratchet affirmations and VERY Black yoga poses such as how to "back that ass up like Juvenile into a downward facing dog pose" or the "secure the bag pose." She was entertaining and I felt represented in so many ways.

The hosts for the evening were none other than, Femi Lawson and Amanda Parris. They are staple voices in the city and it was a proud moment for all of us to watch them introduce a star-studded line up and the festival's headliner, DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown a.k.a Erykah Badu. The artists who took the stage have been carving out their own lanes both locally and internationally. We saw performances from Shi Wisdom, 11:11, Jayd Ink and then Ms. Badu played a DJ set that really made us all feel present. As I looked around there wasn't a single person standing still.

Day two of the festival consisted of the most beautiful weather, a panoramic view of the city, a panel discussion and an intimate conversation with Ms. Erykah Badu. Yes—she spent two full days with us. The panel discussion covered so many things. My notebook was filled with resources and companies I will surely be looking into. The panelists were diverse in terms of the type of work they do, but one of my favorites was Lauren Simmons, who recently took social media by storm with her story of being the youngest black woman to work for the New York Stock Exchange. She was very sweet, articulate and wise beyond her years. I still cannot believe she is 23 years old.

The room was attentive and calm. Everyone showed up to learn something new about building generational wealth, themselves or the community as a whole. Some guests greeted friends with emphasized shrieks of happiness and hugs filled with love. I think I saw a softer side to the city on this day. There was honesty and a lot of vulnerability. I saw young black men thank Erykah Badu for her contributions, a few women shared their personal stories and many sat within the stillness that could only be felt if you were really tapped into the moment. Ms. Badu reminded us that we are all human. What is for us will present itself when the time is right. She is a nurturer and I felt as though parts of me were healed simply by being in her presence.

That said, AfroChic is a festival you do not want to miss! See you next year?

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6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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