Anita Baker Live In Concert
Singer and songwriter Anita Baker performs at the Holiday Star Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana in January 1987.
Raymond Boyd

Music Sermon: The Quiet Storm Is Still Brewing

For over 40 years, the Quiet Storm radio format has been such an institution in black music, we rarely give it thought. It’s just something that’s always been there, like old ladies’ church candy in purses – you don’t consider where it came from or why. But the Quiet Storm is an anomaly in radio, especially urban radio; a swiftly changing landscape over the last 30 years which has seen format changes, programming limitations, the growth of satellite, plus shifts to streaming. Yet this format remains consistent.

The smooth R&B programming starting in 1976 and came to prominence in the mid-80s, breaking artists including Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, and Sade, and establishing hit-makers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and LA Reid and Babyface. It was an alternative to funk, disco, and boogie that also gifted “old-school” R&B artists with the extended careers that classic rock artists enjoyed.

Black folks know, sonically and culturally, what the Quiet Storm means, even if they can’t easily describe it. It’s the deep, cognac smooth vocals of the format DJs everywhere (I feel like they go to school for that); Drake recently paid homage to Toronto Quiet Storm host Al Woods and the format itself through snippets on his Scorpion album. It’s the distinctive, airy and jazzy music beds behind those voices. The sensuous, romantic mid-tempos and ballads. But the story of how the format started and why it became so popular gets lost. It’s a super black origin story involving a Motown legend, an HBCU institution in one of the blackest cities in America, and the first black woman to become a multimedia mogul.

In the early ‘70s, Smokey Robinson was languishing post-Miracles. He’d left the group, taken a break from recording, and then come back with two disappointing solo efforts. Soul music had shifted from the Motown sound Smokey helped architect as both a lead artist and songwriter/producer at the legendary company. Labelmates Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye had proven themselves masters at adapting their sound and message to changing times; Gamble and Huff, Isaac Hayes and Barry White were creating lush but seductive mid-tempo productions for their roster including Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, the Ohio Players and the O’Jays; and vocalists like Donny Hathaway, Al Green and Roberta Flack were balancing out ‘70s funk with a deep but effortless soul sound.

Inspired and intrigued by What’s Going On, Robinson found his solo stride with his 1975 album, The Quiet Storm. “As the title tune progresses, the sensuality of its lyrics and the loose, improvisational feel of the backup suggest that the album is going to be Robinson’s What’s Going On or Innervisions, a formula-defying statement of both personal and social import,” remarked Rolling Stone writer Robert Palmer in his album review. But Palmer also noted, “Robinson is moved neither by Marvin Gaye’s macho sensibilities nor by Stevie Wonder’s semimystical mental images, and he has more pop expertise than either.” This wasn’t music to inspire humanity, it was music to inspire the mood. Smokey was unknowingly once again laying a foundation for a black soul era.

A year following The Quiet Storm’s release, Cathy Hughes (founder of Radio One and TVOne), then director of Howard University’s radio station WHUR, tapped station intern Melvin Lindsay to step in last minute as substitute DJ for a Sunday night slot. Melvin filled his time with classic slow jam cuts, “WHUR was into jazz then, and I didn’t know a lot about jazz,” Lindsay later told the New York Times. “I played a lot of old, slow songs.” And because he was inexperienced and uncomfortable behind the mic, he only took a couple of talking breaks an hour. The phone lines lit up. Cathy had been looking for a format that would distinctly target the upwardly mobile, single black women in DC – she’d found it. She suggested Melvin name his show after Smokey’s title track, and use the song as an intro (“The Quiet Storm” is still used widely as a programming anthem for the format).

After a few months, WHUR moved the program from weekends to every weeknight and rose to the top spot among urban stations in DC. Competitive station WKYS and their director of black programming, Donnie Simpson, hired Lindsay away and duplicated the program, then they became the leading urban station in DC. A format was birthed.

Stations in major markets, then secondary markets began adapting the mood music format, most during select dayparts, a few for their overall programming. While all stations followed the same formula – a multi-hour block of slow jams and mid-tempos with little interruption - some had their own names like “Mellow Melodies,” or in NYC, WBLS’ “Kissing After Dark.” BET (who hired format creator Lindsay for a short while before his death in 1992) developed a late-night video block of Quiet Storm cuts called “Midnight Love.”

An urban alternative to soft rock or easy listening, Quiet Storm ignores most of the programming rules of commercial radio. Songs can be current or decades old, deep cuts or singles, and are more likely to be a live version or extended length than a radio edit. Instrumentals also get burn; jazz fusion is a favorite.

By the mid-80s, the Quiet Storm was a key part of not only black radio, but black culture. We were in the Cosby Show era; black, white-collar professionals and academics were establishing lives in upscale neighborhoods, sending children to private schools, rubbing shoulders with the elite. If we hadn’t made it, we were close (so it seemed then). Black boomers were living well, and wanted mellow tunes to match their mellow life; smooth jazz, the classics they grew up on, and velvet vocals over sensuous productions.

Today, brands and businesses chase young consumers. But then, the 25-to-44-year-old black middle class – a new and still growing demo just a little over a decade after the Civil Rights Movement – was a draw. An exec with advertising agency W.B. Doner & Company (now Doner Company) explained the appeal to the New York Times as the format reached its peak. “These (listener demo) figures indicate that the format gives advertisers an affluent, sophisticated market. When we find out there’s a station with a ‘Quiet Storm’ format, we jump on board.”

A media director at black-owned agency Burrell Advertising described the ad buying formula to Billboard. “If you’re buying time for durable goods, like automobiles, or goods aimed at mothers…these programs are a good buy. The music’s not loud or abrasive. It’s geared towards people who are winding down as opposed to getting wound up…because (the Quiet Storm) is extremely targeted, it is very useful.”

The format also helped stations boost their morning ratings since listeners would go to sleep with the slow jams and stay tuned in once they woke up. Radio became a key part of daily routine. The Quiet Storm was and is multipurpose mood music; perfect for everything from sexy-time to just general wind-down. Jeff Brown, the current DJ for WHUR’s Quiet Storm, has explained the music’s prevalence in day-to-day life, “Back in the day… people had dinner with the Quiet Storm. People studied to the Quiet Storm. People ironed out their clothes for the next day to the Quiet Storm.”

R&B from the 1980s is sometimes criticized in retrospect (and by some at the time) for being a little too polished and surface – too bougie, basically. There wasn’t a lot of grit or pain in the music. It wasn’t heavy on social commentary, either. It was silk and velvet, river-smoothed stones instead of the red clay of blues-inspired soul. For existing and established groups, it was adapt-or-die. Funk bands of the ‘70s transitioned from shiny and sparkly bodysuits to Italian suits; from singing about shaking it on the dancefloor, to getting busy in the bedroom. None made this transition more successfully than the Isley Brothers; they were introduced to a new demo and granted a new chapter in their career. Kool and the Gang and the Commodores followed suit as well. There are generations of fans who now know these groups for smooth R&B first, and funk second.

The format created room for groups like Frankie Beverly and Maze and DeBarge to prosper. Two-step and red cup music was the order of the day.

But even artists known more for pop crossover and uptempo hits benefitted from the format. Whitney’s “Saving All My Love For You” was huge at Quiet Storm radio, and A&M Records’ VP of Black Promotion spoke to Billboard about the slow jam format helping to break Janet Jackson. Control was a hit with the younger demo, but “(w)hat the Quiet Storm stations did was play ‘Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun),’…introducing the older audience to the fact that there was something on the album for them as well.” He added, “We’ve sold three million records, and kids only go so far.”

For me, the Quiet Storm was background for sneaking on the phone with whichever little boyfriend of the moment (if I remember correctly, 9 p.m. was the cut off for incoming calls in my house, and I had to be off the phone altogether at 10 – exactly the time radio switched over to the romance). Or, being stretched out on my bedroom floor, chronicling the most recent developments of my very serious teenage love life in my journal by the light of my closet (because I was supposed to be in bed).

I’d take time to note the music serving as the journal entry’s soundtrack at the top of the page:

2/27/1991 – 10:46 pm – “My, My, My”
“I hope my parents go to sleep soon ‘cause I need to call my baby. That is my sweetheart. I haven’t felt this way since [redacted to protect grown people from embarrassment]!”

(Yes, that’s a real excerpt. Yes, I still have my journals. Yes, I was dramatic.)

Now that the history and origin are established, let’s look at some of the artists and songs that have become synonymous with the format.

Love's Light in Flight: The Quiet Storm Jams

Because the Quiet Storm isn’t programmed by hottest, newest, latest, there are some songs that stay in steady rotation on the format regardless of region or year.

“Reasons (Live)” - Earth Wind and Fire
It has to be the eight minute and change live version or it doesn’t count. Maurice White was in his whole entire bag. Also, at 6:41 is the line that famously inspired Eddie Murphy and later Jay-Z: “He plays so beautiful don’t you agree?”

“Two Occasions (Live)” Babyface / The Deele
Again, Quiet Storm is a format that embraces live and extended versions over a radio edit every time. ‘Face is not only a core format artist going back to his days with group The Deele, but, along with partner LA Reid, is responsible for countless chart hits as a songwriter and producer. Also, this a Class A “you don’t know nothin’ ‘bout this here”-level jam.

“Love Light in Flight” – Stevie Wonder
Even though the Quiet Storm is mostly a ballad-driven format, the right mid-tempo grooves find a home there, as well. I’ve heard multiple stations over the years announce their programming as “Love’s light in flight…the Quiet Storm.”

“As We Lay” – Shirley Murdock
Adultery R&B lives on Urban AC stations from 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. Crossover hits “Secret Lovers,” “Congratulations,” and the subgenre’s anthem, “As We Lay” started there.

In 1987, Murdock credited the radio format for her eventual No. 5 Billboard chart success. “I was definitely introduced by ‘The Quiet Storm,” she told the New York Times. “If it had not been for those formats, we would have been passed up.”

“The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)” – Quincy Jones, Al B. Sure, James Ingram, El DeBarge and Barry White
Q is another core Quiet Storm producer. His work with James Ingram, Michael Jackson ballads and mids like “Human Nature” and “Lady in My Life” (technically Rod Temperton, but still), all the way through Tamia’s “You Put a Move on My Heart,” held space on the late-night format. But the definitive Quincy Quiet Storm jam is this whos-who line up of staple vocalists, and it’s still untouchable.

Smooth Operators: The Quiet Storm Royalty

Without the support of the format, some of the leading soul vocalists of the ‘80s and early ‘90s wouldn’t have reached the same career heights. The Quiet Storm style defined the R&B sound of the decade, and created a new platform for crossover success. “It opened up the whole thing where ballads could break in without having to compete with up-tempo songs,” music historian Nelson George explained in 1987.

Luther Vandross is the definitive quiet storm voice. He doesn’t have the depth and urgency of church-bred vocalists, but instead the virtuosity of an opera singer – hence his nickname the Black Pavarotti. Luther would stretch his songs out, and walk through them slowly, unhurriedly, switching the arrangements up two or three times in one song but never losing control of the vocal. His debut album arrived just as radio was starting to embrace the more laid back tempo and rhythm of R&B, and it propelled him to a dominant spot among the male soul vocalists of the decade.

Luther and fellow male vocalists Peabo Bryson, James Ingram, Billy Ocean, and Freddie Jackson exemplified the pop-soul balance that was the Quiet Storm sound. It wasn’t down home church, it was suburban dinner parties…for people who grew up in the church. Even front men-turned soloists Jeffrey Osborne and Lionel Richie smoothed down the raw edges from their group days for their ‘80s turns.

The Quiet Storm is largely a male vocalists' game, but if Luther is the king, Anita Baker is the queen. Her career possibly wouldn’t have existed without the format’s open embrace of jazzy soul, sweeping arrangements and big – but again, not church-inspired – vocals. “Baker made music for assimilated black Americans,” George wrote in his book The Death of Rhythm and Blues, “though unlike that of crossover artists, her work tapped into the traditions of jazz and blues with a feeling that suggested being middle class didn’t make your taste the musical equivalent of a Big Mac.”

Baker’s predecessors Phyllis Hyman and Angela Bofill were mainstays on the format in the beginning, but had they debuted 6 or 7 years later, their careers may have taken different paths. Vocal stylists like Anita, Regina Belle, Miki Howard and Chanté Moore would have faced similar career challenge to find a place where they fit at radio without the influence of the Quiet Storm at its peak. Chanté, unfortunately, did get caught in urban radio’s split into Urban Main (up-tempo, current hits by younger artists) and Urban Adult (mid-tempos and ballads, “mature” voices, and the home of the Quiet Storm). She never quite figured out the formula as a young artist who started at an “adult” format.

The best thing about the Quiet Storm format is that except for two defining musical characteristics, which one radio programmer called “tempo and texture,” the format is diverse. In addition to classics and newer soul voices like Luther and Anita, at its height, the format was also largely responsible for introducing Sade to the music world.

Pitchfork’s Jess Harvell described Sade as a band (yes, Sade is both singer and band name) that “helped to define the quiet storm era, when smooth grooves aimed at grown-ups were still a legitimate mainstream phenomenon.” The Quiet Storm was for a sophisticated and cosmopolitan listener. British sophisti-pop and synth-heavy new-wave got airplay in the chill out hours. Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love” has even been a frequently-used music bed for the format over the years.

I could keep going – jazz balladeers like Keith Washington and Will Downing, jazz instrumentalists like Norman Conners and Kenny G, classic groups like Heatwave, ‘80s groups like the Force MDs and Ready for the World, late ‘80s/early ‘90s singers like cousins Cherelle and Pebbles, young stars like Shanice and Tracie Spencer…they all got shine at the 10 o’clock hour from your local urban adult radio station. As hip-hop’s influence took over mainstream R&B and urban radio, the Quiet Storm was a sanctuary. I personally realized I’d reached full auntie status when I started turning my radio from NY’s home for hip hop and R&B, Hot 97 to the “old school” stations WBLS or Kiss FM for nighttime ambiance.

The Quiet Storm’s peak was the ‘80s, but its last big moment of impact was probably the neo-soul era, when the format helped break new artists combining all the classic musical elements listeners loved, most notably Maxwell and Jill Scott. While not as impactful, however, the format still endures. As I said earlier, it’s been around so long, we take it for granted. It’s not exciting, it’s not groundbreaking. We know exactly what we’re getting, but that’s why it’s special and important - it’s a black cultural institution. It still draws an older listening demo on terrestrial radio, but playlisting on streaming services has duplicated the role the Quiet Storm once played for discovery of new R&B artists like H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar. Fans are once again seeking programming for a desired vibe - lifestyle music - and that’s what the Quiet Storm was intended to do. Former urban label executive Kevin Fleming provided a description to Rolling Stone that applies to both the original radio programming and today’s playlists. “That evening format, laid back, cool out, is important – it’s a rejuvenating way to listen to your music.”

Creator Melvin Lindsay described the format’s music and artists more succinctly. “It’s beautiful black music.”

--

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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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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