Though Cameroonian ex-pat Kamajou Tadfor has called Santa Fe home since 1999, it wasn’t until 2010 that his nonprofit organization Afreeka Santa Fe kicked off their annual Fiesta Fela event. According to Tadfor, the festival, inspired by legendary African musician and activist Fela Kuti, is meant to preserve and exchange traditional and contemporary African arts and culture with a larger global market. Santa Fe, he says, is perfect for this.
"It's a very spiritual place; it's natural and spiritual and it reminds me of my home village, but Fiesta Fela is not about any one specific country in Africa," Tadfor tells SFR. "When the lines [of countries] were drawn on the map, nobody cared about who was where, and you'll have the same clan in two or three different countries, so we don't want to give emphasis to artificial borders—we can agree it's a very diverse place. Fela, for example, always just said that he was African."
In its six years, Fiesta Fela has grown from relatively meager beginnings into one of the larger annual events in town with live bands, dancing, arts and crafts demos plus food trucks, vendors and more. "More than anything, I'm happy to start something from seed and see it grow," Tadfor says. "It might sound a bit pompous, but when I came to Santa Fe there were no black people. And if you think there are no black people today, let me tell you, there were just none [in 1999]. I felt isolated when I came here." Tadfor says the black population grew after Hurricane Katrina and that the time leading up to his inaugural version of the festival was about recognizing the African community. "We wanted Fiesta Fela to be the face of the African world in Santa Fe, and in a big art community that African presence is important," he says. "The more permanent something like this can be, the more it signals our existence in town."
For the upcoming iteration of the Fiesta Fela (which just so happens to fall on what would have been Fela Kuti's 76th birthday), music from across the continent takes center stage. Santa Fe University of Art & Design's African Drum Ensemble performs alongside Jordan Solis and the Trybe, the Swank Brothers, Agalu, Bells and Shakers and many more. Tadfor says they'll also host poetry as well as everyday people who grace the stage with dance and music so as to provide the most well-rounded overview of African cultures possible. The Jambo Café food truck will be there, too, with all of the authentic African cuisine that entails.
"It's not condemning anybody, but the knowledge of Africa here is very limited. So if we can educate people, if we can do a show here that's multi-ethnic and multi-cultural … this is what I wanted," Tadfor continues. "I consider Fiesta Fela successful because we're bringing people together and we're exchanging cultures. I'm talking about the human success—we're not financially successful by any meaning of the word—but with the mission we started with, I think it's successful."
Afreeka Santa Fe currently operates under the fiscal umbrella of teen arts center Warehouse 21, but Tadfor to achieve 501(c)(3) status this year and says he'll continue to plan and execute Fiesta Fela for as long as he can. "We started so small, but we've reached a place with support from the community where we can begin applying for grants," he says. "I'm looking forward to even bigger things."
Fiesta Fela 2016
10 am-6 pm Saturday Oct. 15. Free.
Railyard Park, Cerrillos Road and Guadalupe Street