​Festival brings African unity to Oakland

The annual pan- African festival is sparking soon again. Kalangu met organiser Effie Tesfahun to talk about her vision with the festival.

"I’d love for all of us Africans to connect, all over the world. We are the primary example of how it is to be globally spread out and still love each other," says Effie Tesfahun.

The sun is burning and Lowell Park, situated in one of Oakland’s marginalized communities, is full of visitors. Most of them are Black or African-Americans. The scent of African food travels all over the park. From crunchy Egyptian falafels to juicy Ghanaian jollof rice. The heat, the food and the musicians playing all reminds of Africa. For project director and founder Effie Tesfahun, the annual African music festival Umoja is a big achievement. The festival was founded in 2013 and Effie Tesfahun thinks that it is important that diasporas Africans get together despite of their diversities.

"Sometimes, the only connection you have to a place is just that you were born there. But you don’t necessarily have to have been there all your life." Effie Tesfahun is Ethiopian by birth but grew up in Kenya. She has lived in Oakland the past 18 years and works a lot to create better communication between various African groups. California has the highest percentage of African foreign born immigrants in the U.S, many of which are residents in Oakland.

"I love Oakland but I know I’m also African. All of it fits, it doesn’t have to exclude each other. They can all be one at the same. I am here, I am me and my spirit is very much African. I love it."

"The problem with us Africans is that we only come together when there’s a struggle. I want us to come together when there’s a good thing. We understand struggle but we are very resilient people. We need to celebrate more even if we’re speaking the truth of what’s happening to us. But that’s why a festival like this is great. We can open each others’ eyes and minds. That’s the direction I wish for more and more."

Umoja means unity in Swahili and Effie Tesfahun hopes that visitors see the festival as a family reunion.

"Like when you go to a family reunion, whether it being Nigerian, Ethiopian or whatever. It’s going to be kind of the same, if you know what I mean. It’s different food and languages but the feeling is the same! That’s why even we diasporas have so much in common. That’s what we should focus on, unity. Let’s focus on those things that bring us together because we have strength and good spirit. That’s the ultimate life. To be alive and free as brothers and sisters. That’s how we are when we celebrate."

She also believes that the festival also is a great opportunity for African-Americans to discover more of their African heritage.

"I want to connect Africans and African- Americans. I would then want to do it the other way around also. Bring this festival to Africa, imagine! But for now we are blessed of being here, I couldn’t even imagine this. I keep saying that everything happens for a divine order."


The next Umoja festival takes place in Oakland, California the 15th August 2015.

More info at http://theumojafestival.com/buddypress/

Text by...

Sumbu Temo

27 years old journalist student and dreamer from Stockholm