Editor's Corner
Reflections
by Jonathan Gramling      
Africa Fest Memories
Jonathan Gramling
Terrace with booths and performances. There was a parade outside that went around the Capitol Square while the Farmers Market was still
going on. I was amazed and wowed by the splendor, color and pageantry. I must admit that this was my first real exposure to Africa, its
cultures and its contributions to world civilizations.

I, of course, covered Africa Fest every year after that.

And then, around 2004, the African Association of Madison underwent a reorganization and Africa Fest didn’t happen that summer. And
Aggo, once again, got me involved. There was a group of us who basically came up with a new association constitution and articles of
incorporation. While I didn’t get voted onto the board of directors the first go around, a vacancy occurred after a few months and the board
voted me on. I had the pleasure of serving for seven years on that board with the likes of Bill Bosu, Aggo Akyea, Ann Marie Dawson, Ray
Kumapayi, Godwin Amegashie, Joe Brewoo and Samba Baldeh who was just elected yesterday to the Wisconsin 48th Assembly District seat.

And then we started Africa Fest up once again as an outdoor celebration in Warner Park. We had a heavy downpour that year that caused us
to take a bath on beer sales. And half of the entertainment area was flooded. But the community made the most of it. I remember Emilie
Songolo saying that this Africa Fest — unlike having it in a large room — reminded her of the festivals she attended in her native Cameroon.

We were sold on the outdoor experience and held Africa Fest at Warner Park every year until we moved it to Central Park — now McPike
Park — in 2014 where AMM could collaborate with Bob McQueen and Central Park Sessions. The move opened the festival up to become
grander with big entertainment names from Africa taking the center stage and room to accommodate more vendors and exhibits.

And all through the years, since 2005, I have been proud to serve on the Africa Fest planning committee that has been led by Ray Kumapayi,
happy to do whatever the committee needed me to do.

I don’t think I’ve missed a single Africa Fest since the beginning. Even when I was departing Madison in 1999 on the day of Africa Fest for a
wilderness backpacking trip to Montana with family, I left from Monona Terrace so I could at least take photos for a while.

Africa Fest is always so special. People come dressed in their African best. African Americans would also come dressed in African dress,
renewing their connections to Mother Africa. It was a feast for my camera’s eye.

After a while, Africa Fest almost became a kind of elaborate family reunion where Africa Fest was the only place where you would see some
people and people from years gone by.
The African Women’s Association tent was always so beautiful and very educational, in a very subtle way showing people the differences in
regional cultures on the continent of Africa. And who could ever forget their fashion show.

For many years, Richard Yarl was the “paid staff” to the committee. And I think it was at The Hues Five-Year Celebration held on Martin
Luther King Jr. Blvd. in 2011 that Richard watched the Parade of Nations put on by Fabiola Hamdan and other members of the Latino
Children & Families Council. Members of the Latino community paraded around the grounds waving Latin American flags.

Richard grabbed hold of the idea and a year or two later, Africa Fest’s Parade of Nations was born and Africans and friends of Africa parade
around McPike Park waving the 54 flags of the countries that make up the African continent. That is always a sight to see.

Due to COVID-19. Africa Fest will not be held this year. But we asked Mandjou Mara, master drummer and singer from Guinea, West Africa
to pose at McPike Park for this issue’s cover. Mara heads two Madison groups which are Africa Fest regulars. Limanya Drum & Dance
Ensemble performs traditional drumming and dancing from Guinea while Kikeh Mato Afro-Pop performs Guinean-style pop music. Mara is
offering online Guinean drum classes during the pandemic. Co-leader of Limanya, Maya Kadakia, is offering online Guinean dance classes.
Contact them at mandjoujembefolas@yahoo.fr.

So this year, we celebrate Africa Fest in our hearts and minds. But next year, if a vaccine is found, we shall come back stronger than ever to
celebrate Africa’s contributions to our lives and the world.

Africa Fest lives on!
When I hired Dzigbodi Akyea and Margaret Wamugi to positions at the Madison Urban League in the late
1980s-early 1990s, little did I know that was the beginning of a strong 30-year connection to Madison’s
African American community. It was Dzigbodi’s first job after she moved her from her native Ghana. And her
husband Aggo was a mover and shaker in the African community.

Long after I left the Urban League in 1994, we somehow kept in touch. When Aggo and others started
planning the first Africa Fest, I believe in 1998, Aggo talked to me about the proposal that they would be
sending to funding sources and I gave him some feedback.

Of course, the first Africa Fest at Monona Terrace was a smashing success. It filled the main room of Monona