Tiffany-Stevenson-2-1564756765 Tiffany-Stevenson-2-1564756765
Duane Bonaparte

Views From The Studio: Tiffany Stevenson Tracks Background Singing Journey And Beyond

From singing background for Ro James to lending her talents for Tyler, The Creator’s 'Igor' album, Tiffany Stevenson’s vocals (her stage name being Tréi Stella) continue to shine beyond the booth.

Since the age of 13, Tiffany Stevenson knew a career in music was a God-given declaration. From singing in church choirs to providing background vocals for gospel greats like Kierra Sheard and The Clark Sisters, Stevenson's path throughout the music industry was essentially ordained.

With her roots firmly cemented in the church and a strong faith-based mentality, Stevenson took a leap of faith that led the native New Yorker to pack her things and move to Los Angeles to further her career. While on tour in Europe in 2018, the vocalist said she recruited a few people to scout apartments in the City of Angels. By the time she returned, the keys were waiting for her to begin living in her new abode. The experiences from the Big Apple translated into a go-getter attitude that afforded Stevenson the opportunity to tour with Jessie J, perform onstage with Stevie Wonder before moving to L.A., and sing background on a few of Tyler, the Creator’s tracks for his Igor album.

For VIBE's Views From The Studio, Stevenson dissects her time in the studio with Tyler, her first audition, and walking by faith and not by sight.

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VIBE: Who are some artists that have inspired you throughout your career?
Tiffany Stevenson: Faith Evans, for sure. I tell people all the time Faith is like my Beyoncé. I love Beyoncé but I feel like Faith doesn’t get the credit that she deserves. You can’t really talk about R&B without mentioning Faith Evans. Her sound, her pen, she’s just somebody that I’ve always looked up to and aspired to be like because I feel like she’s kind of underrated but she’s such a legend. Erica Campbell is somebody else that I look up to. I call her superwoman because she’s a mom, a wife, a first lady, a radio host, an artist and then she’s Erica, and she finds time to do all of these amazing things. I don’t know how she does it and I look at her like it’s crazy. I would say those two for sure.

What purpose does gospel music serve to you as a singer?
It’s about the message. The message, the soul behind it, the feeling you get when you hear certain words. There are a bunch of memes out right now that says gospel music hits different when you’re going through something and I don’t want to say everybody writes or sings songs about being down and out, but it makes you think and it makes you extremely grateful. You are who you are, it may not be where you want to be, but it’s not where you should be. I don’t feel like we’re worthy enough to be so blessed by God and it’s so crazy how He still affords us grace and mercy even after all the crappy stuff that we do. When you hear songs that remind you of that it feels good.

In your Instagram bio, you wrote “Psalm 37:4.” What significance does that passage hold?
It says that “If you delight yourself in the Lord, He’ll give you the desires of your heart.” There's another scripture that says, “Acknowledge him in all your ways He’ll direct your path.” I feel like if you put God first, make him the head of your life—I know a lot of people say that, sometimes people don’t even know what that means—but if you put God first I feel like things line up for you so easy. It’s easy to worry about stuff that doesn’t add up and that’s where faith comes in, but I feel like if you allow him to take control of your life completely, you don’t have to worry about your next move or how things are going to work out. You just put your faith and your trust in him and let him do what you need him to do, what you asked him to do. I like to delight myself in God because I want the desires of my heart and I want my dreams to come true. I want to be in his will, ultimately. I don’t mean to sound super churchy but that’s what it is.

What goes into being a background singer?
Interestingly enough somebody yesterday asked me the three tips on how does a singer book more jobs or something like that and I just said you have to be professional. Ultimately people have to like you to hire you and that doesn’t necessarily mean personality, but I feel like you learn your music, you show up on time, you treat everybody with respect, you look and sound the part and you just have to be ready because these calls come out of nowhere sometimes. Some people have to go through audition processes. I’ve been blessed enough to not have to go through that but when somebody calls you, be ready, have your passport. That’s definitely important. I remember getting a call, I was so mad I couldn’t do it but I got a call to go to Japan with Janet Jackson and they were like, “Do you have your passport?” I’m like, “My bag is at the door.” They ended up finding somebody else who was already in Japan, but situations like that you just never know. I always tell people to be ready and enjoy what you do. When you love what you do and show up it makes work not feel like work. But to answer your question, I just feel like I learn the music, I try to blend well with whoever is next to me and just have fun.

That’s good advice especially with your example with Janet Jackson. Japan is huge and Janet Jackson is even bigger. Were you able to circle back with her team?
No, it was a one-time thing. I was grateful to even be considered to do something like that especially with a legend like Janet Jackson. But it showed me that people like me enough to think of me, to call me, but then people think that I’m that good to where I can sing for somebody like her. I know those kinds of calls will come back around. I’m not worried but that was really dope.

Do you remember your first audition?
My first audition was with John Legend. I was so young. I used to audition all the time but John Legend was my first audition, and I remember auditioning for Jazmine Sullivan. After the audition, I had a show of my own and I had to leave that audition and go to the venue. Jazmine was sitting in my soundcheck. I was so nervous at the audition because you look up to these people and you listen to these people on the radio so for them to say sing a song for me it just adds a whole bunch of nerves. I was super nervous, but when I got to where I had to sing, I’m singing like it’s just me in my house in the living room or shower and Jazmine was sitting in on my soundcheck. When I finished she was so mad at me, like, “Why didn’t you sing like that earlier?” I’m like, “Because you are you!” (Laughs) I didn’t get called to actually work with them in that capacity but down the line, I was still able to work with John Legend. I just recently did the iHeartRadio Awards with him. When the movie Selma came out, I did all of his New York promo stuff so it eventually worked out. I didn’t tour with him, but we did get to work together and now me and Jazmine are cool.

Throughout those processes, how do you get over the nerves? Is it the more you do the less nervous you become?
Well, I would say that over the years I’ve definitely come into my own. I’ve come into who I’m supposed to be if that makes sense. I’m not as nervous anymore. I’m kind of ridiculous with things as it pertains to just doing stuff and not thinking about it. My friends call me crazy because I used to be super shy and now it’s just like it is what it is. This is what I’m doing and that’s it. But I haven’t had to audition for anything since then, so I’m not sure if I can answer that. I don’t get nervous now. If it’s my own show, trying to win over an audience especially somewhere where no one knows who you are, that’s nerve-wracking but you do what you do and if they like it they like it, and if they don’t they don’t. But it is what it is.

Another major moment is Kanye West’s Sunday Service. Walk me through the process of how you became a part of the ensemble and performing at Coachella?
This was right around the time I had just finished the last show of the tour I was on. This was around New Year’s and I had a short break. I got a call from one of my friends asking me if I could show up to a rehearsal. I didn’t know what or who it was for, I just showed up and that’s when I found out it was for Kanye. We didn’t know what it was, how long it was going to go on but it eventually turned into something super dope and beautiful. I’ve been rocking with him. Coachella was amazing. It was my first time at Coachella and we had 50,000 people there. It was kind of crazy to be on a hill singing about Jesus and dancing and having fun. It’s kind of crazy.

What were the rehearsals like? Was it just as energetic and therapeutic as the actual showcase?
We have fun. Like I said if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. Most of the people I knew there, some people I had just met because I’m new to L.A. but rehearsals are just as dope as us actually having to sing in front of people.

You also worked with Tyler, the Creator on his Igor album. Can you describe the process behind “I Think?”
I think that’s the one with Solange on it. He was just playing some records and he felt like he had ideas, he could hear them but he couldn’t sing them obviously. He’s not a singer (Laughs) so he just asked us to do whatever he heard in his head. That one was pretty easy. We sang on top of what Solange did. My friend Amanda [Brown], she did some ad-libs toward the end of the song.

Also “Igor’s Theme?”
That was actually my favorite one and not because I’m on it. He told us that Lil Uzi Vert was the one that wrote that hook: “Ridin’ ‘round town, they gon’ feel this one.” We were singing on top of that and I was being silly and I did something in the booth. He was like, “Do that! You have to do that!” I ended up doing something super-churchy on the song and he actually kept it. I have a solo part towards the end of that song so that was pretty cool.

And lastly, “Gone Gone/Thank You.”
That was another song that he heard what he wanted in his head and he just needed us to do it. That song reminded me of Stevie Wonder, the chord changes in it. I like that one, too. That was basically it. He wanted us to sing whatever he heard in his head. He really shocked me though because I didn’t know…when you hear Tyler, the Creator, I remember he had that show on Adult Swim and I used to be like, “What is wrong with him? He’s crazy,” until I actually met him and I was like, “Oh, he’s like a freaking genius.” He’s my best friend in my head. It was really dope working with him. He plays, he produces, he writes and he knows his music. I was really shocked. That was a dope experience.

I feel like that was the consensus for some music lovers who weren’t familiar with his previous work. Personally for me, like how you said you were shocked while listening to this album, I was also like this wasn’t something that I expected.
It definitely shocked me.

How did you come onboard?
I got a call from one of my friends. He just asked if I was available for a session and I said, “Yeah, why not? It’s money so let’s get it.” When we pulled up I was like, “Oh Tyler, cool!” I didn’t know what exactly he was doing but it was as simple as a phone call.

What power does music possess to you and what do you think it possesses to others?
I feel like overall when people say music is a universal language, it’s absolutely true. I’ve been in countries where they don’t speak the same language as I do but the music appeals to them the same way. I’ve seen people cry. It’s a feeling that they can’t explain. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t doing music. I think about that all the time. I don’t want to say it saved my life because I wasn’t in danger or at the brink of doing something else but I don’t know if I could describe it. It’s afforded me opportunities that I probably wouldn’t get doing anything else. I’m on my second passport. I got to meet some of the world’s biggest stars. I get to call some of those people friends. Music has definitely changed my life.

Your songs “Waiting 4 U” and “You’re The One,” particularly “Waiting 4 You,” gave me late ‘90s early 2000s vibes. Walk me through the process of working on that melody?
B. Slade who produced it along with two other producers, he wrote the song and we’ve been working with each other for a while. I’ve always known him but we started working with each other back in 2016. I released “You're The One” in 2016 and he wrote that one, too. He released that years ago. He gave me that song and it was my first single being introduced as Tréi Stella. That’s my artist name; my favorite beer, and my favorite number. But the “Waiting 4 U” sample came from Guy and Teddy Riley. I think the song is called “Piece Of My Love.” That’s where he got the idea from. I love that song.

Do the ‘90s or 2000s captivate you when you’re in the booth trying to catch a certain aura?
Definitely. I don’t want to say that’s when music meant something, but the music that we hear today... Well first of all everybody sounds the same in my opinion, and everybody is on this catch a vibe wave. But I’m used to honest singing, soul singing, R&B with a little bit of church in it and I miss that. I want to make ‘90s R&B popular again with a flare, with a little twist. There’s no song from the ‘90s that you play now and don’t feel like you’re back in the ‘90s, the song never gets old. That’s for Mary J. Blige, SWV, Faith Evans, 702, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott. Back then music felt good, not that music today doesn’t feel good but I miss the old sound.

Given that you also write songs, can you describe your writing process? Where do you pull inspiration from to make fans and listeners feel a certain emotion?
I think about when I hear music what it makes me feel like. What do the sounds put me in a mind of? I wrote this song back in 2013. I released it on my birthday and it’s called “Old Thing.” When I heard it, it reminded me of an old Biggie song. I just started thinking about, “Man, I miss when music felt good. I miss the old sound of R&B,” like you were just talking about. That’s how the title came about. “I just want that old thing back.” I just started thinking about how we get into situations where it starts off good then things get rocky and then you guys aren’t together anymore but then you sit around and think about “I miss that, I want that old thing back.” That’s how that song came about but I usually just let the music tell the story for me and then think of what’s going on with me personally that may help somebody else or I don’t have to feel like I’m alone. Because every girl goes through a breakup or somebody cheating on them. All these little things I think I’m in this world alone dealing with. I try to think about me but I think about other people and I try to write from an honest point.

The first time I saw you perform, it was with Ro James in New York City I think in 2012 or 2013. That’s when I realized you went to Saint Michael Academy, too. I was the year below your year.
Oh wow!

Since you recall that Ro James concert, can you share your experience then? That was six years ago and now you’re more established in music. Can you share from that point what can you recall from the stage and now witnessing that Ro James is also a widely known artist too?
That was actually cool. It was just us on stage. It wasn’t a regular set up where a singer has two or three background singers and a full band. It literally was just me and Ro and we just had fun. He allowed me to be myself. He gave me room to sing at any point in the song I felt like it. That felt really good because I’ve worked with a lot of artists who have been slightly insecure or intimidated by who they get to sing background for them. I’ve been fired from situations just because an artist was insecure. And here it is, I’m not trying to take any shine away from you but I’m doing my job and some people can’t handle when you sing to them or they feel like you’re prettier. You didn’t have to go beyond limits and measures to look a certain way so some people get a little intimidated. Shout out to Ro for allowing me to be myself and sharing his platform when he didn’t have to. That’s so dope you remember that, too.

That memory always stuck with me because Ro James was one of my first interviews when I started at VIBE as an intern. It was my chance to prove to my editors I could write. (Laughs) What has been your fondest memory within your career thus far?
I have so many. I sang background for Stevie Wonder at Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday party. That was iconic. I don’t know if this is my fondest memory but I remember being in high school and having to leave school a little early because I had soundcheck at Madison Square Garden down the street for a big show. That was pretty dope. It’s more to the story but when I said this may not be the fondest, I sang at the Garden in Uggs. What I wanted to wear didn’t fit. It was a little too big so I was waiting for somebody from wardrobe to give me a safety pin. After soundcheck, I thought I had time to go back to the dressing room. All the lights went out and the show started. I was on stage with Uggs on and I had to hold up my clothes. (Laughs) I still sang at the Garden.

Also, my very first tour was with Jessie J. We were out for three weeks. It was my first time in London, Paris, we went everywhere.

Who were you performing for at MSG?
They had a show called a Night of Gospel. At the time I was singing with The Clark Sisters. I used to travel with Karen when I was 15, 16. That particular show I sang with The Clark Sisters.

What was it like singing with Stevie Wonder?
It was pretty iconic. He was super sweet and I was shocked. Me and the other two singers were like “Whoa!” We sang with a lot of people that night but Stevie Wonder, c’mon. It was really dope.

Do you have a dream artist that you want to work with next?
I really want to work with Drake. I think Drake is a super creative, he’s lyrically talented and I like to hear his ideas when it comes to melodies. Eric Bellinger, he’s one of my favorite writers and probably DJ Camper. He’s taking over music right now. He produced a lot of music for H.E.R. and I was actually in the studio with him last night. He let me hear some of his album he’s putting out this year. He’s really dope.

What’s coming up next for you?
I’m preparing to release the next single off my EP along with the visuals as I did for “Waiting 4 You” and then actually put the entire EP out. I’ll finally have a whole body of music out. I’m really excited about that because I feel like it’s long overdue. I feel like I’m taking a long time but I don’t want to just put music out because I have music. I want it to be right. I’m working on the next single and pushing the EP and trying to do more shows in different places. Not just New York or L.A. I feel like I’ve only been doing a lot of shows in New York, L.A., Atlanta. I want to branch out into different cities and start to build my fanbase. I’m just working on the Tréi Stella brand as a whole.

Is there a timeline for the EP?
Right now we’re looking at August, early September. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but I’m not going to worry about how it’s going to happen because I feel like it’s going to happen.

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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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