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The State Of Today’s R&B According To The 2018 Grammy Nominations

This year, the R&B genre had one of its most complexing years trying to maintain its authenticity, integrity, and esteem in the mainstream circuit.

This year, the R&B genre had one of its most complexing years trying to maintain its authenticity, integrity, and esteem in the mainstream circuit. The discussions of R&B’s race politics persisted — many of the genre’s groundbreakers noting that pop’s borrowing of the sound makes it toilsome for black artists to succeed.

On the other end, R&B has had one of its more fervent years in the public eye, even with these adversaries. Pop stars such as Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Smith have been more vocal about their appreciation for the genre, releasing some of their most intricate records to date. Meanwhile, the genre’s nostalgia — particularly for 90s R&B — has come full swing: legends are being honored, taking over primetime pop culture, and still, arguably, offering some of today’s best music.

As indicated by the 2018 Grammy nominations revealed in November — with a plethora of “Big 4” major category nods going to Bruno Mars and Childish Gambino, as well as newcomers SZA and Khalid — R&B, along with its hip-hop counterpart, is finally receiving its do justice at the blockbuster of music awards. This is surely a reflection of black music’s overarching dominance in the market, and hopefully a step forward that won’t transpire into a temporary fad.

Aside from racial transgressions, R&B is continuing to experience a clash on what sounds constitute its traditional legacies and which ones encompass the contemporary waves. This battle always seems to come to a head every year at the Grammys — particularly when the award show established a separate Best Contemporary R&B Album category in 2002 as an acknowledgment of hip-hop and pop’s domineering presence within the genre. The following year, R&B songs with neo-soul or alternative tendencies were honored with Best Urban/Alternative Performance until 2011. After the discontinuation of Best Contemporary R&B Album in 2012, the category was reinstated, but renamed Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2013 — a response to the alternative waves of music blending fiercely with standard R&B approaches.

Judging by this year’s nominees for Best Urban Contemporary Album (SZA, Khalid, and Gambino are joined by The Weeknd and 6LACK), distinctions between traditional and new age are mostly influenced by generational preferences. Twenty-something millennials leading the R&B scene at the moment, are not only dabbling with rap-singing on trap&B and electro-alt tracks, but also revamping old-school melodies of various genres they grew up listening to and appreciating. They’re also stimulating the culture: their music influencing the digital age and inspiring viral memes and tweets.

6LACK (real name Ricardo Valentine) serves as a perfect representation of trap&B’s growth as a subgenre — beating out submissions from Future, Bryson Tiller, and Jacquees. The rising Atlantean talent not only sees his Free 6LACK EP nominated but also a Best Rap/Sung Performance nod for his breaking Billboard Hot 100 entry, “Prblms.” The moody cut utilizes a whirling, 808-bass drop to back 6LACK’s raspy, oft-mumble quarrels with an ex.

The female answer to the trap-love rebuttals of 6LACK would be this year’s most nominated woman Solána Rowe, a.k.a. SZA. Free 6LACK competes against her debut album CTRL, while “Prblms” faces the hi-hat rattling thump and stumbling vocals presented in the Travis Scott-featured smash “Love Galore.” With its top five chart success, CTRL experiments not only with trap&B, but also alternative pop-rock (in “Prom”) and futuristic neo-soul (“Garden (Say It Like Dat)”). The album’s other highlights, “The Weekend” and “Supermodel,” are respectively nominated for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song.

“The Weekend” is being recognized for SZA’s vocal performance, which recalls the slow grooves of the 90s and their knack for run-on syllables and choral alliterations. “Supermodel” highlights a woman’s insecurities in a relationship and a revengeful aftermath (“Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy”), making a perfect contender for Best R&B Song, a category highlighting songwriting.

In the Best New Artist category, SZA faces the American Teen (and one of R&B’s most popular 19-year-olds) Khalid Robinson. On his debut album, Khalid’s vocal technique nearly matches the heart and soul of Aloe Blacc’s with hints of Aaron Neville-twinge and Father John Misty’s folk-rock aesthetic. Like SZA, his appeal lies in more indie-leaning tones as evident in the charting success of “Young, Dumb, and Broke” and Best R&B Song nominee “Location.” And with a No. 3 Hot 100 peak and Song of the Year recognition for his feature (with other Best New Artist nominee, Alessia Cara) on Logic’s suicide hotline PSA “1-800-273-8255,” Khalid and his nominated peers are reshaping the mold of the pop mainstream and its revolving conversations, one platinum record at a time.

Someone who stayed at the forefront of adding trap&B and electro&B to mainstream playlists last year into the beginning of this one is The Weeknd. His album Starboy was the only one to go multi-platinum within a year since October — news announced about two weeks before voting for nominations ended. Surprisingly, he’s only nominated for the Urban Contemporary Album award — his electro-pop collab with Daft Punk, “I Feel It Coming” and Starboy’s number one hit (plus its title track) failed to crack pop categories. Speaking of missed opportunities: Kehlani’s debut SweetSexySavage, which purposefully fused radio-friendly turn of the millennium pop with today’s contemporary R&B, would have been a suitable contender. Instead, the previously nominated singer only earned a Best R&B Performance nod for “Distraction,” as the cut recalls TLC girl group melodies blended into trap instrumentals.

Childish Gambino’s inclusion for Awaken My Love! while its hit single “Redbone” earned a Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best R&B Song nod is the best example of the blurry lines existing in Grammy classifications for the R&B field. With Gambino’s raspy, almost whispery-delivery, “Redbone” initially brings listeners to the era of 70s-style, Parliament-lead, and Prince-emblazoned funk, consisting of snare-drum backbeats with wispy horns and electric guitar. The hook’s jarring call to “stay woke!” falls in line with the subtle political messaging displayed on P-funk jaunts, adding more to its case for Record of the Year.

Awaken probably received a Best Urban Contemporary nod instead of R&B Album, because cuts such as “Boogieman” and “Riot” are heavy-handed on soulful rock nuances made popular by Jimi Hendrix. Frankly, Awaken My Love! could fit in the Best Rock Album category as well, since Hendrix’s sound is often recognized as a fundamental basis for the genre. However, it seems likely race — and other societal factors, trickling down to his age and rapping background— prompted an “urban” placement.

Yet, Gambino might score a surprise win for the night’s top prize. The omission of a Rock classified album in the category can favor the album’s composition, serving as a likely candidate for those voters. With success in other mediums, his history-making clout might also put the Hollywood tastemaker in favor with his Grammy voting peers.

Alongside Gambino on the successful funk-riding trend is Bruno Mars, who also received an Album of the Year nod for 24K Magic. Its Zapp Band, talk-box laden title track could give Mars a back-to-back Record of the Year win after his Mark Ronson collaboration “Uptown Funk.” 24K Magic doesn’t include rock or alternative sounds, firmly sitting on a line of pop temperaments blended with distinct eras of R&B, making it a frontrunner for Best R&B Album. It also doesn’t hurt that the two-time Super Bowl headliner’s songwriting/production team, The Smeezingtons, have contributed to some of the biggest R&B and hip-hop jams that shaped pop music — a “voting consideration” bonus for most of this year’s nominees.

With cuts such as “Versace on the Floor” — which holds a 90s quiet storm a la Freddie Jackson consistency — and “Chunky,” a more Cameo-synthesized funk influence, 24K Magic is a clear breakaway from Mars’ previously pop-regarded LPs and hits. Meanwhile “That’s What I Like” hits on the B-minor tempo of New Jack Swing, recalling the silky smooth flow of New Edition or Boyz II Men. Its chart-topping success snagged a Song of the Year nod. Mars’ scaling from A to D notes helped for Best R&B Performance, while the relatable catchiness of the lyric “strawberry champagne on ice,” Best R&B Song.

It’s almost a surprise that none of the nostalgic songs from 24K Magic broke into the Best Traditional R&B Performance category like “Redbone” managed. Usually, artists who cover classics or drawback on older eras dominate this category. Beyoncé’s previously won for her rendition of Etta James’ “At Last” and her own signature, “Love on Top.” Out of all the category’s nominees, “Redbone” is the only one to capture Top 20 success on the Hot 100. However, it remains an outlier on another trend of roots-based R&B in 2017: a piano and live instruments band supporting a powerhouse vocalist.

Anthony Hamilton and his background singers, The HamilTones, drawback on the keyboard stylings existing in the early 70s by soul groups such as The O’Jays and The Stylistics on “What I’m Feelin.” The Baylor Project harkens on jazz soul, as husband Marcus Baylor’s soft drum leads a pianist and string band while his mezzo-soprano wife Jean Baylor takes A to middle C vocal command on “Laugh And Move On.” Mali Music -- who has evolved from his gospel roots and made a dent in R&B chart history with his 2014 earworm “Beautiful” -- scales his baritone octaves with the additions of major keys and falsetto on “Still,” a bare-bones song that recalls love odes by Teddy Pendergrass or Marvin Gaye.

Rounding out the traditional category is Ledisi’s “All The Way,” a song styled similar to the 80s love-assurance balladry of Angela Winbush or Anita Baker. The twelve-time nominee is a darling in the R&B field despite not winning. She’s also nominated for Best R&B Album, as all the songs on Let Love Rule focus on the title’s central message and the singer’s vocal prowess instead of elaborate, computerized production — the apparent standard for this category. The album’s single and Best R&B Performance contender “High” utilizes a trap&B beat, but Ledisi’s enunciation and vocal tones are crisp and sharp, a respected vocal technique amongst fans of old-school R&B.

A surprising nominee is Musiq Soulchild, whose double-disc album Feel the Real was not overlooked for Best R&B Album, despite being released 15 days before the Grammy submissions cut off date. Since releasing his debut album, Aijuswanaseing, in 2000, Musiq has been nominated 13 times. His nomination this year is even more significant because appreciation for early-aughts R&B performed by men has been resurging. Musiq is an OG of this niche sound of minimalistic beats allowing a soulful baritone with tenor tendencies to flex their thoughts on the intricacies and inner-workings of love.

His competition, PJ Morton’s Gumbo and Daniel Caesar’s critically acclaimed debut, Freudian, also draw on this sound. Morton is no stranger to the Grammys, winning Best New Artist in 2005 as the keyboardist for Maroon 5, and nominated for an R&B category in 2014. Gumbo features New Orleans-based jazz fusion and gospel proclivities, reflecting his southern hometown. Morton also garnered a Best R&B Song nomination for his organ-backed “First Began” where he sings about falling in love again, a lyrical topic more-so essential to the central themes revolving around ‘00s male R&B.

Caesar’s album hits upon a few electro elements and sound effects — as a means to represent the moodiness of love — but the production is still bare enough to focus more on his vocal dexterity. His collaborations enlist the help of H.E.R., Syd, and Charlotte Day Wilson, hopefully a nudge to bring back more female-male singing duets. The single “Get You” slid into the Best R&B Performance category due to Caesar’s switching from a tenor foreground to deep register backing vocals — all accompanied by the lite-soprano flex of Kali Uchis.

While men received an abundance of shine this year, the R&B field only acknowledged three leading female acts: Ledisi, SZA, and Kehlani. It turns into four if Jean Baylor of The Baylor Project stood credited alone. In total, only five female acts received props in the R&B field after counting Kali Uchis’ feature. This becomes seven with the acknowledgment of Rihanna’s braggadocious flow on Kendrick Lamar’s “LOYALTY.” and Beyoncé’s harmonizing over JAY-Z’s confessional “Family Feud” in the Best Rap/Sung Performance category.

Despite R&B chart success, Sevyn Streeter whose Aaliyah-sampling and soprano execution on “Before I Do” as well as Tamar Braxton’s heartfelt and suspiciously auto-biographical performance on “My Man” were snubbed. If Jhené Aiko didn’t have a surprise release eight days before the September 30th Grammy submissions deadline, would Trip and its summer love anthem “While We’re Young” have received any nods? Another singer and project overlooked: Mary J. Blige and her Strength of a Woman, an album blending new school trap techniques with old-school hip-hop soul and vocals, helping the songstress score two R&B chart-toppers. The R&B field is usually good at recognizing genders equally, but as countless headlines have reminded us, there was a poor showing of support for women in 2017’s music climate — which has been reflected across all of 2018’s Grammy categories.

Come January 28, we’ll know who the industry truly recognizes as the standard of today’s R&B.

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The 40 Best R&B Songs Of 2019

If you're a true lover of R&B, you can appreciate a soulfully soothing, quiet storm-worthy, put-it-on-repeat-and-think-about-your-boo (or potential boo) type of song. If you're a true lover of the genre, you sometimes find yourself reminiscing about the days when R&B of the '90s and 2000s was sensually laced with emotional vocal runs and the music videos featured not only a scene in the rain but also a phone, 2-way pager or some kind of communication device. And if you're a true lover of R&B, you've followed (and hopefully accepted) how the genre has evolved and survived since then.

2018 was definitely the year where R&B declared its status as "alive and well," in a time where hip-hop made its dominating and profitable presence known. This year, R&B continued to hold its own and kept the smooth, soul-stirring vibes coming even if it didn't hold its traditional form.  As hip-hop and the genre continued to birth chart-climbing singles, R&B songs of the early aughts made a resurgence through sample-laden tracks from artists of the new school.

For VIBE's 2019 Best R&B Songs list, we decided to not only choose songs that deserve a spot on a baby-making playlist but also celebrate the artists who've kept the core of R&B intact in their own way. Some songs are well-known, some are deep cuts. Some of these artists have won a music award or two this year, but the others are just as worthy. Here we've compiled an alphabetical list of songs that have resonated with the R&B lover in us. Get into it.


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25 Hip-Hop Singles By Bomb Womxn Of 2019

Nothing hits like a rapper talking their sh*t, especially if she happens to be a womxn. There's a confidence that oozes out from the speakers and into the spirits of a listener open to that addictive feminine energy. This year, we got to see this in a big way thanks to the crossover success of a batch of very different womxn in rap. There's the hot girl also known as Megan Thee Stallion who balances her college courses while grabbing up Billboard chart-topping hits; new mama Cardi B proves you can really have it all and make history at the same time (a la her solo rap Grammy win) and Lizzo, who constantly pushes what it means to be a "rapper" with her style of vibrant pop music.

In 2018, VIBE presented a year-end list dedicated to albums by womxn and this year continues that tradition of spotlighting some of our favorite womxn– who happen to rap. The term "female rapper" has become sour by the minute, with many artists in the game refusing to pair their gender to an artform seemingly jumpstarted by a black womxn. “I don’t want to even be a female rapper,” CHIKA told Teen Vogue recently. “I’m a rapper. So for someone to have a qualifier like that and throw it out there so publicly — it feels really backhanded. I don’t like [it].” She isn't the only one. As hip-hop continues to dominate pop culture, the womxn in the genre are demanding respect for the craft. Here's a list comprised of some of our favorite songs that hit the charts or slipped under the radar.


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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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