Essence Festival to Expand with South Africa Events

Prince at Essence Fest 2014
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Prince performs during the 2014 Essence Music Festival on July 4, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After more than 20 years in New Orleans, the Essence Festival is now going global.

The festival has launched a three-year partnership with eThekwini Municipality to host the Essence Festival in Durban, South Africa, in 2016 and 2017, Essence Communications Inc. President Michelle Ebanks said Thursday.

Exact dates will be announced in a few weeks. Ebanks said in a telephone interview that it likely will be held "around this time next year."

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Ebanks noted Durban and New Orleans are longtime sister cities.

"We believe that this event will strengthen the Essence Festival and deepen our connection to our attendees," she said, nixing any concerns that the expansion might negatively affect the New Orleans event. "There's an African proverb that says you can go fast alone or far together. Reconnecting with our community on the African continent will allow us to go far together."

Ebanks said a delegation from Durban attended the festival's 20th anniversary in New Orleans. "There's a great deal in common culturally between America and South Africa. We share a history of racial, economic and social prejudice and disparities. There are many parallels and we felt expanding to South Africa was a great connection."

The Essence Festival Durban will follow the multi-day format of the New Orleans event, which draws more than 450,000 people annually over the July 4th holiday weekend and has an economic impact of more than $200 million locally.

Some festival veterans, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, motivational speaker and author Iyanla Van Zant and R&B singer Kelly Price, are participating in the Durban Business Fair being held this week, to give attendees a small taste of what the festival will bring to South Africa, Ebanks said.

"The empowerment is one of the key attributes and benefits the city of Durban saw at the festival," she said. "Free programming, including inspirational, informative and entertaining, available to attendees to help you achieve your life goals, that's very much on the agenda in Durban. She said there will be a mix of local and international artists.

Ebanks said expanding internationally has been a long-held desire.

In a news release, Durban Mayor James Nxumalo said the partnership will focus on the development of women and youth in business. A number of women-owned businesses will be selected to trade at the festival, which he said will help boost their profile and drive sales.

Nxumalo said Durban had made waves internationally in the past two years by hosting high profile events helping to cement the city as a choice international destination.

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"This partnership will have a host of benefits for residents starting with the Durban Business Fair program which strives to connect local businesses globally," he said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said in a statement, that he's thrilled the festival is expanding internationally.

"The people of New Orleans know firsthand that the Essence Festival has not only enhanced our cultural economy, but it has also made a meaningful impact across the community through service and personal empowerment."

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