AFRICAN FOOD FESTIVAL: A UNIQUE HIGHLIGHT ON DUBAI'S CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Evolution and Adaption:
What’s new this year?
Few places inspire leisure and lifestyle experiences like the Middle East’s tourism hub - the United Arab Emirates. A nation that boasts two metropolitan meccas, the destination of distinction Abu Dhabi and glamourous larger than life Dubai, each offering everything from record-breaking skyscrapers, iconic cultural and historical landmarks as well as theme parks, expensive yachts that dot marinas about town, pristine beaches with views of the Persian Gulf - a dream for residents and visitors alike in love with the idea of enjoying year-round sun and sand, award-winning restaurants and retail centers, a vibrant calendar of exhibitions and entertainment events and so much more, everything on offer in the UAE is something for the books!
The UAE is also home to more than 200 nationalities that relocated to this desert oasis for a better quality of life, with the African community actively contributing towards the growth in yearly expat arrivals.
Communities are tied together by their distinctive cultures and experiences while living in the UAE, and so it is no wonder that opportunities for celebrating African heritage through music, fashion and food are also growing in their numbers.
The African Food Festival (AFF) UAE was born out of the passion of its co-founders, Timothy and Nina Olatoke of which are a part of the group of visionaries for this event. They desired to tell the African story, not just to non-Africans living in the UAE but to Africans who call the UAE their home as well. They believed that there were are a lot of misconceptions about the African culture, but also the African experience, and so wanted to create an opportunity for Africans and expats from the rest of the world to enjoy a taste of what vibrance and creative excellence the continent has to offer.
The African Food Festival unpacked
While the name of the event centers around food, it is so much more than that. The event has since its inception in 2018, grown to be symbolic of an African story and a cultural experience, with presentations of various cuisines, arts, craft, fashion, music, entertainment, and games. What makes it unique from any other event; other than the fact that it is a free event, is that the African missions also participate, contributing towards a heightened opportunity to share more information about the beautiful continent of Africa to UAE resident expats.
The event has garnered significant success, last year celebrating the tremendous milestone of over 7,000 participants in attendance, with over 30 vendors and 15 sponsors/partners, of which the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and the Dubai Municipality were a part.
When asked to shed more light on the event, AFF’s Co-Founder Nina Olatoke cites, “The event is centered around food because food is a unifier and we wanted to attract not just Africans but also, expats of other non-African cultures and backgrounds to come out and explore the diverse sounds, tastes, smells and rhythm of Africa as a continent.”
“AFF has been a labour of love for us, and this shows even in our marketing collateral. We introduced the AFF passport, which turned out to be a hit! It was a free collateral that really told the story of what we want to achieve for AFF, which is an Africa United. It is not the easiest narrative, as Africa is a continent with 54 countries, the second largest and most populous after Asia, with well over 3500 known dialects and a cultural uniqueness by regions within countries. All of these attributes alone make Africa the most diverse continent in the world. Add the layer of Africans in the diaspora and African descent experiences, and you have an amazing collage of uniqueness,” Nina adds.
The team worked at bringing this same narrative into the passport and believe that bringing the passport back each year will be a cornerstone initiative. Internal discussions are in place to even have a 'diplomatic' edition where people can personalize their passport and experience. Only time will tell how the event morphs creatively.
What’s on the horizon for African Food Festival?
“From the inception of the event, we knew that this was long term venture hence last year, we created a 5-year road map for AFF. 2018 was 'Taste of Africa', 2019 was 'My Africa', 2020 is 'Colors of Africa', 2021 will be 'Spirit of Africa', and 2022 will be 'Africa un-masked,” shares Nina.
But as we all know, COVID-19 happened and so for an event that is usually live and interactive in format and held in Creek Park, complete with a stage, music and fun entertainment for adult and kids; the Founders of AFF have had to revisit their strategy to meet health and safety requirements for all. The decision has been made to forge ahead, with the view that while the world and Africa as a whole are reeling from the impact of this global pandemic, experiencing varied challenges across all sectors and landscapes, for the Founders, the 'Spirit of Africa' must shine through it all. There is almost a unifying mantra of 'as long as the sun rises tomorrow, life goes on, and we will smile'.
With COVID-19 in mind, it will not be an outdoor event this year, but likely multiple events hosted mainly in African Restaurants that sign up. These events will be broadcasted live on social media, creating that mix of a vibrant culture, complete with music and interaction with online viewers. While the experience will be different this year, having to adapt to the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to all organisers in the event space, the goal is to still curate an exciting and informative experience for all virtual attendees, who will get a peek inside the vibrant cultures from the Motherland, with food at the center of each activation.
To read up on previous editions of the African Food Festival, visit https://africanfoodfestival.me/