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Commentary: The Black Star Line Festival

The Black Star Line festival promised to be one of the most significant events in Ghana that merged Ghanaian music culture with that of the American diaspora since the Soul to Soul independence concert that took place in 1957 at the very same Black Star Square. With over 50,000 people gathered at the Black Star Square, it was undoubtedly a night to remember, and the solidifying of Ghana’s image as the Gateway to Africa. The Black Star Square had been transformed into beautiful concert grounds; large art installations at various corners and rows of Ghanaian-owned food businesses lined up on two edges of the square. In the center was the stage, flanked with two large screens displaying captivating 3D afro-futuristic animations, including a video of the Black Starline Ship sailing across the ocean – a beautiful homage to Marcus Garvey’s contribution to the Back-to-Africa movement in the early 1920s.

People began to arrive at 3 pm to line up at the gates, yet despite the early excitement, the gates only opened at 5:30 pm. The DJ and MC fired up the already energetic crowd with back-to-back afrobeats, Amapiano, hiplife, and pop hits. These hits sustained us till M.anifest kicked off the show at 7 pm. With the most infectious confidence, he captivated the crowd, who sang along to his 2013 hit, “Someway Bi”. For his performance of “No Shortcut to Heaven,” he brought on the legendary Obrafuor to grace the stage with him. As an immersive artist, it was no surprise when he recruited the audience into his makeshift choir when “Suffer” came on. M.anifest was the perfect artist to start off this monumental pan-African event. His performance encapsulated the realities as well as the resilience of the Ghanaian people.

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The Asakaa boys did not drop the mantle and followed up with an electric performance, complete with costumes, theatrics, and a quick history lesson about the Ashanti people. Decked out in full Ashanti warrior regalia, the Kumerican collective crawled onto the stage in a circular formation, concealing someone in the center, who then bursts into focus brandishing a replica of the legendary Golden Stool of the Ashanti Empire. The crowd goes wild as Jay Bahd’s “Y3 Y3 DOM” begins to play. It would not have been an Asakaa performance without the kumerican anthem, “Sore”. The Asakaa boys over-delivered and that was clear from scattered shouts of “now that’s a show!” from the audience.

The first American-based artist of the night was Tobe Nwigwe who took us to the church of Black Excellence. Complete with an entourage of dancers, his wife Fats, his two baby daughters, and a color scheme of mint green, he introduced himself to the Ghanaian audience and made sure they never forgot his name. Tobe and Fats took the stage by storm, giving 110% into each song they performed which included “FYE FYE”, “Wavy” “HELLA BLACK”, and “Wildlings” which featured a surprise performance from Johnny Venus from EARTHGANG. Known to be a strong family man, he ended the show with his two little girls who both said the cutest greetings of “Hi Accra!” to the 50,000-member crowd.

After his set, DJ Mike Abrantie took the stage with fire mixes alongside some surprise guests from Chicago and London. Joey Purp took the stage with his hit song “Elastic”, followed by NSG with “OT Bop” and other hits from their established discography. R&B singer/songwriter, Jeremih, appeared to be the energy boost the crowd needed as he strolled on stage with two strippers, complete with a pole. The hold his music still has on the general Ghanaian public was clear to see as choruses of “Birthday Sex”, “Oui” and “Don’t Tell ‘Em” could be heard throughout the square.

 By 11 pm fatigue was beginning to set in. In between the delays caused by technical difficulties, long-standing time as well as difficulties getting through the entrance gates, there was a distinct lull in energy throughout the venue which also translated into a general lack of responsiveness as various personalities took to the stage to give their speeches. However, several persisted, with the anticipation of the artists who were yet to come on as well as the mystery surprise artist which was rumored to be the infamous Kanye West. 

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Co-founder of the Black Star Line festival, Vic Mensa, gave a powerful performance and showed a side of him that many Ghanaians were not privy to before – a beautiful singer and guitar player. He delivered a touching speech about his dreams of hosting an event that unites the African people and the wider diaspora. He brought Kwesi Arthur and Stonebwoy on stage to perform their hit song turn NFL 2023 soundtrack, “Winning” and “Blessings” respectively. To crown it all, he paid homage to his uncle, highlife veteran- Chief Kofi Sammy of the Okukuseku Band.

Dave Chappelle also made an appearance where he introduced American rapper Talib Kweli and South African artist Cassper Nyovest. When the autotune king himself, T-Pain came on stage, some people had given in to their fatigue and departed the square. That, however, did not reduce the excitement exuded during his set of hits only. We were thrown back to the days when T-Pain ruled the airwaves globally with “I’m Sprung”, “Can’t Believe It” and “Buy You A Drink”. His solid dance moves certainly provided the extra icing on the cake as the 2010 anthem “All I Do Is Win” came on, with every hand going “up down” in accordance with the song. 3 AM is when the Queen of Soul, Erykah Badu, graces the stage with her signature towering hat. The resilient crowd remains as she provides a sonic experience for her listeners with her songs which included “Hello” and “Window Seat”. Die-hard fans of the icon could hardly contain their excitement as they yelled her lyrics to anyone who would hear.

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In a very poetic fashion, the sun began to rise when Chance the Rapper finally closed out the show. Partying into daybreak is surely not a foreign concept to active Detty December participants. Delivering a beautiful performance of Cocoa Butter Kisses to the crowd that was left, the Chicago-based artist thanked everyone who stuck with him till the end of the show. Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper truly made history on the 6th of January 2023. Beginning the year with a defining cultural moment for black people on the continent and across the diaspora is hopefully the start of more cultural exchanges that will open up conversations as we can help each other progress as a people in our respective nations.

Written by Anabel Rose Kubabom.

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