Afro Nation’s first American festival was set to take place March 18-21 in Puerto Rico before COVID-19 forced organizers to cancel the event five days ahead of gates opening. Afro Nation co-founder Obi Asika says they were on the beach setting up when the call had to be made to postpone the event that was set to feature performances with Nigerian singers Burna Boy and WizKid, as well as rappers Fabolous and Rick Ross.
The festival’s Puerto Rico event has been rescheduled for March 24-26, which co-founder SMADE calls “a big deal” given they’ve secured some of the returning artists like Wizkid and, in their first wave of artists announcements, revealed superstar Megan Thee Stallion is now set to headline.
“This has been a rough experience for a new brand,” says Asika. “We’ve had a lot of belief to keep doing this. I’ve had the attitude of ‘we’re going to keep going. I don’t care how many times we get smacked down by this COVID thing. And SMADE, the same thing.:”
Afro Nation events began in Portugal in 2019 and are continuing to grow and expand across the globe as a way to showcase and celebrate Afro-fusion, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, soca and more Black-led music. Entering the U.S. market has long been part of the plan and Puerto Rico became the preferred destination because of easy flights and the immediate connection the founders felt to the location — Balneario de Carolina in San Juan.
“We looked at other regions in America, but Puerto Rico is just so relaxed” says Asika. “It’s got a Caribbean vibe. Everyone’s super chill. It’s perfect for our crowds.”
The festival will be held beachside and at local clubs. The 18+ event will also feature block parties in the old town for what Asika hopes will make attendees feel like they’re in a music video. According to Asika, DJ’s and hosts are not treated like “sideshows” and will help maintain the up-tempo dance party between every act.
Next year’s headliner Megan Thee Stallion is already guaranteed to be a crowd favorite. SMADE says the demand for her with Afro Nation fans is huge. “When we ask people on social media who they want to see, her name always pops up,” he tells Billboard.
“She is very much loved by the afrobeats crowd,” Asika adds. “We wanted to showcase the best talent from around the world and she is the best talents.”
The 2022 lineup includes artist from Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Jamaica, Nigeria and more. The ethos behind Afro Nation is unity and diversity, especially in sound. Asika and SMADE hope to help expand the reach of new genres including the steadily rising amapiano – a South African dance sound.
“It is opening up the dance side of contemporary African music,” Asika says of amapiano. “Tt’s been around for a while, but it’s just really connected in the UK now going into America. We’re definitely going to be showcasing some of those acts.”
SMADE adds, “This is why afrobeats is so tremendous. It’s because we are so connected with people around the world which is what is happening with amapiano and other sounds coming from behind afrobeats. We’re able to merge different cultures and that’s the big impact Afro Nation Puerto Rico is doing.”