The Jollof Festival Aims to Make Up for Last Year’s African Food Festival Missteps

Jollof-Fest Brooklyn

This story is part of 1 Minute Meal, a documentary series that uses food to reveal the communities, legacies, dreams, realities and unseen forces that shape life in New York City.

When Ishmael Osekre announced that he was throwing “New York’s first African Food Festival” last year, he captured the imagination of hundreds of people who lined up in Brooklyn last August for a chance to sample cuisines from across the continent. That event turned out to be a perfect storm of outrage. A late start to the events, lack of air conditioning, a low number of food vendors and inability to issue refunds resulted in a wave of criticism—of the event and of Osekre personally—on social media.

Osekre was determined to try again despite any damage to his reputation. As the musician and producer behind Afropolitan Insights—a cultural brand that puts on events to showcase the African diaspora in a positive light—he is dedicated to advancing the image of African people. This work is more personal than profit-minded for him, and consequently, when people on Facebook accused him of being a scammer, he only became more driven to put on a food festival that would redeem his vision.

Last month Osekre made good on his promise with the Jollof Festival. Working through the checklist of mistakes he had made the first time around, he delivered a mix of food, music and art that was more practically designed, more reliably staffed and air conditioned. And true to his mission, the menu—presenting various takes on jollof rice from several African countries—was just one layer in a joyous celebration of African identity. When taking the stage to address the crowd at the end of the day, Osekre thanked attendees for giving him a second chance, promised to continue improving the event in years to come and smiled—the tired, relieved smile that comes with taking on the burden of representation and succeeding, even if just for one day in Brooklyn.

© Music: “Mama Told Me” by Osekre and the Lucky Bastards.

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