The Joy of Black-Owned Festivals: 'I Can Be Unapologetically Myself'

There's something special about hearing and seeing yourself at a festival.
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There’s no other feeling like going to a festival. After two years of not being able to hear live music, I was so ecstatic to be able to be in the presence of some of my favourite artists last weekend.

But my love of festivals started back at Hackney Weekend in 2012. It was the first ever festival I went to and I had no idea what to expect. The initial walk onto the field felt electric and the atmosphere was something I’d never experienced before. Everywhere I looked people seemed like they were on cloud nine. The fact I was able to see several of my favourite artists in the space of a day amazed me.

Since that day, I’ve been a regular festival-goer, from Parklife, Strawberries & Cream to Wireless, if there’s a festival happening you can find me there.

When I’m in these spaces I’m used to being the minority. Unless the artist is someone whose fanbase is predominantly Black, the crowds are usually White. I’ve been quite fortunate to have only had good experiences at festivals, but some of my other Black friends can’t say the same. It’s not bizarre for Black people to experience microaggressions at these events.

The festival-ready author, with friends.
Habiba Katsha
The festival-ready author, with friends.

Skin from the band Skunk Anansie was the first Black artist to headline Glastonbury with her band in 1999, after the festival launched in 1970, but there’s only been a handful of other Black headliners since. Beyonce became the first female Black solo artist to headline in 2011. Stormzy also made history when he became the first Black British solo act to headline at Glastonbury in its 50-year history. If your music taste is solely based around Black artists and Black music, mainstream festivals can be quite limiting.

In America, there are several Black music festivals such as Essence Festival and One Music Fest. In Europe, we’re still playing catch up. This is why the news of Afronation, which launched in Portugal in 2019, was met with excitement and also scepticism. It almost looked too good to be true. Not only was this a Black-owned festival, but it also placed Afrobeats at the core of the event, a genre that is still making its way to the mainstream. The festival was over three days and despite the initial misgivings, it was apparently the experience of a lifetime.

Eve Umeyor, who is a 27-year-old project coordinator from London, says it was a sensational event. “It was such a good vibe and everyone came out to enjoy and that’s exactly what we did,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“I think Black-owned festivals are important because they are made by the people so they know exactly what we want and they are able to execute this exceptionally well. It’s also important in helping the Black entertainment industry to flourish, which right now must be the biggest it’s ever been. It’s also a great place to meet like-minded individuals.”

“"I didn’t have to worry about microaggressions, I could be unapologetically myself.”

Fortunately for me, another Black festival came to the UK that year. The Ends Festival took over Croydon and similar to Afronation, the hype was brewing.

Upon arrival, I knew I was in for something special. Like any other festival, the energy was insane, but this was intensified by being with people who looked like me. I didn’t have to worry about microaggressions, I could be unapologetically myself. The music throughout the day spanned across the Black diaspora with artists like Wizkid, Damien Marley to Nas. There was something for everyone. To this day, The Ends Fest is one of my favourite festival experiences.

Fast forward to 2021 and we have more Black festivals such as Cloud X and Yam Carnival, the latter of which I attended last weekend on London’s Clapham Common.

Speaking to Obi, one of the organisers of Yam, he said seeing Black people gathering in spaces like this is powerful, as it doesn’t happen very often. “It’s so nice to see, especially with the sort of imagery you see about young Black people, you’d think something like this won’t happen but these things should happen more.”

Technical difficulties and long queues at Yam Carnival ruined the experience for some, but I still managed to have a good time.

Hopefully, festivals like Yam can take feedback and continue to grow, so that Black-owned festivals can continue to flourish. We need them.