Africa Festivals – The booming business with African Culture

Africa Festivals – The booming business with African Culture

Visitors at the Africa Festival in Germany 2004

Visitors at the Africa Festival in Germany 2004

Generally speaking, the news and pictures about Africa aired by mainstream media in Germany could be categorized under the 3 Ds (Death, Disease, Despair). On the other hand, there are lucrative business sectors providing profits for German companies. The tourist sector for example has been successful in marketing African travel and adventure packages. Tourist commercials lure customers with advertisement clips showing beaches lined with palm trees as well as Games reserves in Africa.  Now, a new growing business sector is emerging – the African Culture. This includes diverse African music, percussion, handicrafts, fashion/hair dressing and story narrating. These aspects of African culture have been conceptualized into a recreational entertainment package called ‘Africa Festival’ or  ‘Afrika Tage’ in Germany.

Two of such events, which recently took place in Wuerzburg and Munich, attracted more than 150 000 visitors. Who are those behind the scene? Who is capitalizing on the attractiveness of African culture? Afritopic interviewed Karl-Gerhard Röttger, a member of the ‘Afro Project Team’, responsible for the ‘Africa Festival’ in Wuerzburg and Medhat Abdelati, the initiator of the ‘Afrika Tage’ in Munich. Furthermore, visitors’ opinions and photographic impressions are presented.

Interview with Karl-Gerhard Röttger (Africa Festival, Wuerzburg)

Karl-Gerhard Röttger

Karl-Gerhard Röttger

Karl-Gerhard Röttger is one of the founding members of Africa Festival in Wuerzburg and has been involved in organizing the event for the past 16 years. In an interview with Afritopic, Röttger talks about the development of the festival and his views about Africa.

Afritopic: Taking the number of programs, concerts, markets and visitors into consideration, the Africa Festival Wuerzburg is definitely a very big event. How do you achieve a high degree of perfection in organizing the festival?

Röttger: We have 9 months to organize the festival. As soon as one is over, we take a short break. After the break, we start planning and collecting ideas for the next festival. We usually make a list of popular artists we would like to engage but also leave room for emerging artists. We acquire necessary information about the artists concerning concert tour dates and schedules as well as engagement contract procedures. This is not easy and could be time-intensive especially, if we want to engage artists based in Africa. However, with 16 years experience and very good knowledge of the infrastructure in Wuerzburg, we are well equipped to resolve most organizational problems.

Afritopic: 16 years experience means that the first Africa Festival Wuerzburg took place 16 years ago. How has the festival developed over the years?

Röttger: The first Africa Festival was organized as a 1-day event in the Stadthalle, Wuerzburg and attracted about 600 visitors. The 2nd festival was a 2-day event. It took place in the same building with approximately 600 visitors per day. We had the feeling that the festival would attract more visitors each year and decided to move the location to the “Mainufer” premises. Information about the festival spread around and across the borders of Wuerzburg. Those who attended the festival were impressed and passed on their positive views to others. It was viewed as the major Africa-focused cultural event. Through mouth-to-mouth propaganda, the festival started attracting thousands of visitors from Germany and other European countries as well as from overseas. The 2-day event was later changed to a 4-day festival and each year, the number of visitors increased by thousands. This year 2004, we have a record of 36 000 visitors on Saturday 29 May.

Afritopic: In this year’s event, you have included Cuba in the program. Are you extending the festival to incorporate ‘Global Africa’ or Africa Diaspora?

Röttger: Yes. We have been thinking of ways we could extend the scope of the festival to include Africa Diaspora. Due to the very strong cultural ties many Cubans have to Africa, Cuba was included in the program. We are now contemplating the concept of making African-American theme part of the event. Black Artists from New Orleans could serve as a starting point. However, There are many countries in Africa we have not been able to invite music artists from. We would like to increase our efforts in this direction. The continent Africa is immensely rich in diverse music forms. We also intend to increase the number of informative programs about Africa. With the festival attracting over 150 000 visitors, educational and useful information about Africa could reach thousands of people.

Afritopic: The success of the festival is due to the excellent organization but also to the finance. How is the Africa Festival financed?

Röttger: The festival is sponsored by various government and non-government institutions/organizations including the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of culture. We receive both monetary and material sponsorship. As a private organization without financial background, we need to generate income from catering, renting out spaces for stalls and gate fees. There is always some risk involved but we have always been financially successful. Members of the organization are honorary workers and are compensated only for the 4 days of the festival.

Afritopic: How many people in your organization are involved in the planning of the festival?

Röttger: A core group of between 7 and 8 members of the organization carries out the initial planning. Along the way, more people get involved to take up responsibilities for various sections of the event. We also have volunteers who help to maintain order throughout the duration of the festival. This year for example, 100 students from a college in Wuerzburg voluntarily clean up the premises very early in the morning for the 4 days of the festival.

Afritopic: Through your involvement in the festival, you have been dealing with Africa/Africans for at least 16 years. How would you describe your feelings and experience in relation to Africa?

Röttger: Thinking about Africa reminds me of beautiful encounters with very friendly people. I was recently in North Africa with some members of our organization to attend a music festival in the dessert. There, we were able to make contacts with Tuaregs. Now, I am happy to see some of the Tuaregs here at the festival participating by setting up Tuareg tents where visitors could relax and be informed about the Tuareg culture. Over the years we have built up mutually beneficial contacts to Africa and African artists in particular. I have exchanged visits with African musicians and really admire the African hospitality. My mental picture of Africa is not that of hunger, death and suffering. My picture of Africa is that of numerous friendly people I have met through the festival. I am sad to see all these friendly people depart to their home countries after the festival. But I am happy that the event would take place again next year and I anticipate to see them all again.

Afritopic: What is you opinion about the German ‘Entwicklungshilfe’ (Development Aid) for Africa? Are there better, more effective ways to help?

Röttger: I do not believe that offering financial aid alone to governments could solve the problems. This does not imply that African governments cannot manage money. They surely can. But I believe in supporting private local initiatives working independently without the influence of the government. The Africans themselves have to decide what the want, how they want to live and what type of help they need. The industrial world should not try to force its lifestyle on the Africans. Partnership based on trust should be developed between the two worlds. On this basis, the industrial world could then offer technical assistance to Africa. Africans have their own cultures and values, which should be preserved. And there are initiatives in Africa engaged in resolving local problems while preserving the indigenous culture. Our organization supports such an initiative called ‘Steps For the Future’ in South Africa . We invite members of the initiative to participate in the festival and inform people about the goals of the initiative. In this way, the initiative gains more exposure and the visitors have better insight to the problems as well as the needs of the people. We try to acquire as much information as possible about the local initiatives prior to selecting the one our organization would eventually support. I wish that the support of such initiatives would increase on higher governmental levels. If this happens, the multiplier-effect could help to improve the situation of the people in Africa faster.

Interview with Medhat Abdelati (Afrika Tage, Munich)

Medhat Abdelati

Medhat Abdelati

Medhat Abdelati is the initiator of ‘Afrika Tage’, a festival focused on African culture and products in Munich. It is the first event of its kind in Munich. In a brief interview with AFRITOPIC, Medhat Abdelati tells of how he systematically turns his ideas into reality.

Afritopic: You initiated ‘Afrika Tage’ (Africa Days) (11-13.June2004). What is your motive for organizing the 3-day Africa-focused festival in Munich?

Abdelati: The story actually began some 20 years ago, when I visited Germany from Egypt, my home country. At that time, a friend informed me of a popular German festival that takes place yearly in Munich – ‘Oktober Fest’ (October Festival). The friend described the festival as the major festival in Germany attracting thousands of visitors from within and outside of Germany. I became inquisitive and wanted to know more about the event. I decided to attend the festival the following year. This I did and was impressed. I moved to Germany 4 years later and started a new chapter in my life with the idea of organizing a big event with Africa theme.

Afritopic: To have an idea is nice. But turning an idea into reality is not always easy. Organizing the 3-day festival is surely not easy. How did you turn you idea into reality?

Abdelati: After my studies in Germany, I married a German lady from Munich and made Germany my second home country. I was lucky to make a career in the Trade Fair industry. I started with the ‘Stuttgarter Messe’ (Stuttgart Trade Fair), where I became a project manager and later moved on to the position of ‘Bereichsleiter’ (Regional Manager). I gained immense experience in organizing trade fairs and premises infrastructure. This experience helped me in summing up the courage to start my own business and initiate the ‘Afrika Tage’ in Munich. We built a team responsible for the planning of the event and finalized the festival’s concept about 11/2 years prior to the suggested starting date of the festival. With the conceptual foundations for the festival laid, we started looking for sponsors, business and media partners. We were eventually able to gain the support and partnership of some businesses within Bavaria.

Afritopic: How do you finance the 3-day event?

Abdelati: We are able to finance the event partly through the revenues from stall spaces. The people selling products have to pay for the space they use for their markets. Apart from the company’s private investments and support from our sponsors, we also have some revenue from catering. We are happy that the overall result is positive.

Afritopic: Now that you have the festival has been successfully organized, what type of development do you see for the festival in the future?

Abdelati: The future of the festival depends on what the Bavarians want or expect from the festival. The high number of visitors shows that there is a great demand for the ‘Afrika Tage’. People are interested in the African culture. The colorful African products, the African music and laid-back African lifestyle fascinate them. On the whole, I am seemly optimistic that the ‘Afrika Tage’ will be a prosperous yearly event.

Caroline Dyck (Afrika Tage – Press/PR)

Caroline Dyck

Caroline Dyck

Caroline Dyck: I am a team member of the ‘Afrika Tage’ organizers and responsible for the press and public relations. It is my duty to make sure that correct information about the festival reaches the public through different channels. These include newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the information highway (Internet). Each member of the team has an area of activity, information contacts, assessment and selection of marketers, music concerts and so on. We all have a lot to do to make the festival a successful one. We know of other Africa Festivals in Germany and our managing director, Mr. Abdelati even visited the big festival in Wuerzburg. However, the festival we organize is not a copy of the one in Wuerzburg. Mr. Abdelati himself is an African from Egypt. He wants the festival to really focus on Africa. In fact, we rejected a lot of stall-applicants whose products we believe are not African.

We have 2 major sponsors: Redeberger and MoneyGram. We also have other businesses and institutions that support us.

Personally, I like to know more about other cultures. I was in Chile, South America. Unfortunately, I have not been to Africa. I would love to visit the continent like many people here would like to. This is the first festival of its kind in Munich and already there are thousands of visitors. Despite all the workload, I am happy to be part of the organizational team.

Afritopic 2004


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