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    Friday, June 2, 2023

    Burna Boy, Asake, Wizkid, Others Light Up Afro Nation Miami’s Inaugural Festival

    Afro Nation took over Memorial Day weekend in Miami with an explosive lineup of the top Afrobeats and amapiano acts. Dubbed the "world's biggest Afrobeats festival," fans from all over the world descended on LoanDepot Park to witness magnetic performances from artists and DJs across the diaspora.

    A global festival that's taken place across the world in Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Ghana, Afro Nation's inaugural U.S. festival in Miami split artists across two stages, the Piano People Stage and Main Stage, spotlighting rising amapiano acts like Aya, Skyla Tylaa, Focalistic, Uncle Waffles, Kelvin Momo, DBN Gogo, and Major League DJz. The South African genre recently gained popularity during the 2020 lockdown and has since paralleled the rise of Afrobeats with hits like Asake and Olamide's "Amapiano" and Uncle Waffle's "Tanzania."

    Afro Nation also recruited dancehall artists Mavado and Shenseea (a last-minute replacement for Beenie Man's slot), Panamanian singer Sech, and French singer Dadju to diversify the global lineup. Burna Boy and Wizkid closed out the festival on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, performing their hits that have taken the world by storm.

    Day one kicked off with a vibrant performance from newcomer Cuhdeejah on the Audiomack Amapiano stage. Backed by a troupe of dancers, the Sierra Leonean-American singer unleashed her latest collaboration with none other than Snoop Dogg, “Bad Mama Jama.” Acknowledging that many in the crowd were discovering her music for the first time, Cuhdeejah told Variety after her performance, “It made me feel profoundly blessed — to have the power to captivate and move people with my words is an extraordinary gift.”

    Nissi Ogulu opened the main stage with an angelic presence. The multi-talented mechanical engineer, artist, and singer is creating her own lane with her silky blend of European and African sounds. She rocked out on the keytar during her set, and her "Afro-rooted, contemporarily driven, and globally positioned" songs prove she's way more than Burna Boy's sister. Last October, she took over the Tipsy Music Festival stage, where her brother also headlined, with a groovy performance that set the vibe for the rest of the night. She says her favorite part about hitting the stage in Miami is "the energy. Everyone's so free here." Her boundless performance at Afro Nation permeated the atmosphere with the type of liberation that makes you dance all night

    Later in the day, 21-year-old Ghanaian highlife singer Black Sherif lit up the main stage with songs like his debut single, “First Sermon,” the sequel, “Second Sermon,” and an array of fan favorites like “Kwaku the Traveller.” After the set, Black Sherif marveled, “Moments like this feel unreal, because a few short years ago only my household knew I could sing, and now I’m overseas and people are singing my lyrics back to me. I feel very proud to be choosing to be a part of the generation that’s changing the trajectory of the culture.” 

    As day one continued, Asake performed a set packed with jazzy versions of his songs and multiple singalongs. He also teased his new album “Work of Art” (out June 16), and features Olamide on the track “Amapiano.” Back at the Audiomack Amapiano stage, South African DJ Uncle Waffles brought out a massive crowd with her Boiler Room-esque set, which saw her leaving the DJ booth several times to perform intricate choreography with her legion of dancers.

    Miami-based amapiano DJ Aya's fusion of amapiano, hip-hop, dancehall, and R&B has taken over parties like the Shrine and his monthly fete, Stamped. He graced the Afro Nation stage for the first time and coalesced the energy at the Piano People Stage like alchemy. He undergirded a blend of R&B with amapiano grooves, giving songs from Beyoncé and Amerie a new texture. He magnified the crowd's energy for two hours with electric South African house music. His energetic set converted newbies to the genre into fans as people waved their respective flags and danced together. Accompanied by choreographed dancers, he heightened the weekend's energy and set the tone for the rest of the amapiano DJs slated to perform. "South Africans have been doing it for a while when it comes to electronic music," Aya says. "There's a separation between West African Afrobeats, and then there's the South African Afro-tech, Afro-house, amapiano scene, so having a space for one and a space for the other was great."

    CKay, the Nigerian singer-songwriter recently scored the biggest record coming out of Nigerian with his viral hit "Love Nwantiti (Ah Ah Ah)." His fiery performance included his infectious single "Hallelujah," featuring Blaqbonez, and he set the crowd ablaze with his live rendition of "Love Nwantiti." He was synergetic with friends as he danced and sang across the stage throughout his 30-minute set. As he continues dominating the world stage, his unique African-pop hits are expanding the infused sounds coming from West Africa.

    Uncle Waffles, Dubbed the "princess of amapiano," the South African-based DJ and producer is taking over with her electronic blends and electrifying dances. She began her foray into DJing in 2020, and since then, she's taken over the charts in South Africa with hits like "Tanzania." Donning bright green hair and flanked by dancers, she lit up the night with a fusion of South African house and amapiano. A massive crowd hugged the stage to watch her dance and cultivate a palpable blend. As the glaring sun faded into the night, she evoked magnetic energy and left dancing fans chanting, "Waffles, we want to party!"

    Mavado, AKA the Gully God, stomped onto the main stage to perform a slew of hits, including "Wah Dem a Do" and "Hope and Pray." The longtime dancehall vet blazed through his set with some of his biggest songs, igniting a wave of Caribbean flags around the stadium. Fans chanted his lyrics as he bounced and jumped across the stage, exemplifying the global impact of the Jamaican deejay's music.

    Burna Boy brought day one to an explosive close, delivering a high-octane set filled with bangers and hits like “Ye,” “On the Low,” and “Last Last.” The set, which was a condensed version of his “Love, Damini” tour, included a display of camaraderie as he welcomed Black Sherif back to the MainStage for a performance of their remix of “Second Sermon.” The synergy between the two artists was palpable, evoking an “older brother/younger brother” moment.

    Kelvin Momo set the energy for Afro Nation's second day with a blend of South African house, amapiano, jazz, gospel, and R&B, known as "private school amapiano." A throng danced and flocked to the Piano People Stage as he transitioned from South African house to gospel to R&B with a sleek tempo. He finessed through a soulful performance that showcased his skills as a studied DJ and fully encompassed Sunday's cathartic atmosphere.

    Shenseea's pop-tinged dancehall has catapulted her into the spotlight over the last few years. She was recruited last minute to replace Beenie Man's slot, and she took the baton with captivating choreography and a set brimming with her most popular songs, including "Blessed," "Lick," "The Sidechick Song," "Curious," "Rebel," and "Shen Yeng Anthem." Shenseea donned red from head to toe, and the stage was flanked by a thick crowd of fans as she snaked and wined throughout her set with dancers. She held the attention with unapologetic sex appeal and championed women's pleasure and autonomy with straightforward lyrics about foreplay. She meshed dancehall's cultural roots with her unique style, tracing the line from iconic acts like Beenie Man to her contemporary dancehall-pop fusion.

    Rising Nigerian star Rema appeared on the Afro Nation's Main Stage, surrounded by a pyrotechnic flash of colors. He condensed an hours-long concert into an eclectic set consisting of his band and a giant dancing bear. Dubbing his music "Afrorave," his set was brimming with an unparalleled fusion of electronic, Afrobeats, and pop. He performed his Selena Gomez-assisted hit "Calm Down," which recently set the record for an Africa-based artist on the Billboard Hot 100. But his 2021 dance-inducing earworm "Soundgasm" set the crowd ablaze. Rema's performance was nothing short of spectacular.

    South Africa-based twin DJs Banele and Bandile Mbere have established themselves as one of the most popular amapiano duos, performing under the name Major League DJs. They recently teamed up with Major Lazer, made up of South Florida natives Walshy Fire and Diplo, for their latest album, Piano Republik. The pair injected the night with a cornucopia of South African house music and amapiano. A tightly packed crowd raised their cups and flags to the electric set, featuring surprise guest Kali who performed her viral smash "Area Codes."

    Day two kept the energy level high with strong sets from Shenseea, Rema, Fireboy DML, and Major League DJz. Rema, who is currently achieving global success with his single, “Calm Down” (featuring Selena Gomez, currently No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100) closed out his set with the track, with fans loudly singing along with every line.

    Finally, the "Starboy" of Afrobeats, Wizkid, sparkled on the Main Stage as he closed out Afro Nation. The day-two headliner emerged onto the stage with blue glitter pants, a Givenchy chain belt, red shades, and a white tank top. The barrier-breaking artist was a rockstar as he smoothly transitioned from his dancehall-tinged songs like "Come Closer" and "Ginger" featuring Burna Boy. With over a decade in the game, Wizkid breezed through back-to-back bangers for an hour. The biggest Afrobeats star closing out the biggest Afrobeats festival was a momentous experience that one just had to be there to witness.

    Later this year, Afro Nation will move to its next destination, Detroit, on August 19-20, before embarking on a triumphant return to Ghana in December.

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    Item Reviewed: Burna Boy, Asake, Wizkid, Others Light Up Afro Nation Miami’s Inaugural Festival Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BrandIconImage
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