Umoja African Festival returns

by The Minister of Information JR

True cultural pan-Africanism has finally crept into the Oakland festival scene with the second annual Umoja African Festival on Aug. 16 at Lowell Park in West Oakland. This festival is a symbol of our self-determination. There will be food, music, vendors and, to top it off, there will be an African soccer tournament for teams from the continent and the diaspora.

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The futbol (soccer) tournament at the Umoja African Festival is the first in the Bay to pit teams from different African nations against each other. Many players were stars back home. – Photo: Pochina Press

So if you could not stomach the Brazilian World Cup because of the thousands of mostly Black people who were murdered or displaced because of it, here is something that you can be a part of without having the guilt of celebrating with your oppressors.

Check out cofounder of the Umoja African Festival, Effie Tesfahun in her own words.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us how The Umoja African Festival was conceived? What is the purpose?

Effie Tesfahun: I have been thinking about creating an African festival in Oakland for some time now. Something that was authentic and directed towards – and catered to – the varying African communities in the Bay Area. I wanted a festival that celebrated culture, not from an outsider perspective, but rather from those who live and breathe it every day: an African festival for Africans and the African Diaspora, so to speak.

This idea finally came to fruition in 2013 with the help of my sister – Tsedal, a talented artist and educator – my friend and business partner, Stephanie McGrath of Epiphani Productions, and local DJ and photojournalist Juan Gomez of Digging4gold. We came together and are committed to producing a festival that will be a mainstay in Oakland for years to come.

The beauty about having it in this city is that Oakland already has a tendency of intermingling cultures with such fluidity that a festival like Umoja can fit in perfectly alongside all of the vastly different events going on around us. The Oakland I know embraces diversity. We want to continue that tradition.

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Music – from Afrobeat to the Vukani Mawethu Choir – will fill the air in West Oakland at the Umoja African Festival Aug. 16. These photos are from last year’s festival. – Photo: Pochina Press

M.O.I. JR: Soccer is getting bigger in the United States, and I know it is huge internationally. What made you make it an integral part of the festival?

Effie Tesfahun: That’s simple: Africans love soccer! And very few people outside of these African communities know that there are actually an amazing amount of pro and semi-pro African soccer players playing in leagues all around the Bay Area – as well as countless leagues all around the U.S. Some of these players were stars back in their home country and have continued to play here in the U.S.

The one problem is that these African leagues are often segregated – Ethiopians have their own league, Nigerians have their own league and so on. Our tournament is the first of its kind, in that it invites teams from all of these leagues to play against each other for the first time in the Bay Area.

Among the several African teams we have invited, the matchup to watch out for is between our reigning champions – Walia from the Ethiopian league – and our second place winners, the Nigerian team – Bay Area FC – who are definitely seeking redemption.

We can’t stress enough how excited we are about this tournament. We feel it’s the backbone of the Umoja Festival, and we are excited to see it grow even bigger in the years to come.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us who are some of the musicians that are headlining the fest?

Effie Tesfahun: Along with the artists we have coming from out of town, we are focused on showcasing the abundance of African talent we have in our own backyard. Our headliner, Lagos Roots, is one of the premiere afrobeat bands in the Bay Area, and has its foundation in Fela Kuti’s band, Africa 70.

Fresh Is Life is the lead singer of Afrolicious, another afrobeat band that has gained international acclaim and success. Veteran Kenyan artist Iniginas will join us as well, and we will kick off the day with a special performance by the amazing Vukani Mawethu South African Choir, who will be singing freedom songs from South Africa’s anti-Apartheid era.

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Food, music, futbol (soccer) – Umoja African Festival has it all; come to West Oakland Saturday, Aug. 16, for a never-to-be-forgotten pan-African day of celebration and fellowship in Lowell Park. – Photo: Pochina Press

We will also have performances from three amazing females artists – Thobs the Zulu Queen from South Africa, Zimbabwean Kalimba player Piwai and Oakland’s very own, Lebanese-American singer-songwriter Naima Shalhoub.

M.O.I. JR: Where do you see this festival in five years? What do you hope it will accomplish in Oakland?

Effie Tesfahun: We definitely hope to see Umoja become part of Oakland’s annual musical tradition, in the same vein as Art & Soul, the Malcolm X Jazz Festival or Life is Living. As our communities transition through the explosion of growth and influx of new inhabitants, we feel it is imperative to continue creating spaces in our city that speak to and advocate for Oaklanders of all backgrounds.

That is one of the main reasons we decided to host this event in the heart of West Oakland. We want the community to feel that Umoja is for them.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell the people when and where is the Umoja African Festival? How can people stay in touch with you online?

Effie Tesfahun: Saturday, Aug. 16, at Lowell Park on 14th Street between Market Street and Adeline Street in West Oakland. For more info on the artists and our team check our website,, and hit us on Facebook and Twitter at and

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at He can be reached at