by Patheresa Wells
Music carries more than just sounds; it’s an essential culture bearer. At BLASTFEST, Seattle’s first-ever Afrobeats festival, the richness and diversity of African culture will be catapulted to new heights in a city that is catching up to the genre’s global popularity. BLASTFEST will take place at Seattle Center on Saturday, July 29.
“Afrobeats is more than music. It is our [Nigerian] culture; therefore, we will be incorporating many forms of artistic expression into the festival,” said festival founder Bobby Akinboro (DJ BLAST). “Attendees will get the opportunity to embrace the experience of African culture, from the visuals to the food trucks and vendors — the culture will be in the heart of Seattle at the Space Needle on July 29. It will be home to some and new to many — that’s exactly what we want.”
The lineup for BLASTFEST not only consists of all Afrobeats artists, but also, according to Akinboro, this lineup has never performed at the same show. Openers include Tiwa Savage, referred to as the Queen of Afrobeats, who recently performed at the coronation concert of King Charles III, and sets from Ayra Starr, Focalistic, and Mannywellz. Headliner Asake has gained rapid popularity within the Afrobeats community, propelling the genre to new frontiers. In addition to out-of-this-world performances, the festival will include BLASTMART, a vendor market for Black-owned businesses, food trucks, and visuals representing the Afrobeats culture and community.
Afrobeats is a term used to describe music from West Africa and the diaspora. The genre has rapidly grown to be a global presence. In March of 2022, with the rise of artists like Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Tems, Billboard launched the first U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart. And with Afrobeats artists showing up everywhere, from collaborations with Beyoncé to this year’s NBA All-Star game, the genre has expanded beyond its roots, capturing fans of all backgrounds.
Yet despite the genre’s rapid rise, Akinboro said that here in Seattle, Afrobeats wasn’t traveling past the ears of the African community. After moving here seven years ago, he noticed the genre was a foreign sound to many Seattleites. “As a Nigerian, music has always been a part of my culture, and while I am a fan of mainstream genres, such as hip-hop and R&B, Afrobeats has always traveled with me since leaving Lagos at a young age,” he said. So Akinboro decided to bring these two things together. “That’s how BLASTFEST was born. Opposed to taking the traditional route of jumping on a plane to attend one of the very few Afrobeats festivals, I decided to plant a festival in the same place I planted my DJ career,” he said.
Somtochukwu Muo is another Seattle-area transplant who has frequented the local Afrobeats scene. Muo grew up in Florida, where she says festivals are a huge part of music culture. Once she moved to Seattle and realized how the Black community held Afrobeats in such high regard, she was confused why a festival didn’t exist here.
“As soon as I heard about BLASTFEST, I knew I wanted to be there. … I’m looking forward to dressing up, exploring the food trucks, and having a good time with my friends. I’m most excited to see Mannywellz because I’m a huge Afro-Alté fan, and I feel like artists from that genre are largely underrepresented,” said Muo. For Muo and her friends, a festival like BLASTFEST isn’t only about the music. It’s also about representation. “Showing up to a party where everyone looks like you, talks like you, and dances like you is such an incredible feeling. Afrobeats functions are the type of parties you can go to completely alone and still have a spectacular time because everyone is on the same vibe,” she said.
With the futuristic Space Needle as its backdrop, BLASTFEST plans to propel the vibe of Afrobeats so the Seattle Center becomes ground control to an interstellar event. Akinboro said the festival has ticket holders flying in from all over the world to experience the diversity of the global music genre. “Today, you hear Afrobeats everywhere: the radio, trending TikTok videos and Instagram reels, to representation on large platforms like the NBA. Today, Afrobeats is everywhere; however, Afrobeats festivals are not.”
The full lineup and tickets for BLASTFEST can be purchased on its website.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 07/20/2023 to state that Asake has gained rapid popularity within the Afrobeats community.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in creative writing. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: (Left to right): Tiwa Savage, often called the Queen of Afrobeats, will be one of many performers at BLASTFEST. (Photo courtesy of BLASTFEST). Nigerian singer and songwriter Asake will headline the festival. (Photo courtesy of BLASTFEST). Bobby Akinboro, “DJ BLAST,” created BLASTFEST to celebrate Afrobeats music and African culture in Seattle. (Photo: Cvervo).
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