Abdul Karim Abdullah is the CEO and one of the minds behind the acclaimed Ghana-based event, Afrochella. As an adventurous kid, growing up between the Bronx, New York and Accra in Ghana throughout his youth, Abdul was captivated by the beauty in the Ghanaian culture. While attending Syracuse University and majoring in psychology and biology, he would organise events, book acts and speakers for his Sigma fraternity.
Despite graduating and starting a career in the healthcare field at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Abdul and his friends were still putting on events in the city, which led to the creation of their entertainment production company, Big 5. In this endeavor, he found himself once again traveling between Accra and New York City, making the annual end-of-year trip to the continent and organizing lively Afrobeat-inspired parties there. As Abdul and his associates began to create content around these frequent trips, they attracted the interests of those around them in New York, who were curious to experience the famed parties for themselves. As a result, trips to Ghana were organized, taking both natives and foreigners to the motherland to see its magic up close and in person. Thriving off this energy and celebration of African culture, the idea for Afrochella was born. The very first Afrochella rapidly sprung into action in 2017, materializing as a raving success with more than 4,000 eager guests ready to attend.
What began as an idea for a simple food festival, eventually became so much more. Afrochella became a way to share the magnificent cultural identity of Africa with the entire world. Abdul’s well accomplished goal for the event was to create a stage for productive interactions between creatives within the diaspora that were producing similar work. With the festival, he generated positive, genuine connections between all kinds of creatives, the kind of connections that can lead to a number of amazing new possibilities. At the same time, Abdul was creating an energetic and eventful day and night experience for all those in attendance.
Once 2019 came, Afrochella was in its third year and just in time for the Year of Return, which saw the Ghanaian president invite members of the diaspora to visit their home continent, 400 years after the start of the transatlantic slave trade. The diaspora answered, and Ghana saw a record number of visitors to its shores from all over the world including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and South Africa. Within this context, Afrochella cemented itself as a yearly cultural exaltation of Africa and the diaspora. The festival was able to change the worldview of Ghana, and by extension the continent, both as a vacation spot and as an international stage for the experiences the region has to offer. Afrochella has expanded into a celebration of African art, culture, music, fashion, and food that is now available in person and on digital platforms, making it even more accessible to other parts of the world.
In this episode of Our Folklore, we sat down with Abdul Abdullah to discuss how Afrochella went from an idea to a celebration of African culture, and how he plans to develop the festival to have an even greater impact on the diaspora. Listen to the podcast here, and on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and read excerpts from the interview below.
“What we wanted to do was figure out a way to force conversations between the diaspora and people on the continent. I just think that there was just some amazing talent right here in Ghana that needed some support from individuals that are like them, that are doing some amazing things in the diaspora as well and around the world.”
“It was just a time for people to kind of get a break and come back and celebrate Blackness and celebrate being. That is what our festival was able to do for people and that is the message that resonated with people and why we chose to come back.”
“There is also something about Ghana opening its arms to everyone that lives within the diaspora and saying, Hey this is home for you, come and visit, come and see what we have to offer. Our people want to meet you, we love you here, you look like us. Come to Ghana! And people were able to answer that call graciously.”
“We give people different experiences now, so people can come and actually party, if you really want to party in Ghana we party, but if you also just want to relax and have a good time there are opportunities for you to have both experiences.”
“I think it has changed Ghana for the better, it also changes people’s minds around the world about what a vacation in Africa could look like, what experiences in Africa are like and I think more people are willing to visit, in my opinion.”
Words by Reann Philogene
Images courtesy of Here Magazine, The Zoo XYZ, Joe Chea, Steve Morris/Afrochella