My favourite Afrofest moment happened at the first one I attended in 2005. I was struggling to adjust to the pace of life in Toronto, having just moved to the big city from small-town Ontario. I was doing an internship at CBC and feeling like a total imposter, fresh out of university and suddenly surrounded by so many brilliant minds. I was finding it difficult to make new friends and I hadn’t yet found a good living situation.
So with those thoughts heavy on my mind, I found myself at Afrofest on a steamy Sunday night in July. Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi strode onstage to close the festival and started building a slow groove. Daylight was fading and the crowd was dancing. I knew a bit about the man called "Tuku," but I definitely didn’t know all his music. Halfway through his set, he started singing a song called “Hear Me Lord.” The lyrics, “Help me Lord, I’m feeling low,” sung so pleadingly, became my own desperate, cathartic cry to the heavens. I’d never heard that song before, but Tuku expressed my angst so perfectly. Years later, I still play that song when life feels overwhelming.
Watch Tuku performing "Hear Me Lord" at the Reggae on the River festival.
Though 2005 was the first year of Afrofest for me, the festival has been opening people’s ears to great African music since 1989. Held every year during the first weekend in July, the festival is approaching its silver anniversary. And this year, for the first time, Afrofest will be held in the east end of Toronto at Woodbine Park.
Last year, the festival was in serious danger of being cancelled when the City of Toronto denied a permit for its regular location, Queen’s Park. Afrofest became a victim of its own success. Annually attracting nearly 50,000 people over the weekend, the city alleged that the park could no longer handle the ballooning festival. Without enough time to find a new venue, the city gave the festival a reprieve and allowed it to go ahead, with the understanding that Afrofest must go elsewhere in 2012.
Woodbine Park doesn’t have the mature shady trees nor is it downtown, with easy access to the subway, but hopefully the festival can still attract the crowds to the east end of the city. Regardless of where Afrofest is held, the music is guaranteed to be good, the vendors will be selling delicious food and good vibes will be flowing.
This year’s festival is headlined by the Juno-winning African Guitar Summit on Saturday night, and Sam Fan Thomas from Cameroon closes the show on Sunday night.
Let us know what your favourite Afrofest memories are by leaving your comments on the blog below.
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on Jul 02, 2012