Africa’s leading arts and book event, Aké Festival, returns from Thursday, 22 to Sunday 25 October 2020. It features a free programme of 65 inspiring talks, workshops, panel discussions and performances from some of the most exciting voices across Africa and the African diaspora.

Aké Festival 2020 goes digital this year. This online edition of the festival will be free to access by audiences all over the world, creating an important platform for the intellectually and culturally curious to take part in this celebration of black excellence, resilience and resistance.

Aké Festival is world’s largest collection of African creative voices on African soil and hosts some of the most sought-after, innovative voices in black thought.

The Aké Festival theme for 2020 is ‘African Time’, in recognition of the global anti-racism movement that has gathered momentum in recent months. Audiences across the world are invited to join luminaries from contemporary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, film, theatre, music and visual arts in discussions about some of the most critical issues of our time, including race, gender, identity, equality and empathy.

Hear Mona Eltahawy at Ake Festival 2020, the world's biggest event for creative voices from Africa and the African diaspora
Hear Mona Eltahawy at Ake Festival 2020, the world’s biggest event for creative voices from Africa and the African diaspora

Aké Festival programme

Attendees can participate in 27 stimulating panel discussions, 20 author talks, storytelling sessions, 3 workshops, a concert, poetry performances, films and a stage play. Topics under discussion will range from intersectional feminism, blacktivism and colourism to the burgeoning post-COVID mental health crisis and decolonisation of black spaces. Panel discussion highlights include: Black Women Harnessing Anger for Social Change; Publishing While Black; Decolonising Feminism in Africa; Writing Queer, Writing Black; and Why African Needs Feminist Giants.

On the morning of 25 October, a cross-religion communion will be held with leaders and practitioners from multiple religions. Together they will ask universal questions like ‘why are we here?’ from their own religious perspectives.

130 authors, artists, creatives

American Tayari Jones, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and New York Times best-selling author speaks about her new novel Silver Sparrow; Booker Prize-winning Jamaican author Marlon James joins award-wining Nigerian-American science-fiction and fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor in a panel discussion titled When African History Meets Futurism.

Two-time Giller Prize-winning Canadian author Esi Edugyan will speak about her acclaimed work Washington Black; and winner of African Literary Person of the Year 2016, Zimbabwean novelist Petina Gappah will speak about her novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light.

Tochi Onyebuchi, American author of the urgent – and somewhat prescient – dystopian novel Riot Baby; Nigerian-born Abi Daré, talks about her latest book Girl with the Louding Voice, awarded Amazon Best Book of the Year So Far in 2020 and New York Times best-seller.

British-South African Sara-Jayne Makwala-King, whose debut memoir Killing Karonline reflects on how her biracial identity was shaped by racism, colourism and Apartheid, will explore ‘Africa’s Isms: Colourism and Tribalism’.

Ugandan feminist and gay rights activist Stella Nyanzi, who was released from prison earlier this year after insulting the Ugandan President and remains a fierce and uncowed advocate for change will discuss Why Africa Needs Feminist Giants with intersectional feminist Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American author of Headscarves and Hymens (2015) and The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019).

British writer and filmmaker Afua Hirsch, who joins Irish-Nigerian author Emma Dabiri (Don’t Touch My Hair) and British actor Kelechi Okafor in a panel discussion titled ‘Black Women Harnessing Anger for Social Change’.

Best-selling Canadian author Desmond Cole leads a panel discussion on ‘Blacktivism Around The World’; Jamaican Nicole Dennis-Benn, best-selling author of Here Comes The Sun and Patsy, who will explore the topic ‘Writing Queer, Writing Black’;

Ugandan-American founding member of the African Feminist Forum Jessica Horn, chairs the discussion Decolonising Feminism in Africa.

British author Derek Owusu talks about That Reminds Me, which won the Desmond Elliot Prize for debut fiction; Cambridge University alumnus Okechukwu Nzelu will discuss his debut book The Private Joys of Nnena Maloney; and Founder and CEO of LifeBank, Africa’s healthcare supply chain, Nigerian-American Temie Giwa-Tuboson – who is celebrated for her innovative use of drones and speedboats to deliver urgently needed blood supplies – will draw on her decades of experience with the Department For International Development (DFID), WHO, UNDP, and Lagos State Government to answer the question: How Efficiently Can Technology Solve Africa’s Problems?

Afua Hirsch 2020 Aké Festival programme
Afua Hirsch

Film, music, visual arts

A new art project, titled WS 20 for 20, will see Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate Wole Soyinka present 20 works from his collection of African antiquities. The contemporary art exhibition curated by Jessica Byenyan Bitrus, will adopt ‘African Time’ as its theme and feature artists from all over the world.

On 22 October, Elders Corner will be screened. Part of Sheffield Doc Fest 2020’s Official Selection, the film traces how Nigerian music – from the colourful, celebratory sounds of Juju music to the politicised urgency of Afrobeat – has spearheaded some of Africa’s most prominent musical movements and asks what has happened to these pioneers since their heydays?

On 23 October, a concert features Blackman Akeeb Karee, Malian BAFTA and Academy Award nominee Fatoumata Daiware, Falana, Beautiful Nubia, Urban Village, Maia and the Big Sky, Bab L’ Bluz, Akua Naru,  Joyce Olong and Christine Obiamalu.

The acclaimed theatrical work Venus vs. Modernity has its digital premiere on 24 October. Produced by poet, artist, and activist Lebogang Mashile, the play explores the life of Sara Baartman, aka the Hottentot Venus.

Sunday 25 October will be a celebration of poetry in all its forms, featuring the likes of the award-winning slam poet and Bristol City Poet 2018-2020 Vanessa Kisuule, in addition to Afurakan, Vangi Gantsho, Ola Elhassan, Yomi Sode, D’bi Anitafrika, Titilope Sonuga, Paul Ward, Jabir Malik, Poetra Asantewa and Ndukwe Onuoha.

What: Aké Festival 2020