"Get free!" is the phrase of choice for event planners Ifeanyi Ibeto, Eric Ndelo and April Hood. The trio of nightlife denizens brings local AfroPop! events to venues around Charlotte every month. On Friday, April 18, they will scale up from the modest club events they've done in the past to a full-fledged block party when Afropop! hits Camp North End, the huge new art complex at 1776 Statesville Ave., for an event that runs from 6-8 p.m.
Creative Loafing sat down with Afropop!'s logistics leader Ibeto — better known by his stage name DJ Kato — to chat with him about all the variables that go into making an AfroPop! experience a safe space for folks to get free.
Creative Loafing: What's that "Get Free" mantra all about?
Ifeanyi Ibeto: When you go to events around Charlotte, you feel like you are going to be looked at in a particular type of way. You are constricted to the type of music you have to listen to. You have to dress a certain kind of way. Events are thought not to be fun unless you are confined to a particular set of unsaid rules.
At AfroPop!, we wanted it to reflect how we are as individuals. We want you to come as you are. If you are wearing jeans, come to AfroPop! If you are wearing a dashiki, come to AfroPop! If you are wearing heels, you might not be able to dance but, no judgment, come to AfroPop!
How did you link up with Eric Ndelo and April Hood?
Eric is another brother who is first-generation [Congolese-American] that was really into the arts like I was. There are not too many of us first-generation Africans [Ibeto is Nigerian-American] that are so open to being artistic, because it is a taboo in our culture. When Ndelo was doing an event, he would invite me to come out and snap some photos. I would give him ideas and we would ping-pong ideas back and forth.
April became a part of AfroPop! because she was one of the event managers of Ndelo's cultural event Nappy Luv. She has a heart for the community. She works with nonprofits to help the homeless.
Can you take us back to the first Afropop! event at Apostrophe Lounge?
It was June 10, 2016. We kind of expected only a little bit of interest. We had no idea African drummers would show up. We did not know what kind of community would show up. That event opened our eyes. What we initially thought would take us a year or two to build happened the first night. The Apostrophe Lounge was filled with people.
Who comes to AfroPop! events?
Our events attract a lot of dancers who normally don't go out: those that don't have a space where they can really do their thing and not get looked at like it is weird. We have dance crews that come out. We even have dance battles break out randomly.
The essence of almost all dance is African, but on a granular level we have Afro-Brazilian dance, Afro-Caribbean dance, Ivory Coast African dance, Kizomba dance, Soca and more. I am heavily involved in the dance community. If they need me to DJ for them, I will play music for them. I will go drum.We actually do outreach in the community and make ourselves one of them.
How important is the music selection?
The music is something we wanted to be a reflection of as many cultures as possible. Which is really really hard to do in one night or one event. We want it to be a unique mix of music that has never been heard before from all countries of the [African] diaspora, and also a reflection of all the experiences we have had. Eric has been to different countries in Africa many times. Me, I have been to Latin America a bunch of times and have influences from there. We want to give people a sonic experience that feels tribal and also gives an education component of where the music comes from and the significance of the music.
Why are African drums such an important part of the experience?
Drums in Africa are a way to open yourself up. When you hear drums live, your body naturally moves. Now it has evolved to where I take my drum and come off stage and say, "Hey, I am on the stage playing, but I am [also] with you guys." I will just come off the stage and play drums in front of people and tell them to bang my drum to break the ice and get people moving and to get people to experience feeling free.
Can you tell us a little more about you, DJ Kato?
I have two sides to myself; I am left and right brained. Coding is a passion of mine. But with coding you tend to be an introvert. You don't want to go out. You want to spend all your time coding. And I am not happy just doing that. [DJing] not only allows me to get out of the house, it also gives a piece of what is going on in my brain a chance to get it out so I do not go crazy. It gives me a chance to just enjoy life and enjoy people.