It was thirty years ago when Dr Stefan Oschmann and Ali Schuster, two young German men, initiated the International Afro Roots Festival, popularly known as International Africa Festival, with the aim of bringing the music and culture of Africa to Germans.
The story of the event, which has meanwhile become the biggest of its kind in Europe and last year attracted more than 100,000 visitors, began in the early 1980s. Oschmann and Schuster had attended a concert in Amsterdam at which the band Africa Soli performed. The two Germans were so fascinated with the rhythms and dancing of the group that when they returned home they were determined to organise a similar concert in their native Wuerzburg, in the state of Bavaria. They tried to find a promoter to organise the event but were unsuccessful.
Convinced that such a concert would find acceptance in Wuerzburg, they took matters into their own hands. In 1988, they finally brought Africa Soli to the city. The concert’s resounding success far exceeded Oschmann and Schuster’s already high expectations. With the evidence that Germans were really open to African music, the duo organised the first Africa Festival on 9-11 June 1989 at which N’Gewel Saf Sap from Senegal headlined, performing to a crowd of 600 fans.
Thirty years down the road, Wuerzburg has not only become the No 1 Africa-focused cultural event in Europe, it has also inspired the annual summer season of African festivals celebrated across the continent with various events, including live music concerts.
For the past 29 years, Africa Festival has played host to the heavyweights of African and Caribbean music and provided a unique theatre for the meeting of continent and its diaspora. Many artists have gone from Wuerzburg to achieve spectacular international success.
Over 6750 musicians and artists from 56 African and Caribbean countries have performed in Würzburg so far and more than 2,320,000 visitors have attended the annual fiesta.
Afro Project, the non-profit outfit that organises the annual event, has put together a special programme to mark the silver jubilee of the festival from 31 May to 3 June 2018.
Heavyweights billed to entertain fans of African music in Wuerzburg this year include legendary Manu Dibango, Habib Koité, Salif Keita, Fatoumata Diawara, Lokua Kanza, Angélique Kidjo and Alpha Blondy.
In all, more than 100 artistes will give a good account of themselves at the Mainwiesen, the venue of the festival on the bank of the River Main.
Apart from music, Wuerzburg will feature bazaars, workshops, film programmes, art exhibitions, podium discussions and other activities that will all turn the town into a veritable African cultural experience.
More festival information at: www.africafestival.org