The United States is buzzing with a vibrant mass of music festivals that keep tourists and locals on their toes throughout the year. So, if you are scouring the United States in hopes of uncovering the best black festivals, this is the list for you.
1. ESSENCE FESTIVAL
The ESSENCE Festival is an annual festival where people gather for three days of music, entertainment, empowerment and culture in New Orleans, LA. It celebrates many different aspects of the Black community. The ESSENCE Festival started in the 90s and has featured some of the biggest names in entertainment and some of the nation’s most influential speakers, authors and leaders, including Beyoncé, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Barack Obama, Rev. Al Sharpton, Deepak Chopra, Steve Harvey, Ava DuVernay, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Magic Johnson, and many more.
CURLFEST is an annual natural beauty festival that was created by a group of women who collectively form the Curly Girl Collective! Their mission is to create innovative experiences that harness the energy of the natural hair movement and showcase the best brands for modern women of color. The festival is an opportunity for women of color to connect, play games, see live demos, learn about hair products, shop, dance and to see their beauty reflected.
3. BROOKLYN HIP-HOP FESTIVAL
The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival is New York City’s largest Hip-Hop cultural event that showcases the positivity of Hip-Hop culture. It was established in 2005 and strives to celebrate and preserve Hip-Hop’s legacy of promoting artistic progression, community building and social change by bringing together everyone who loves the Hip-Hop culture. The festival consists of a variety of culture-based educational and entertainment events, including music performances, panel lectures, exhibitions, movie screenings and a family-friendly block party.
4. AMERICAN BLACK FILM FESTIVAL
The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) is an annual event dedicated to showcasing quality film and television content for us, by us, and about us (people of African descent). The ABFF is committed to the belief that Black artists deserve the same opportunities as their mainstream counterparts and their mission is to introduce and connect talented newcomers to the industry. The festival consists of a wide range of films, television screenings, engaging panels, networking events, activities designed to educate, nurture career development, and inspire attendees, and more. Also, the festival attracts people from around the world, including artists, entertainment executives and upscale film enthusiasts.
5. BROCCOLI CITY FESTIVAL
Broccoli City is a social enterprise that focuses on people, planet, and profit – particularly environmental justice and sustainability, economic sustainability, culture, access to high quality food and shelter, and education in undeserved communities. The Broccoli City Festival is a music and food festival. It was started in 2013 to draw attention for Earth Day and due to their desire to “build thriving urban communities to sustain future generations by mobilizing and educating urban millennials through social impact campaigns and major events.” Broccoli City typically hosts a variety of events leading up to the festival, including a city run ( like a 5K run), community action events, and an all night art escape.
Afronation is a collection of music festivals centered around beach locales and African music. The festival that seems to have emerged out of nowhere has become a big deal. In Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Ghana, Afronation attracts Black travelers that flock to the beach festival to witness their favorite Afrobeat, Hip Hop, and Reggae artists like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and French Montana.
In the Algarve region of Portugal, the festival takes place on Praia da Rocha, one of Portugal’s most popular beaches. Imagine oceanside beach parties surrounded while your favorite artists play live in the background. Last year, the beach festival popped up in West Africa for the first time with its Ghana edition. The festival cofounders, Smade and Obi Asika, say the festival was born out of the need for opportunities for Afrobeats artists and to unify the African diaspora.
7. YAM CARNIVAL
YAM Carnival is new to the festival scene, but they’re already making huge waves. The organizers from AfroNation are behind this one too, but aim to make the experience completely immersive. Beyond music, the celebration will bring together African cultures from around the world–think Curry and Jerk from the Caribbean, a Latin American pop up inspired by Brazil, New Orleans creole cuisine, and a continental African experience served from a makeshift Nigerian danfo bus.
For another twist on the traditional music festival, YAM promises masquerade performances honoring the centuries-old indigenous traditions of the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. On the music front, YAM’s lineup has included well-loved Afrobeat artists like Davido, WizKid, and Mr.Eazi.
If there was an OG of Black music festivals, it’d be Afropunk. What started as a safe space for Black alternative folks to express themselves through music and fashion has grown into a full-blown movement. From New York to Paris, Afropunk is a traveling festival, community, and outlet of creative expression for many. The stages of Afropunk feature Black artists across musical genres, from Solange to Lizzo.
Each year, the festival has a different theme. This year in Paris, the theme is Strength In Struggle, with artists like Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott dominating the lineup. The best part about going to Afropunk is witnessing the fashion. Fros are in full bloom, African wax print clothing is abundant, and no one is afraid to accessorize.
9. SOMETHING IN THE WATER
What began in 2019 by the musical icon and Virginia native, Pharrell, continues to grow into one of the coolest Black music festivals on the East Coast. Something In The Water is a mashup of hip hop culture from the West, East, and South of the US. Notably, the lineup heavily features artists who are natives of the region like Wale, who’s from Maryland, or Virginia-born Trey Songz.
While the musical part of the experience is held on Virginia Beach, Pharell has curated extended programming throughout the week across the city. From the pop-up church service to culinary demonstrations, Something In The Water is more than just music.
Afrochella is the continent’s answer to Coachella. Taking over El Wak Stadium in Accra for the last three years, the festival is a true celebration of African culture across the diaspora. Besides musical line-ups with heavy-hitter Afrobeat artists like Wande Coal, the festival is a true mashup of Blackness — Ghana to the UK and everywhere in between. From art installations to community giveback sessions, the festival has become an end of year celebration for many.
11. CURL FEST
Known as the biggest festival in America celebrating natural beauty, CurlFest started in 2014 as an ode to Black women and our hair. Owned and operated by four Black women, The Curly Collective is on a mission to uplift and empower Black women and girls while redefining what the world’s standards of beauty look like. Every year, the festival takes over Randall’s Island Park in New York for a full day of beauty, music, food, and Black culture.
Brands that are well-loved in the natural hair community, like DevaCurl and Creme of Nature, set up interactive booths featuring on-the-spot braid bars, photo booths, and onsite shopping experiences. Art lovers can watch paintings come to life at CurlFest’s Arts District. There’s truly something for everyone at CurlFest making it feel more like a family reunion than a festival.