What does a digital Ake Festival look like?

It is easy to imagine the breathtaking blend of colours that would mark a literary festival bringing together over 700 poets, dancers, writers, artists, musicians, actors and filmmakers from around Africa. The past 7 years of the Ake Arts and Book Festival have given us a foretaste of what to expect. However, the question on our lips is, “What would it look like online?”

With this year’s festival scheduled as a digital experience, can we expect to appreciate the assortment of people and expressions as before, or maybe even more?

Should we increase our expectations or tone down our anticipation?

This year’s festival is themed “African Time”, reflecting the effects of the recent world events and expressing the hope of the unique opportunity presented for Africans to reshape and redefine the continent they desire. Since the time of the imperialists until now, Africa and her rich culture have been submerged in a tide of colonisation, and freedom in its truest sense has eluded the continent. In the light of the pandemic ravaging the world, there is a pressing need for Africa to break free from the shackles of imperialism and poor leadership, and unleash her potential for greatness. Right now is the time; here and now is the African Time.

Every year since 2014, a literary journal known as Ake Review is released. The festival guests are usually asked the same ten questions with their answers published in the journal. Some of the questions that have been asked over the years are: “What does this year’s Ake Festival theme mean to you?”, “What is your vision for the theme?”, “Which literary work best celebrates this year’s theme?”. This year’s festival guests include Abdourahman Waberi of Djibouti, Adrian Harewood, an African-Canadian journalist, Fatoumata Diawura of Mali, Khadi Hane of Senegal, Akosua Hanson of Ghana, Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse of Rwanda, Marlon James of Jamaica, Abi Dare, Kola Tubosun, Yinka Adegoke, Lamide Akintobi and Aisha Salaudeen of Nigeria.

The Book or and The Movie

This year, like every year, some of the best African writers will feature in the Ake Festival. In hour-long book chats hosted by book lovers, the hottest author secrets are revealed by these guest writers to empower and encourage budding writers. People can also send in questions for authors in the Ake Festival book chats. Another remarkable feature of the Ake Festival is the Bookstore which stocks over 10,000 books mainly written by Africans at affordable prices. From literary fiction to dramas, adventure, mystery, satire, fantasy, children’s books, horror, and self-help books, the Bookstore boasts of several book genres.

Also, the Ake Festival selects a Film of the Festival every year. 2020’s Film of the Festival is “Elder’s Corner”, a musical voyage of rediscovery directed by Siji Awoyinka. The film seeks to tell the stories and showcase the work of Nigeria’s pioneering musicians. We also look forward to Poetry of Ake, an annual program of the festival featuring some of the best poets this continent has known. This year, we will visit with poets like Afrukan, Jabir Malick, Ola ElHassan, Poetra Asantewa, and Sitawa Namwalie.

An Artsy Tour around Africa

We are also looking forward to a virtual tour of the WS 20 for 20 Exhibition where Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka would share his thoughts on his top twenty pieces from his antiquities, collected over sixty years. Another feature we cannot wait to see is the Art Exhibition organised by the Festival every year, which displays the works of contemporary African artists in relation to the theme of the festival. Music lovers are not left out in the fun and experience of the African culture. This year’s Ake Festival concert features ten artists from South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, the UK, Ivory Coast, the US, Kenya and Morocco. We eagerly await a musical tour around Africa with musicians like Bab L’Bluz, Beautiful Nubia and the Urban Village.

As October draws close, our anticipation heightens and we cannot wait to see how one of Africa’s biggest literary festivals (perhaps, the biggest) navigates the move to digital. While things may be quite different from what we are used to, we expect the Festival to be as impactful and enlightening as always. We are waiting on tiptoes for the unveiling of the full program in September.

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