African Association of Madison’s Africa Fest
A Taste of Africa
growing, from 2,000 to 6,000.”
      In 2005, AAM decided to take a one-year hiatus from producing Africa Fest as it went through a reorganization and made plans to
hold Africa Fest as an outdoor festival. “Our budget almost quadrupled,” Akyea said. “We had to redouble our fund-raising efforts. In
2006, we went out into Warner Park for the first time. As it turned out, we did lose money. I think from some of the planning, we weren’t
ready and up with it at the time. However, since 2006, the festival has broken even and the attendance has increased dramatically. In
2008, the Chief of Police was there and he estimated that 8,000 people came. That was quite an achievement. Last year, we know it
was bigger. There were even more people there. We didn’t have an official estimate at the time, but we knew it was bigger given the
crowd. And the number of food vendors has doubled since 2006. We know we are doing something right and the festival has picked up
a lot publicity and has become a fixture in the community. People look forward to attending it each year in August.”
      This year’s theme is “Riziki of the Ages: Nurturing the Fruits of Africa.” It refers not only to the children of Africa, but also to the
foods of Africa which have heavily influenced cuisine in the African Diaspora. “African American food came from West Africa,” Akyea
said. “They brought peanuts and rice and the special way that they cook. The interesting thing is they were the ones who cooked the
food in the houses on the plantations. They influenced Southern cuisine, especially Louisiana cuisine. It basically comes from them. It is
from the modern day region of Sierra Leone of Africa. Okra is also from Africa.”
      As always, many of the dance and musical performances will be by members of Madison’s African community. The performances
are beautiful and stunning. “We do have a group from Milwaukee perform, but that is about it,” Akyea said. “Cultural groups
representing different countries — Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, Rwanda and this year a group from Kenya — perform. They are your
neighbors coming to learn and converse with you about Africa.” Akyea also noted that several of the groups like Atimevu have gone on
to become semi-professional troupes.
      In addition to the performances, people can check out the African Women’s Association’s African Village will feature arts, crafts,
food and other cultural items or catch many of the dazzling African designs in the annual fashion show. The Children’s Activity Area will
keep the children preoccupied with culturally-enriching activities and the many food vendors will satiate one’s palate.
      Topping off this year’s activities will be the “Strides for Africa” 5K run/walk, which will be held at Warner Park right before the
festivities begin. To sign up, visit
www.africanassociation.org/.
      “Africa Fest is a great event that has been growing and becoming more exquisite and captures the imagination and interest of the
community,” Akyea said. “We invite everyone to come and enjoy it with us and learn a little bit about Africa.”
By Jonathan Gramling

      One of the unique things about Madison is the presence of an entity like the African
Association of Madison (AAM). In other communities of the U.S., one might find specific
African country organizations like the Ghanaians or the Kenyans — Madison has those too
— but rarely an umbrella organization like AAM.
      It is this unity in Madison’s African community that allowed AAM to bring forward the
first Africa Fest back in the late 1990s. “The very first festival — and for the subsequent
six years — was inside the Monona Terrace,” said Aggo Akyea, president of AAM who
was also the first chair of Africa Fest. “For the first festival, Monona Terrace wasn’t even
a year old. They gave us the whole top floor of Monona Terrace. It was really nice. We had
an entourage from Chicago. It just happened to coincide with Taste of Madison. It was an
incredibly hot day. A lot of people were also just coming in to look at the new Monona
Terrace and just got caught up in the excitement of the festival. But after that first year, we
were moved to the lower level until 2004, our last year at Monona Terrace. But the concept
was the same. We had the performances. We were mostly local country representatives
singing, dancing and demonstrating cultural activities. We had child naming ceremonies,
the masquerade and unique representations from all of the regions. Along the perimeter of
the hall in Monona Terrace, we had the craft vendors. In Monona Terrace, one of the
advantages was after Africa Fest, we had Grand Ball Africa. We went home and changed
into our formal African outfits and came for a big party. Over the years, the crowd kept
Aggo Akyea, president of the African
Association of Madison, chaired the first
Africa Fest