Chicago born - Ghanaian rapper, Vic Mensa and American artist, Chance the Rapper made history in Accra, Ghana, earlier this month on Jan. 6. as they united the country and the diaspora by hosting the inaugural Black Star Line Festival. The free open-air concert was the culmination of a week-long celebration where more than 52,000 people from all over the world descended upon Independence Square to honor the power of music and culture.
From the electrifying pulses of Afrobeats and hip-hop to the smooth rhythms of reggae and R&B, the concert showcased some of the very best artists representing these genre including Erykah Badu, Sakodie, T Pain, Jeremih, King Promise, Stonebwoy, Tobe Nwigwe, Asakaa Boys, David Michael Wyatt, M.anifest and many others.
The festival's name was inspired by Marcus Garvey's iconic shipping company, Black Star Line. Established in 1919, the Black Star Line was intended to increase shipping, tourism and cultural exchange between Black people in the Americas, Caribbean, and Africa. It became a symbol of pride for Black people around the world.
Mensa, the driving force behind the Black Star Line Festival, says there has always been a special connection for him between the African and Black American experiences. It was enough to inspire his desire to create a bridge between African artists and those of the diaspora in order to strengthen their collective power.
“Black artists of the globe are not performing in Africa,” Mensa told BET.com while in Ghana. “People do world tours and they skip the biggest continent in the world, and it's not because the people don't want to hear the music. There are a lot of reasons – infrastructure isn't always there, and there's so much misinformation and false propaganda out there about Africa. I had a dream that we could bring the Black artists to share a stage with artists of Africa and perform for the people of Ghana, with the hope that we can build the collaboration that changes the world.”
Planning the free festival at Independence Square took a lot of work, but according to Mensa, it all became possible once Chance the Rapper got involved. “Chance has lots of experience producing festivals and large scale concerts, so I knew with his help, we would be able to achieve something momentous,” he explains.
Chance says he fell in love with Ghana when he visited for the first time in January, 2022. “The moment I stepped into Ghana for the first time, I felt truly welcome. A lot of my new best friends are Ghanaian or from around the world but living in Ghana,” says the three-time Grammy winning musician. “Ghana is not just a gateway in terms of physical movement for people that become expats, but also culturally people are finding Ghana to be the media hub, whether it’s companies that want to move here, activations or concerts.”
Chance and Mensa have a common goal to connect Black people globally, and both felt that Ghana was the perfect place to start. “Creating safe, engaging spaces for Black people to access, to be protected, and to have enjoyment, is a part of the ethos of my life right now and that's all Black people, regardless of religion, gender, or language. My main goal is to create a community,” noted Chance.
“Naturally, Black Star Square, being a political space, where Ghana became the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain independence and change their name, felt like the perfect spot for the festival. In this space, it feels like a part of a new constitution.”
Although Chance funded the concert, he says the biggest lift would have been paying the artists their actual worth. “All of the artists came out here and played the show for free,” explains the rapper. “The fact that they are committed to creating that community with me is why I say they chose me. These are the biggest artists from all over the world!”
All the acts expressed how truly humbled they were to be part of this dynamic movement. Four-time Grammy award winning artist, Erykah Badu, expressed what it felt like to perform in Africa. “Being in Ghana feels like home. It felt good [to perform] my central nervous system was very relaxed. I felt like me and the audience became one living, breathing organism. I’m in love with Ghana. I felt like a Black star participating in the concert.”
Her sentiments were echoed by the other performers, who expressed their immense joy in being part of a movement that fully embraced their African heritage.
Sarkodie, a well-known Ghanaian rap artist and song writer, explained his enthusiasm to perform live at the festival, saying, "I was on board without hesitation. The purpose of this festival is to bridge the gap between people living in Ghana and those in the diaspora, and I'm proud to be from Ghana. Events like this bring people back home while simultaneously highlighting the social issues that need attention in our country. We are having a great time, but we are also amplifying what we are dealing with and what can be improved."
Stonebwoy electrified the audience with his Afropop/dancehall reggae tracks on stage with Mensa and the crowd went wild. “It’s a blessing to be a part of this. I have to be here representing,” said Stonebwoy. “These concerts are like revivals or retreats. They are mental cleanses. When you get on these platforms, you have to be able to identify with the purpose. I have tons of songs that speak to this purpose, so it gives me a lot of joy to know that we are having concerts that are replicating the songs. My platform (Bhim) also intentionally makes sure that there's a crossover between the African and the Caribbean communities by virtue of reggae, dancehall, highlife and hiplife. It’s in the same vein that all of this is happening so it gives me a lot of joy.”
The festival was nothing short of a success. While the concert was the icing on the cake, there were other events leading up throughout the week including art exhibits, discussions about culture and music, and nightlife events to attract like-minded individuals in support of sharing Black diasporic culture. But it was the crowd at the concert who radiated the most energy. Locals remarked that it felt almost magical to witness some of their favorite artists take the stage.
“It was amazing to see ourselves be great in our own space in a show that was produced by Ghanaians with Ghanaian equipment, and to see what the best concert of all time looks like,” said Chance. “I'm looking forward to all the relationships that are going to be created out of this, a lot of people that have never met from different neighborhoods and different parts of the world will find community and networking opportunities.”
“I hope that collaboration comes out of this concert,” said Mensa. “I hope that minds are sparked to think about the possibilities when we combine Black people across oceans.”
Omenaa Boakye is a fashion, beauty, and pop-culture writer based in New York City with ties to London and Ghana.