Black Star Line Festival 2023: Bekoe’s Recap
Written by Vocalo Radio on January 13, 2023
Pictured above: Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper embrace onstage as they’re engulfed by a cloud of confetti during the first Black Star Line Festival in Accra, Ghana. Photo by Keeley Parenteau, courtesy of Black Star Line Festival.
The inaugural Black Star Line Festival, founded by Chicago artists Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, took place in Accra, Ghana on Jan. 6. Vocalo mornings host Bekoe was one of 52,000 attendees, and shares his thoughts on the experience…
Black Star Line Festival, founded by Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, debuted in Accra, Ghana, last weekend. A free, one-day event, the festival featured performers including Erykah Badu, Jeremih, T-Pain, Sarkodie, Tobe Nwigwe and other special guests.
Named after Civil Rights leader Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line — a Black-owned and operated shipping company started in 1919 with the intention of connecting Africa, America and the Caribbean — the Black Star Line Festival was founded in hopes to connect Black Americans to their African roots by way of communal cultural celebration. On this front, the festival certainly succeeded; more than 52,000 people internationally attended, and the festival went until Chance the Rapper closed with his performance at almost 6 a.m. the following day.
Vocalo mornings host Bekoe got the chance to attend the festival, where he and fellow Chicago journalist Dometi Pongo enjoyed standout performances, connected with attendees and spoke with Grammy-nominated Chicago spoken word artist J. Ivy, performing artists Tobe Nwigwe and Jeremih, and festival co-founder Chance the Rapper.
Check out Bekoe and Dometi Pongo’s conversations with the festival-goers and artists, and what Bekoe described as “The Highs & The Lows” from this year’s Black Star Line Festival, available on Spotify now.
Bekoe: Black Star Line Festival 2023, founded by Chicago’s own Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. It was located in Accra, Ghana, and it’s a festival inspired by Civil Rights leader Marcus Garvey in his iconic Black Star Line that was founded in 1919, a company operated by Black people that linked America, the Caribbean and Africa to global shipping and tourism opportunities. For it to be the first festival, it was indeed historical, bringing out an attendance of 52,000 people. To think, two artists, right here from Chicago, brought out that many people, halfway around the world on another continent, was more than inspired. It was empowering. And here’s how Black Star Line Festival turned out from the perspectives of the performing artists, festival goers and, to cap things off, my perspective.
As I made my way into the festival, Nigerian rap artist known as Tobe Nwigwe, based out of Texas, was on stage. Chicago journalist Dometi Pongo caught up with Tobe, and he spoke on it be in his first time performing in Ghana, and why.
Tobe Nwigwe: I’ll be honest with you, it hadn’t happened before, just because… we hadn’t been to the continent because my wife was always pregnant. You know, you gotta get the vaccination before you come… you know what I’m saying, you can’t get vaccinated while you’re pregnant, stuff like that. So we was always waiting, but when Chance hit us with the call, we was like, “Alright, cool, we can holler at somebody to get some type of exemption for her and make it happen, just because this is extremely important to us. Bridging the gap between home and the states, it’s very important to us. So… we did what we had to do to make sure it could happen, and bring our whole family.
Bekoe: Tobe also gave us his take on the importance for diasporans to be in Ghana, and why it was important for him to connect with the soil the way he does.
Tobe Nwigwe: For me, it’s because we are all one… And we more connected now than ever because of the internet, but I really feel like Black Americans really need to understand, like, “Yo, this is home.” You’ll never come anywhere on Earth and feel more at home than being on the continent, 100%. Like, everything is different. You just feel way more peace when you’re on the continent of Africa. Anywhere in Africa. Ghana is extremely welcoming, Nigeria is a beautiful place. Senegal is a beautiful place, we just went to South Africa, that’s a beautiful place. But you got to come home, you got to touch the earth here. It is a way different feeling.
Bekoe: Lastly, Tobe gave us a sneak peek at what he’ll be a part of in the near future. And it’s not music-based.
Tobe Nwigwe: I’m in Transformers.
Dometi Pongo: What you doing in that? Can you tell me?
Tobe Nwigwe: I’m a supporting character, I’m the main character’s best friend in the movie. Yeah! So I’m trying to get him on some like Robin Hood type stuff, robbing the rich give to the poor, 100%. That’s my role in the movie. I ain’t just like… Yeah, I’m an actual supporting character, and we really kill it.
Bekoe: Congrats to Tobe Nwigwe making his way to the big screen for Transformers: Rise of the Beast, which is set to release this year, in June. And another congrats is in store for Tobe Nwigwe, as well, because him and his wife are expecting!
Chicago singer-songwriter Jeremih hit the stage performing hit songs such as “oui,” “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” “Down On Me,” featuring 50 Cent, a song he’s featured on from J. Cole title “Planez,” as well as his lead single that started his music career, known as “Birthday Sex,” from his debut self-titled album, Jeremih, that released back in 2009.
It was Jeremih’s first time out in Ghana, and fresh off the stage, he tells us how he didn’t get a chance to rehearse for his performance.
Jeremih: You don’t know this, but we got no rehearsal, no nothing, just kind of made it happen…
Bekoe: Now, for me, that was kind of mind-blowing because he looked well-prepared on that stage, he even brought out a strip pole as a prop, brought out a dancer and he had a great time on stage.
Chicago’s Grammy-nominated spoken word artist J. Ivy also came out to Accra, Ghana to support Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. And this is what he had to say about the Black Star Line Festival.
J. Ivy: This is a very historic moment. Like, we at a key time in history. We in the middle of a renaissance. And this is… it’s something so special about the ripple that’s gonna be caused from this moment.
Dometi Pongo: Yes.
J. Ivy: Like, this is gonna echo through time. So I’m really proud of my brothers. I’ve been thanking them all week, just for having the vision to even think to do something like this, because we always been talking about reconnecting. And they’re like, “Well, we could go do it. We got to go start the process.” And this, I mean, music is a universal language to bring everybody together, so, proud of them.
Bekoe: Before I get into what Chance the Rapper had to say about things, and capping off my perspective of the entire festival, let’s take it to the festival-goers and hear about their experiences, as well as what this festival means for Ghana.
Scott (attendee): This experience is better, so much amazing. The effects, the stage, the lights, I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it.
Bekoe: So far, who’s been your favorite artists to watch at the stage?
Scott (attendee): Since watching on the stage, Vic Mensa, Stonebwoy, Sarkodie, our main great artist, Sarkodie, has just shaken up their place. That’s hard.
Daniel Adongo (attendee): I was very, very happy to be in that show. And Black Star Line was a great show in my life. And I hope to get it next year. I hope you guys bring it back next year so we both have fun. Black Power, united.
Bekoe: Would you like to see this happen annually?
Gloria (attendee): Of course, yes. I would love to see this happen every year.
Bekoe: Why is this such an important festival for the continent of Africa, the country of Ghana? Like why is this an important and big deal?
Gloria (attendee): Because it brings almost everyone together. A shows like this brings most of the youth together, to relieve stress, to have fun and enjoying the holidays while they last
Bekoe: I’ve been seeing a lot of the youth out lately, as well. Do you see this often?
Gloria (attendee): No, not really. Usually on occasions, like Christmas, Easter. Yeah.
MFG Thugga (attendee): Well, to me, it’s very inspiring. Because when I saw Vic Mensa on stage, I feel really inspired. Like I felt like this is gonna be the next me on stage. So that was very inspirational to me, personally, but for others I think it’s a whole lot of fun and trying to connect with the diaspora and seeing that, yeah, we also got things going on here. You know? So I feel blessed to see, like, to connect with a lot of people.
Bekoe: That was Scott, Daniel Adongo, Gloria, MFG Thugga, breaking down their experiences, and what the Black Star Line Festival means for Ghana. With Vic Mensa and Chance to Rapper being able to build a network in Ghana. Chance spoke on the importance of Ghanaian people benefiting from the added resources they’re bringing.
Chance the Rapper: It’s about access, man. Intention around access. If you’re intentional about the access that you’re providing, then you don’t have to worry about it. If there’s access for everyone, when it’s something that’s free, when it’s something that’s all-encompassing and welcoming of people from all different walks of life, you don’t have to worry about that.
RELATED: Chance on Child Of God, Ghana and Recent Interdisciplinary Work
Bekoe: To conclude things, I like to give you all “The Highs & The Lows” of my experience at the Black Star Line Festival, and I’d like to start with the lows. Okay, the event was not as organized as many would have liked for it to be. There were delays during artists’ performance sets due to sound difficulties and glitches. The festival was quite long and lengthy. An example: Chance didn’t hit the stage till about 5 in the morning, close to 6. So I really would love to know how he felt with performing with the sun coming up.
Now, the highs, to end off on a good note. This festival brought out over 50,000+ people ranging from young and older. One of the festival goers stated to me that it’s something that they don’t normally see. They also said the sound quality was the best sound experience they’ve ever heard, from all the festivals that take place out there throughout these couple of last years. Yes, Black Star Line Festival has turned into one of the best experiences on the sound side, as well as the visual concept side. And that’s what festival-goers said to me, and that’s also something that I would say I did enjoy.
What I also loved was just the overall experience, okay. Meeting residents that lived in another country and seeing their style of living and seeing them indulge and just let people get more of an understanding of the culture was amazing for me, and honestly, liberating. And lastly, seeing Chance the Rapper bring out Dave Chappelle as a special guest for a special conversation about why he moved to Africa a little while ago, the importance of the diaspora and how Africa brought him peace and happiness was just an amazing and memorable experience. Africa also brought me peace and happiness. And I have to say, that is why I would love to do this again.
I’d like to thank all of those who helped put this together, such as Chicago journalist Dometi Pongo, who caught up with J. Ivy, Jeremih, Tobe Nwigwe and Chance the Rapper. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram by searching “Dometi,” you will be able to see all the visuals to the interviews he provided. I’d like to think En Route travel agent Valentina Giacaba for making sure I got to Ghana and back home safely. I also like to thank Scott, Gloria MFG Thugga and Daniel Adongo for taking time out to speak with me about their experiences at Black Star Line Festival. And, most importantly, I’d like to thank Vocalo’s managing director, Ayana Contreras, for making this experience and coverage happen. There would be none of this if it wasn’t for her, and our incredible team over at WBEZ. And one more thing, I’d like to thank you all, because without you all, there is no us bringing you this dope content. So, until next year.
See more from the Black Star Line Festival by following the Fest on Instagram.
This segment was edited and produced by Bekoe
Special thanks to Dometi Pongo for his interview contributions
Written introduction, transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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