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Wale, Busta Rhymes, Chaka Khan to headline Baltimore’s AFRAM Festival, as a ‘favorite’ event returns in hybrid form

Wale, Chaka Khan, Busta Rhymes and Mooski are among artists headlining August’s in-person and virtual 2021 AFRAM Festival, Mayor Brandon Scott and the Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department announced Saturday.

Spotlighting Black culture and arts, the 44th annual festival will take place in hybrid form starting Aug. 15. Its main acts will be hosted online Aug. 21-22 and will be free.

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Performers Aug. 21 will be:

— Wale, who draws on his Washington roots by incorporating go-go music into his hip-hop tracks and has had two mid-2000s hip-hop albums debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200;

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— Busta Rhymes, the gravel-voiced MC and actor who rose to fame in the 1990s; and

— Mooski, a rising rapper from Alabama whose viral song “Track Star” inspired a dance challenge on video-sharing app TikTok.

Performers Aug. 22 will be:

— Chaka Khan, the onetime “Queen of Funk” who first broke out in the 1970s as the lead singer of Rufus, scored hits such as “I Feel for You” as a solo artist, and has won 10 Grammy Awards;

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— Six-time Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Marsha Ambrosius, who has written music for Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Jamie Foxx and Nas; and

— Grammy award-winning gospel and soul singer and pianist Smokie Norful.

Sporting a colorful Juneteenth T-shirt and dark slacks, Scott stood in front of the city Department of Recreation and Parks headquarters in Druid Hill Park on a muggy Saturday morning under threatening skies. He noted that Saturday’s announcement, just like portions of the upcoming festival, relied on combining virtual and real-world settings.

“AFRAM is one of my favorite Baltimore traditions and although we cannot be in person this year, I am just excited to partake in this hybrid setting,” Scott said. “[AFRAM] has for decades been a Baltimore tradition and one of the largest African-American cultural arts festivals in the nation.”

Scott and Reginald Moore, the parks and recreation direction, stressed the event would highlight the best in Baltimore Black art, fashion, food and culture.

Vendor, volunteer and community talent applications can be submitted starting Friday on aframbaltimore.com.

AFRAM was canceled last year amid the pandemic. Next year the festival will return to its normal format on Juneteenth weekend; President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation designating it a federal holiday.

AFRAM has drawn as many as 75,000 to Druid Hill Park where it has been anchored since 2017. Part of Baltimore City’s Showcase of the Nations, organizers tout it as one of the largest African American cultural arts festivals on the East Coast.

Druid Hill will once again serve as the festival’s hub, with in-person and digital activities happening in landmark locations throughout the city.

Past performers have included rapper Rick Ross, R&B singer Sevyn Streeter and Afro-Cuban artist Cimafunk.

“The world looks very different this year, and so does AFRAM,” Moore said.

“But even with its temporary, new look, we’ve worked hard to keep the vibe the same,” he said.

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