Afrobeats…that wonderful genre that has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Much of it comes from my country of origin, Nigeria, so it makes me super proud to have something from there that I can enjoy and relate to. I wasn’t so much into the older styles of music that my parents enjoy, like High Life and traditional music. Whereas Afrobeats is very hip and modern – not too dissimilar to the American hip hop and R&B and the Caribbean Soca, dancehall and reggae that I grew up with.

I first heard of Afro Nation festival back in 2019, after it already happened in Portugal that summer. I started seeing posts of people who had attended it, and I was so jealous! If I’d known about it, I probably would have gone! Then I heard they were going to do it again in Ghana, which I did get a chance to go to and work at through one of my virtual assistant clients. I really enjoyed Afro Nation Ghana (which has since moved to Nigeria for 2023) and I looked forward to experiencing this festival again one day.

Planning

Obviously, then the Covid pandemic happened and there were no festivals for a couple of years. It was in 2023 that I finally got the chance to attend Afro Nation in Portugal, so I went for it and bought a ticket. I had never even been to the Algarve, where this festival was being held, so I was so excited to see what it was all like.

I was planning to go alone since I didn’t have any friends who wanted to go. Luckily, there is a Facebook group of people going to Afro Nation Portugal, and I managed to find a lovely lady from Birmingham who had booked a hotel just a few minutes walk from the festival site in Portimão! I vetted her online and had a couple of video chats with her and her friend whom we would share the apartment with. They both sounded great, and the accommodation looked good too, so I went for it. This was such a lucky find, because otherwise, accommodation in that area was so expensive, especially if you were staying alone, and there were no hostels around either. I’d originally booked a whole week at Boutique Taghostel in Lagos, but it would have been a 30-minute drive to go back and forth from the festival site. I ended up shortening my stay in Lagos to just a few days up until the festival, then moved into the hotel in Portimão.

Stunning views of the Afro Nation stage and Praia da Rocha from my hotel balcony.

Pre-festival

So, the Afro Nation and Portimão portion of my week-long holiday in the Algarve was just fabulous! We stayed in an aparthotel called Turim Algarve Mor Apartments, and they picked such a good suite for us that was high up and overlooking the Afro Nation festival site! We could literally hear rehearsals and watch shows from our balcony – it was so amazing! This hotel was lovely and had a swimming pool with sunbeds where we had a nice relaxing time at. We were also within walking distance of everything we could need – many bars, shops, restaurants and beaches that we checked out. We even stumbled across an Irish bar serving jollof rice, which we of course had to try!

The two women I stayed with were both around my age, both Jamaican Brits from Birmingham. We connected instantly in person and were both so fun and chill to hang out with. They also had some male friends staying in the apartment next to us, who were also really friendly and great to hang out with. I’m really glad I met these people, as it made the whole festival experience much better and more enjoyable than being by myself all the time.

It was through them that we also discovered some fun unofficial Afro Nation parties for us to attend during the day before the main festival at night. These were run by a company called SB World, and the events we went to were a dinner and drinks night, an Afrobeats vs Dancehall boat party, and a pool party. I really enjoyed going to all these. That was my very first boat party and a super fab one at that. We were all chilling in our swimwear, having drinks, getting our pick of music, and seeing some beautiful views along the Algarve coastline, including beaches and caves. And then the pool party was also my first. My two female friends and I got our own Bali bed that we could chill on at this stunning beach bar, we ate some tasty food, there were lots of great hip hop and Afrobeats tunes to dance to, and of course a big pool to splash into.

Moonchild Sanelly performing on the Piano People Stage

The Festival

As for Afro Nation festival itself…I really enjoyed that! It’s on a beach, Praia da Rocha, so wear beach-friendly shoes! Even though the event is held in Portugal, the organisers are from English-speaking countries, so most of the communication inside is in English rather than Portuguese. They sent us the programme online, so I did this nerdy thing of writing it all down on paper so that I could save my phone battery a bit, haha. It’s on from the late afternoon through to the evening and night. The climate means that it’s too hot to run it during the day, which I wasn’t used to because I’d previously mainly been to UK festivals that were always on all day.

The less busy early hours of Afro Nation Portugal 2023

Downsides

The Afro Nation was overall great, but there were a few negatives that I’ll just get out of the way first. It’s a cashless event that requires you to buy cashless wristbands that you add electronic money to and get scanned when buying from stalls within the festival. So, they had emailed me an offer of 10% off if I bought the wristband in advance. I bought my wristband one day before the festival started, thinking this would get me my discount, but nope – they told me the deadline had passed for this offer, but there was no date indicated in the email. This annoyed me a little as they could have communicated this much better, but never mind.

My cashless wristband for entry into Afro Nation Portugal 2023

I wasn’t happy about how crazy the food and drinks lines got at times. Though, there was a chicken stall near the main stage that wasn’t really near any other food stalls; I found the queue there not as bad (albeit, still a crowded area) and it seemed relatively quicker to get served there. Also, not letting me bring in my own water bottle, nor having somewhere to refill on days 2 and 3 (the free water stations somehow disappeared after day 1) – what the hell?! That’s a health issue right there, especially in such hot conditions! I wish Afro Nation could do better with this next time.

There was also some inconsistency around the rules for bags. It was stated on their website that any bags you bring in had to be see-through, so I’d bought myself a transparent bumbag specially for this reason. Yet I got to the festival and saw plenty of people wearing opaque bags – not the biggest deal, but kind of confusing.

As for the performances themselves – there were sound issues at times on the main stage, notably during Wizkid’s performance, which was last on his night, and I ended up just walking back to my hotel to watch him from my balcony. The main stage also had too long gaps between some artists and was not always playing music in between to keep the crowd hyped up.

Crowds and some pretty decor at Afro Nation Portugal 2023

Upsides

Otherwise, I did for the most part have a great time attending Afro Nation Festival. There were two stages – the Piano People stage that housed Amapiano (South African dance music, also getting popular now) acts, and then the main stage with all the other acts (mainly afrobeats, hip hop, R&B, etc). I went between the two and both were fabulous. Acts I watched included Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Aya Nakamura, Ayra Starr, Moonchild Sanelly, Asake, Little Simz, Fireboy DML and 50 Cent. There were very good vibes all around – basically a very fun party on the beach! I really enjoyed myself and had a lot of fun with the new friends that I’d made there.

The non-compulsory rep-your-flag day on the last day was such a lovely touch. I brought along my big Nigerian flag to drape across me and got a lot of strangers speaking to me because of it, so I could learn who the other Nigerians were there. I also saw many other flags representing many African and Caribbean countries. It was beautiful to see!

Me at Afro Nation Portugal 2023

Would I return to Afro Nation? I think I would, yes, because I did overall really enjoy my time there. They have a few issues that I’ve highlighted, but once they’ve fixed this, it would be perfect! They don’t really have any competitors that I know of that do a similar sort of music festival with the same genres (though if you know of one, please tell me!). Afro Nation only started in 2019, so I’m hoping it’s just a matter of time for the organisers to keep upping their game for future editions.

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