For those who are eager to delve into Ghanaian culture, experience the warmth of the people, eat authentic Ghanaian foods and live like a Ghanaian even for a short period of time — Afrochella is a great starting point.

Afrochella, a concept developed by CEO Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015, officially kicked off in 2017 with Kenny Agyapong in tow as co-founder and COO. The rest of the team included Co-founder and President Edward Asafu-Adjaye, Vernell Akyeampong as the environmental director, and Emmanuel Ansah who specialized in community engagement. Together, the quintet put the pedal to the metal, developing Abdullah's concept into one of the most popular cultural festivals in West Africa.

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An estimated 12,000 people filled the El Wak Stadium to see what the festival was all about in 2018. That same year, award-winning Ghanian artists Daddy Lumba and Stonebwoy headlined the music segment. This year, the founders estimated over 16,000 attended the 2019 festival, as they await accurate figures from Ghana's Revenue Authority.

Though it has many fun factors, Afrochella is much more than fun and games. It includes an initiative dubbed Afrochella Reads, which according to Afrochella CEO Abdullah, has raised $10,500 for a local school named the Genesis School of Orphans (GSOO). Through the initiative, Afrochellans were able to renovate GSOO and provide school supplies for its students. Afrochella Feeds, another charitable program, provided meals for 500 people. 

The ability to enmesh oneself into the daily lives of Ghanaians and Africans is what 2019, dubbed the Year of Return (YOR), and Afrochella hoped to achieve. Both events have goals to continue attracting Africans from all over the diaspora to come and feel at home in the motherland. In an interview with Blavity News, Abdullah shared what he considers highlights of the festival and what the Afrochella team hopes to accomplish in the future.

Blavity: When we think of Afrochella, we think of the festival, but it's so much more than that. In your words, what is Afrochella?

Abdul Karim Abdullah: Initially, when we first started Afrochella a lot of people thought about the music aspect of it. One thing we tried to do in 2019, and we hope to do in the years to come is to explain to people that Afrochella is not a music festival, it's a cultural festival. Our understanding is that if you can have a glimpse into the type of food we like, the type of art that we like to see, the type of music that we like to listen to, the type of fashion we wear;  it's a small glimpse into our culture. That's our way of teaching the culture from a native perspective. During Royalty Night, we get to honor people as well. Royalty night was a sold-out event. We had a poetry performance by Kofi Genfi, a cultural dance performance by a troupe and a live band performance. It went pretty well.

For Royalty Night we want to solidify the pillars mentioned above on a more personal basis because it's a smaller event. We honored Mr Eazi for emPawa, for his ability to encourage up and rising artists. We honored Chef Eric Gyapong for the groundbreaking work he's down promoting West African food. We honored Christie Brown for her amazing work in fashion in Ghana, and Godwin Ashong for his art direction. Godwin is actually the creative director of Afrochella. He's known for his amazing set design for Beasts of No Nation as well as other movies and music videos shot in Ghana. 

Blavity: Afrochella coincided with the Year of Return, this year. How significant do you think YOR was in shaping the 2019 festival? 

Abdullah: I think for us it was a coincidence. In the previous year, we were able to bring out 12,000. With YOR that obviously magnified our presence within the space and attracted more people. I think it's amazing we give people the opportunity through our festival to come back and gain some knowledge about Ghana and African culture. It's a great gateway for people. Overall, it was a great experience.

Blavity: One highlight of the festival was the biggest pot of jollof ever cooked. What were some other highlights the Afrochella team noted?

Abdullah: The Guinness World Book of Records actually labeled it as the biggest pot of jollof.  Some other highlights were working with Twitter and the company supporting our charity initiatives — Afrochella Reads and Afrochella Feeds. Airbnb also donated school supplies. Audiomack allowed us to select seven rising artists, and we were able to boost their music and allow them to gain more streams and publicity. The artists also performed at Afrochella and those with the highest streams were offered $1,000 and a studio session at BBnZ live. Those are the major highlights outside of all the celebrities and others from all over the world that came to celebrate African culture with us.

Blavity: What were you most impressed by?

Abdullah: I was most impressed by the number of people that came to Ghana for the first time in 2019, and their embracing our culture and event.

Blavity: Any thoughts about hosting the concert in other African countries next year? 

Abdullah: In 2020, we plan to hit South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

Blavity: What are three specific goals you've outlined for next year's experience? How do you plan to outperform this year?

Abdullah: We plan to outsource the event to a management company, increase attendance, and raise more funds so we can showcase more of Africa on our grounds.

Blavity: What are some challenges the Afrochella team faced?

Abdullah: We faced many challenges — inadequate suppliers within the country. We definitely need more training, in regard to the different supplies we use. The vendors seemed to have a difficult time supplying us with the materials we needed. We faced challenges in regards to support; we want to gain bigger sponsorships and the support of companies that are willing to invest in convincing more Black people to come back to Africa. These are challenges that we should be able to overcome as we grow. We're in our third year and I'm thankful for where we are and I hope that we continue to grow exponentially.

Blavity: What's the biggest lesson you've learned?

Abdullah: People are paying exorbitant amounts to come to Africa for the first time. It's our duty to prepare them more effectively for a growing tourism sector, which means a slower pace of output and slower customer service.

Blavity: What is Afrochella's five-year plan?

Abdullah: Our goal is to increase the number of people that visit Ghana and the African continent. We hope to connect Africans on the continent and from the continent with different companies that otherwise wouldn't activate in Africa. We want to encourage these companies to build a presence in Africa. We want to do a better job of highlighting cultures outside of Ghana as well. In 2019, we were able to introduce some aspects of South African, East African and Nigerian cultures.

Clearly, Afrochella is the place to be. Ghana is one option and soon Afrochellans will gather in other parts of the continent to see more of what Africa has in store for the world. Gear up for more tastes, sounds and culture — African style.