The 45th annual Baltimore AFRAM was way more than just a celebration of African American heritage in the Charm City. This year the event took on a much bigger meaning, serving as a the gateway to Juneteenth weekend, and allowing us to commemorate the entire culture on a broader scale.
After being on hiatus for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and previous lockdowns, we’ve all pretty much been itching to get back outside. It was as if God had been hearing all of our prayers to make this happen, as the weather couldn’t have been any more perfect for the two day event which occurred on June 18-19, where over 100,00 people ventured out to Druid Hill Park for another action packed, fun filled family festival which is the biggest on the East Coast.
Kicking off at 12 noon was a grand parade lead by Mayor Brandon Scott that fellow Baltimoreans followed around East Drive to many of the attractions were taking place at. Some of the cities best and brightest businesses were on full display, from ethnic based clothing vendors, to that black owned food truck you’ve been hearing everybody talk about, right down to your best friend’s favorite author, AFRAM was a place where we could be unapologetically black and marvel in the sheer essence of it all.
Once people had finished stimulating the small “B.O.B.” economy and filling their bellies, they made their way over to AFRAM LIVE, which is the main performance area where some people spend their whole entire afternoon. As with any AFRAM fest, the highlight of entire event is the FREE concert series that the organizers bless us with, and boy was this lineup one that was busting at the seams with musical greatness!
Mayor Scott hit the nail on the head when he said that he wanted to bring back the vibe of “young people Saturday” and “old head Sunday”. Saturday’s lineup was chock-full of musical artists that can be found making a splash on the internet and via Tiktok, both on the national and local levels. First to take the stage was Virginia native Pariz, who was definitely putting on for all of the city girls AND boys. Cutting up the stage with his two female dancers, his high energy performance set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Although he may be a bit “new” around these parts, he just may have garnered some new fans when he pulled a couple lucky crowd members on stage to “shake what their mamma gave them” while he performed his single “Tantrum“.
To keep things in order and moving, Baltimore’s own and 92Q radio personality Lil’ Black owned his duties as the main stage MC, by keeping the crowd entertained and engaged. His love for the youth of the city shined through when he invited several children on stage to participate in a few dance contest before introducing the next artist to perform. Relatively newcomer to the scene, Inayah was the only female act of the day. For what she proclaimed was her first time in Baltimore, she certainly held it down for the ladies. Running through a string of her tracks that have garnered her a solid following on the internet streets, her connection with the audience was genuine, as she made her way down to join the masses. The ladies absolutely received the words from her songs “Suga Daddy” and gold certified single “Best Thing“.
Since AFRAM’s prime purpose is to celebrate the community, then what better way to do so than by having one of our own put on for the city. Rapper Lil’ Key gave an energy filled, 15 minute show that displayed his lyrical growth since his appearance on the TV show “The Rap Game”. When he dropped his newest single “More Than Friends“, his four background dancers hit a routine that made me feel like I was back down at the Dox for a minute. The entire vibe of the festival turned up a few notches the moment Yung Bleu arrived. Digging into his crates of bona fied hits, the Alabama born rapper delivered what his fans had been waiting for, when the beginning beat to “You’re Mines Still” kicked in.
To bring back the party atmosphere, and allow for a quick stage and production change, the Party Kingpin, DJ Quicksilva was brought out to much fanfare. Being a prominent figure in the Baltimore music scene as an adolescent, then transcending the boundaries of the 410 to become an international DJ, he helped remind the festival goers what a REAL fun time in the city used to feel like by effortlessly blending world sounds with club music which caused a lot of dancing amongst everyone.
As the sun was starting to set, the biggest star of the evening took his rightful place on the mainstage. Grammy award-winning artist, singer/songwriter Ne-Yo was the headliner to close out Day 1, and that he did. The electric performance kicked off with his 2008 hit “Miss Independent” to screaming fans who sang along. During his hour long set, we were privy to a master class of what exemplary songwriting sounds like, as he pulled all the songs that we loved, such as “She Knows“, “So Sick“, “Because of You“, “Sexy Love” and “One In A Million“.
Although it’s evident that he has classic music for days, this was not just meant to be a greatest hits compilation. Ahead of his upcoming album “Self Explanatory“, which drops July 15, the fedora wearing maestro gifted a couple of new tracks, the radio banger “U 2 Love” and “You Got The Body”. One thing that we MUST note is that granted he IS the main artist, that his four female backup dancers were the true MVPs of the show in our opinion. With their laser line precision and gravity defying moves, I couldn’t help but to keep my eyes locked on them.
The first day of AFRAM 2022 went off without a hitch, so we can’t wait to see what Sunday has in store for us.