Chicago’s African Festival of the Arts: Largest in U.S.


Nii Oti is the featured artist of the year at the 26th annual African Festival of the Arts.

by Gail Dee

As our nation examines it’s conscience and the importance of #blacklivesmatter, Labor Day weekend brings the chance to applaud and enjoy “African Festival of the Arts”, the largest U. S. festival of it’s kind, Sept. 4 thru Sept. 7, 10 am to 10 pm. This is the 26th year for the celebration of the African diaspora in fine arts, crafts, music and dance produced by nonprofit African International House. A large swath of beautiful Washington Park (5100 S. Cottage on the edge of University of Chicago) is literally transformed into a traditional African village offering us the opportunity to explore cultural, spiritual, and artistic traditions from Senegal to Egypt to the Caribbean to Central and South American in a truly congenial welcoming atmosphere. Even South African wine gets a spotlight this year.

We should not just take for granted that this festival will always be “there” for us to enjoy saying “I’ll go next year”. With Washington Park as a possible site for the Obama Presidential Library no one knows yet how it will actually impact the festival’s home. Hopefully very beneficially but let’s not forget how other festivals have had to change their formats because of changes within the Chicago Park District. For example–remember how Old Town School’s “Square Roots” formerly took place in Welles Park? Also like other non profits, the Festival felt the sting of budgetary cuts this year.
The African Festival of the Arts continues to offer a diverse array of entertainment celebrating the African spirit. This is not some cookie cutter festival like many others in the city. The festival is 4 days and 4 nights of immersion in African culture. Over 300 artisans, exhibitors and vendors presenting artifacts, textiles, traditional crafts, and museum-quality art as well as pavilions like the African Spiritual Pavilion & Ancestral Grove; the Children and Family Pavilion with story telling; theater arts and more; the Drum Village; the Film Village; David Durojaiye Olupitan African Heritage Pavilion; a Quilting Pavilion and a Green Pavilion and Author and Book Pavilion as well as the Main Stage.

African Festival of Arts no. 1
The Festival boasts four distinct areas each representing a center of Nubia WNculture and commerce on the African Continent: Nubia (fine arts); Kush (wearable arts); Songhay (African arts & crafts, collectibles and natural products); Timbuktu (African fabric and fashions); and the Bank of the Nile (food court). You’ll find everything from Nigerian egusi, Senegalese wolof rice, Caribbean jerk chicken, to Cajun and soul food from the US.
The Dee Palmer Woodtor Main Stage focuses on a different “genre” each night this year. If you like Steppin’- Friday night is your night with J’Kon headlining; Saturday is “African Beat” with Afro Columbia Eco Del Pacificio; Muntu Dance and Reggae music with Carl Brown; Sunday is Chicago’s Best with performers like M.A.D.D Rhythms; and Monday Jeffrey Osborne, the R & B platinum artist, headlines the “Soul” Day along with Joan Collaso and the Sax Preacher.
_DSC0068  How much does this trip to Africa cost you? $15 adv (online and at Walgreens) $20 at the gate; Seniors $10; Children (12 and over) $5; Families $40 (2 adults; 2 children) and Adults for 4 days $40. See more at for schedules, tickets and parking information.

Gail Dee is a freelance writer. Her “Global Sounds” column appears in Newcity music,  Chicago’s 29 year old free cultural bimonthly newspaper on newsstands and online. Gail is also the creator of We Want Music Without Borders  group on Facebook with over 2500+members.  Join for daily updates on live music in Chicago.

You can also see the WWMWB page  publicly available without signing onto FB with occasional posts. Sign up for newsletter and special discounts here :


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