The Best Festivals For Black Travelers 2021

Briona Lamback

Laurel, MD, USA

Community and Blackness go hand-in-hand. Simply put, it’s not easy living in a world where your culture is constantly appropriated and commodified without credit. As a response, we’ve collectively begun carving out spaces of boldness and Blackness designed by us, for us. While joining Black travel groups and following inspiring Black travel bloggers bring us together, there’s nothing quite like a party. From groovy music festivals in Paris to art and fashion in the heart of Ghana, here are 10 of our favorite festivals for Black travelers around the globe.

*All dates are subject to change due to Coronavirus social distancing guidelines and world-wide travel bans.

Afropunk 2021

Best Black Festivals 2020
Afropunk, Paris, France. Credit: @afropunk

Afropunk Paris 2021: July 10th – July 11th, 2021

Locations: Paris, France; Brooklyn, New York; Johannesburg, South Africa

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.

Essence Festival 2021

Best Black Festivals 2020
Essence Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Credit: @essencefest

Essence Festival 2021: July 2nd – July 5th, 2021

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

For over 25 years, Essence Festival has been taking New Orleans by storm each 4th of July weekend. In 1995, the first festival popped up in the Crescent City. Dubbed as the ‘party with a purpose,’ Essence has long been instrumental in bringing millions of dollars to the city’s economy and creating a conjure of Black culture through music, food, and travel. 

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2004, the Essence Fest team was on the ground providing aid and helping to rebuild the city. 2004 was the only year that the festival was held outside of Louisiana (it moved to Houston temporarily). Each year, festival goers are invited to celebrate Black culture with performances from artists like Janet Jackson and Beyonce. When concerts aren’t happening, the community gathers at the convention center for celebrity panels, demos, and giveaways from brands like Shea Moisture. At Essence Fest, there is absolutely no shortage of love, pride, or “Sis, you look good” compliments.

Afronation 2021

Best Black Festivals 2020
Afronation, Portimão, Portugal. Credit: @afronation

Afronation Portuagl 2021: July 1st – July 3rd, 2021

Locations: Portugal, Puerto Rico, & Ghana

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. 

Something In The Water 2021

Something In The Water, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Credit: @somethinginthewater

Something In The Water 2021: April 23-25, 2021

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA.

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 2021

Afrochella, Accra, Ghana. Credit: @afrochella

Afrochella 2021: Dec 26th – Jan 4th, 2021

Location:Accra, Ghana

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. 

CurlFest 2021

CurlFest, Credit: @curlygirlcollective

Curlfest 2021: TBD

Locations: New York, New York ; Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Known as the largest 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. 

One Music Festival 2021

One Music Fest, Atlanta, Georgia. Credit: @onemusicfest

One Music Festival 2021: TBD

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Often referred to as the music capital of America, and most certainly of hip hop, Atlanta’s One Music Festival should be on your list. For 10 years, the festival has been bridging the gap between old and new. Past lineups have included the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Musiq Soulchild alongside Gucci Mane and Summer Walker. The one-day event held in Centennial Park is also loved for its live art installations and extensive food truck village. In 2019, Slutty Vegan, a popular Black-owned vegan restaurant in Atlanta was on-site at the festival. 

As travelers, it’s important to support local festivals just as much as we do global ones. One Music Fest is the largest festival in the Southeast and directly pumps money into the local economy. Over 25 Atlanta-based vendors are featured annually at the event, with many of them being Black owned so travelers can feel good knowing they’re supporting local Black businesses. 

Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2021

Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana. Credit: @chalewoteofficial

Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2021: TBD

Location: Accra, Ghana

During a recent trip to Ghana, I asked my Ghanaian friends about the best time to visit again, they all pointed to Chale Wote Street Art Festival, an art festival held every August in Accra. Since 2011, Chale Wote has been bringing some of the world’s best Black artists to Ghana for a celebration of art appreciation in the form of an open-air street gallery. 

From live paintings to spoken word, no art form is left unexplored. What started as a one-day event has lovingly evolved into a week-long festival with spaces like the Nubuke Foundation and Jamestown’s High Street being the epicenter of the festival’s culture. 

Yam Carnival 2021

YAM Carnival, London, UK. Credit: @yamcarnival

YAM Carnival 2021: TBD

Location: London, UK

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. 

Dak’Art 2021

Dak’Art, Dakar, Senegal. Credit: @annakucma

Dak’Art 2021: TBD

Location: Dakar, Senegal

Since 1990, Dak’Art has been a platform for contemporary art rooted in African culture. The biennale festival brings together the best of local artists and those across the continent. Created to act as a window into African literature and culture, the festival has since grown into a full exhibition of Black artistic excellence. 

From photojournalism to sound and exploring everything from decolonization to pan-Africanism, no medium is left untouched. Not only is the festival supported by the Senegalese government, but it has also drawn audiences from far and wide in recent years and is now considered the World Festival of Black Arts.