History of Afrofest
Afrofest began in 1989 as a private venture of Highlife World, a company specializing promoting music from Ghana. In 1990, Thaddy Ulzen and Sam Mensah formed Music Africa as a non-profit community organization to expand the festival and to become a community based event. Ulzen and Mensah have subsequently re-located to the United States.
In its first year, Afrofest took place at the former Bamboo Club before branching out to Queen’s Park in 1990. In 2000, Afrofest changed its format and became a two-day festival held Saturday to Sunday at Toronto’s Queen Park, a venue that became its home until 2012.
Growth in visitor attendance
The festival’s popularity continued to rise with every festival. In 1990, visitor attendance was about 2,000. It was also the year the great South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela would perform at Afrofest.
Over the years, Afrofest became a wildly popular festival. Families and communities came together to share live African music, the food and arts as well as participated in a wide range of activities such as drumming.
By 2012, attendance grew to 100,000 visitors who attended the festival over two days.
From Queen’s Park to Woodbine Park
Afrofest was seen by City of Toronto officials as having “outgrown” Queen’s Park and in 2012 the event was moved to Woodbine Park. The move was successfully managed and the festival continued to grow. Today, Afrofest attracts over 120,000 festival goers.
Afrofest has become the most important annual gathering for many different African communities and continues to contribute to Toronto’s rich diversity. It has created an environment where communities come together as fellow Africans as well as provide a chance for the general public to experience and appreciate Africa’s cultural offerings.
Afrofest presents both English and French artists along with many other African languages in order to better represent the diversity within these communities.
Each year, Afrofest features a mix of international and local African musicians performing a range of drumming, music and dance, including both traditional and contemporary styles. The festival has seen considerable expansion in musical programming. Additional stages were added – one directed to a younger audience, another being a designated drumming area.
Afrofest also presents a Children’s Creative Village This is another interactive area where the audience enjoys games, story-telling and art-based activities throughout the day.