For someone who has only travelled out of Lagos a few times, attending the Ake Festival this year was a huge deal for me, especially because I was going on my own. In this post, I’ll be sharing all my thoughts and expectations on the 2017 AKe Festival and how it turned out. This could also be taken as a guide of some sorts to first timers who want to attend the next one. I’ll be giving inside details on what happens at Ake Festival, my personal experience and why I think you should attend the next Ake Festival .
What is Ake, you say?
Ake Arts and Book Festival which occurs annually in Abeokuta, Ogun State, is a six day festival that celebrates books and other interconnected facets of the arts. It held at the Cultural Centre, Kuto Abeokuta this year. The festival celebrates art and literature and features master classes and workshops in various aspects of performance art, visual art, drama, fashion, music, film, dance and writing. The Ake Arts and Book Festival is organised by Book Buzz Foundation, Nigeria. This year’s theme “This f-word” put a main focus on women and feminism.
What happens at Ake Festival?
Ake is all about the arts. Spoken word, panel discussions, book sales, art exhibitions, story telling sessions, book chats, poetry, etc. It’s a great event to attend if you enjoy literature, art and culture.
Master Classes: In the event that you want to become a writer, you will get valuable guidance by tuning in to master classes taught by great writers.
Stage performances: Musical performances by Salawa Abeni, Aramide, Adunni & Nefretiti among others took place this year. I was lucky to witness the storytelling of Baba Segi’s Wives written by Lola Shoneyin and performed by Maimouna Jallow. It was captivating! And I shared a few scenes on Instagram and my live stories.
Panel Discussions: Here you get to hear gifted women and men discuss their work, books and the process of making them. This year’s festival ended with a discussion with Ama Ata Aidoo and despite the fact that I’ve not read any of her work, it was brilliant hearing about how she’s come so far and I must say she has a great personality.
Palm-wine and poetry: The palm-wine and poetry came directly after Ama Ata Aidoo’s discussion and it was a wonderful finale to the Ake event. Five female African poets, recited their poetry in a captivating and engaging manner. My favorite performance was Poetra Asantewa who stole the show with her spoken word poetry and short songs in-between.
Book sales: There are also numerous books on display at the Ake festival bookstore at discounted prices. If you love books. Be prepared to be tempted because they have a LOT of books. I picked up two myself, I couldn’t resist. The ones I couldn’t afford, I read a few pages to whet my salivating appetite.
Why You Should Attend The Next Ake Festival
Ake is not for everyone. This much is true. The first literary festival (Imbube festival) I ever attended was this October just a month before Ake and I attended because I entered a short story contest. I ended up winning the prize for the Most Outstanding story for my story “Machine Baby” which is currently being developed into a short novella. Read it here, if you haven’t already.
So why should you attend the next Ake? The average Nigerian doesn’t even read, what do you have the gain from attending the arts and book festival?
Award winning authors, writers and artists, upcoming writers and different people from different walks of life attend the Ake festival yearly. I’ve heard a few people say Ake festival is very cliquey so it would be a good idea to go with friends or at least one person you know. But despite this, with the right conversational skills and approach, it’s a great place to network and get contacts. I met Enajite Efemuaye (editor and writer) in person who I first encountered at the Imbube Festival where she gave a TED-style talk about literary criticism. I also got the chance to meet literary genius, sci-fi writer and mom Nnedi Okorafor. And I made a handful of friends too.
With Nnedi Okorafor
Art and Cultural enrichment
If you are not the books-y type but you enjoy and appreciate art and cultural displays. Ake is for you, I love the celebration of African culture and literature I experienced and from what a lot of friends who attend yearly have told me. It is truly an enriching experience.
Even if you don’t read or like art, you will surely be entertained. The panel discussions, stage performances and poetry were some of the many sessions I found greatly entertaining.
The After Party
Yes, there’s an after-party with drinks, palm-wine and small chops. No holding back, just everyone having a good time on the dance floor and I danced with Mona Elthahawy. Case closed.
Ake Festival 2017, My Personal Experience
I can honestly tell you that Ake is the best event I attended in 2017. It held at the Cultural Centre, Kuto Abeokuta this year. My friends have been inviting me for a few years and honestly, I wasn’t particularly interested mostly because I’ve read foreign books all my life and wasn’t exposed to African writing except in secondary school books like “Beggars strike”, Our Husband Has gone mad again, etc. This year’s theme was about females and feminism and featured intellectual discussions relating to feminism in Africa. A lot of the discussions centered around challenges African women are facing when it comes to feminism, from writing, rape, LGBTQ rights, violence to politics.
One of the most impactful messages and lessons I learnt was during the panel discussion with Ama Ata Aidoo where she said.
“In our African languages we don’t do gender, no he or she. We do human beings.” – Ama Ata Aidoo.
This resonated deeply because in the Yoruba language, there is no he or she. Everyone is referred to as ‘o’ or ‘e’. Gender separation is a creation found in the English language. And no writer or any other creative for that matter should not be judged by their gender but by their work. I also learnt a few things that I would apply in my writing, one of which is that you don’t always have to focus on suffering and dejection before you can make it as an African writer. Africans are not all impoverished and suffering, we have other concerns too, we love, we live and as an African writer you shouldn’t be afraid to write about what you feel because that is what writing is all about.
Attending Ake this year has opened me up to a whole new world, it was very enjoyable and I’m very much grateful for that.
Tips for Enjoying the Ake Festival
Accommodation: Ensure you get your accommodation sorted out well before the date of the event. I know this because I paid a few days to the beginning of the event and all the cheaper rooms were already taken. I had to pay 8k per night for a hotel room. If you know anyone staying in Abeokuta, that would be great. If you don’t try to get hotel rooms and pay before hand because accommodation may get a bit dicey when it’s getting close to the D-day. I couldn’t attend the entire 6 days because of work, so I arrived on Friday and Left on Sunday.
Sessions: There are quite a lot of sessions holding and you have to get tickets for most of them. But it is not compulsory to attend every single session listed in the schedule. Pick out those that interest you and rest in-between.
Dress code: I brought a pair of heels and sneakers but quickly came to realize I won’t be needing the heels. So I stuck to my sneakers but even so I still felt a bit overdressed. A lot of people at the festival dress really casual with slippers and sandals. I also glimpsed a lot of Ankara and Adire outfits.
Food: To get food at the festival, you have to get a ticket. But food runs out fast it’s better to get it early. Also, if you are not very much interested in long queues, you can step into town to eat which is not a totally bad idea. I ate some delicious buka-style amala at a restaurant nearby.
Have you ever attended the Ake festival? Do you wish to attend? Any other tips for those who wish to attend the next annual festival? Drop ’em in the comments below.