Taiwo Adeleye said one thing people in Lansing get wrong about African culture is that the food isn’t always spicy. I laughed, but he was completely serious.
“When I see people at the farmers market, they always say, ‘Oh, no, it will be too spicy,’ and they don’t want to try it. But African food is not always spicy.”
He encourages everyone to come out and try the free food samples at this year’s Capital Afrofest, running 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 2) in the 200 block of South Washington Square. The tasting starts at noon and lasts until the food runs out. Michigan Avenue staple Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine will be handing out free samples, as will Adeleye’s restaurant, Tatse, and a newcomer to the small-but-mighty African food scene, Thwria’s Kitchen, will offer Sudanese fare.
Locals are likely already familiar with Tatse, which opened in downtown Lansing in early 2022 after starting out in the Rathbun Accelerator Kitchen at the Allen Neighborhood Center. Adeleye is originally from Nigeria, and he first lived in New York and Indiana before moving to Lansing four years ago.
As Afrofest goes into its second year, he said his goal is to improve diversity and inclusion in Lansing.
“The goal of the festival is to provide a connection between Africans and the community; to represent Africa through culture, food, fashion and music; and to celebrate the culture together,” he said.
According to a 2022 report by the Michigan League for Public Policy, there are about 36,000 African immigrants in Michigan, approximately 5% of the total immigrant population. Much higher concentrations of immigrants have come to Michigan from Asia (51%), Europe (19%) and Latin America (18%).
When I asked Adeleye about spaces for the African community to gather in Lansing, he gestured to his restaurant and said, “This is it.”
After founding Tatse, he became inspired to share his culture with Greater Lansing.
“We need to take what we have out into the community, that’s why we started the African festival,” he said.
The all-day festival kicks off with live music and African food tastings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will also be cultural dance performances, booths from African- and Black-owned businesses and African board games for children to try.
Rihab Musa, who helped organize this year’s festival, said the emphasis is on unity.
“Us Africans, we come as immigrants to America, or some are born here, but we adapt to American culture and take it on,” she said. “We’re making this festival inviting so that Americans can learn about African culture. We want it to be something that anybody can attend and feel at home.”
Musa’s apparel and jewelry business, Nubian, will open this fall on South Washington Square, and she’s premiering some of her designs at the AfroBall, a ticketed event beginning 5 p.m. Saturday at Grewal Hall at 224. The event will also offer music, poetry and comedy performances.
Musa said her creativity originally began with jewelry making after she graduated with a master’s degree in counseling psychology.
“It started off as a way to just release my anxiety, and then people started to notice the jewelry and gave me compliments. When my sister invited me to one of her gala nights at her university, I just saw how much people loved it, and that’s why I started doing more.”
Musa’s main goal for her business is to showcase the joy and happiness of African fashion.
“The colors bring out joy,” she said. “That’s my biggest thing, feeling joyful — and feeling royal.”
Also new to the festival this year is the Mister Africa International USA pageant, another element of the AfroBall. This international event started in the United Kingdom in 2012 and has been held in multiple African countries, with the winner receiving cash prizes and other gifts of up to $2,000. But this is the first time the pageant has ever been held in the United States. Adeleye says he spoke with the organizers overseas and they agreed that a pageant should be hosted in Lansing.
Seven men of various ethnic backgrounds will participate in the competition, which is a celebration of the contributions that Black African men make within the community. Adeleye said the pageant is about acknowledging African men, and it’s also open to African American men.
“It’s providing a platform for the African male in Lansing to celebrate social impact, health, wellness and how they stand out,” he said. “It’s not all about the grand prize — it’s about appreciating the men in our community.”
An African Excellence Award will also be presented at the AfroBall to honor Grand Rapids community leader Fridah Kanini. Born and raised in Kenya, Kanini has lived in the United States since 2004 and founded the West Michigan Kenyans group in 2013. She’s the founder and CEO of A Glimpse of Africa, a nonprofit that works to ensure African immigrants and refugees are visible through advocacy and breaking down barriers to belonging. The organization also hosts an annual festival in West Michigan.
Following the events at Grewal Hall, the festival will continue with an afterparty at Adeleye’s Alobosa Bar from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., featuring African music and dancing.
Adeleye says he’s happy that Afrofest continues to grow into a bigger festival each year, in part due to support from the city and other sponsors.
“We’re just grateful that we have all these new partners noticing what we’re doing — what we’re bringing — not just to downtown Lansing, but to all of Lansing,” he said. “This is our goal, to reach Lansing with African culture.”
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