Aké Arts and Book Festival 2019: Event Review

here does one really start, when talking about the world renowned Aké Arts and Book Festival – especially when it is your first time attending it? 

2019 was the 7th year of Aké, a festival that has brought together over 400 artists, writers, poets, musicians, dancers and thinkers over the years. Aké started off in 2013 at Abeokuta, but this year, the festival took place at the brand-new Mike Adenuga Centre / Alliance Française in Lagos. 

Themed ‘Black Bodies – Grey Matter’, this year’s instalment promised to explore the concepts and misconceptions that surround the mental and physical states of the African body. Looking back, I can say for a fact that from my point of view, it did not disappoint.

The panel discussions, book chats, and poetry events that were on offer left me spoilt for choice, and I left most sessions feeling lucky to have experienced this – not just first hand, but on the mother continent of the human race.

A ‘traditional’ review won’t cut it this time

I don’t think a traditional ‘review’ of Aké Festival would do the event (and the efforts of its organisers) justice, since the festival is nothing like any event I’ve ever been to. That is why I’m going to leave you instead, with my personal impressions and takeaways from the festival – including some of the pictures I took during the event. 

What I loved most about the festival was the fact that all the sessions (at least the ones I went to), were centred on the African experience – on African literature, African authors and African artists. Most important (to me) was the fact that none of the sessions were in response to anything or anyone outside of the continent.

The participating authors and artists did not have to discuss their works in response to Western reviews or critics. The literature discussed was not examined en vue of its success in the UK or other Western publishing spheres. No. The literature and art(s) that formed the basis of the festival, were seen, discussed, appraised, and reviewed from within an African context – from an African perspective. 

There is more to African Literature than Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka

As someone who loves reading and talking about African literature, I have encountered my fair share of having to ‘convince’ people that there is much more to African literature than Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and that the literary world on the continent is as rich and diverse as its people – which leads me to another aspect that I loved about Aké:

The conversations, discussions, panels, and sessions at Aké prepared us to go forth into the world and spread the word about the African artistic and literary world. I felt like I was being ‘prepped’ to withstand the same-old prejudices firmly, debunk them solidly, and fight against them actively.

I’m not saying that I could not counter-argue ignorant statements before, but the sessions at Aké created an atmosphere that fostered the sharing of knowledge about African authors and their works, in such a natural and effortless way, that made me feel prepared and ready to take on any nonsensical remark in the future. After all, had I not just witnessed the greatness, plurality, and creativity of African artists, authors, speakers, poets, and thinkers? 

‘I felt like I was being ‘prepped’ to withstand the same-old prejudices firmly and debunk them solidly, and to fight against them actively.’

Since I said at the beginning of this post that I was not going to review the festival in the traditional sense of the word, but merely share my experiences and photos, I’ll leave it here for now and hope that you’ll enjoy the photos below.

If you are in the photos, and / or were at Aké, I hope they bring back good memories. If you were unable to attend, I hope these photos give you a glimpse into the greatness that was this festival and spur you on to participate in it next year (if you are at all able to).

‘After all, had I not just witnessed the greatness, plurality, and creativity of African artists, authors, speakers, poets, and thinkers? ‘

Tutu Isua Mfen Till Next Year