Words by: Blossom Maduafokwa
Barcelona-based collective Voodoo Club recently broke their 2-year COVID hiatus in a big way: a concert dedicated to Afrobeats in one of the Spanish city’s most famous venues.
Walking into Barcelona’s Parc del Forum on the 20th of August, it was difficult to imagine that the Afrobeats Carnival was happening in the same world that COVID had. The scenes were impressive: a stage flanked with DJs bumping everything from Angolan House to Azonto, bright yellow signs that read “Voodoo Club is the New Kalakuta” and “The Spirit Don’t Lie,” and, most importantly, hundreds of the young faces that comprise Barcelona’s creative population, many of them the bright faces of Black Spain.
For the Voodoo Club, an event like the Afrobeats Carnival was years in the making. Backtrack to 2018, the Lagos-born brothers Wekafore and Oseka Jibril had tried to access nightclubs in Barcelona and were turned away because of their race. Frustrated but determined, the brothers banded together with friend Yemi Alaran to create a community space for Africans and people of colour in Spain.
This determination birthed a world: a party collective through the Voodoo Club, a music label called Voodoo Music, talent management through the Voodoo Agency, a dance collective through the Voodoo Dance Club, and a fashion line from Wekafore. What began as an idea grew into something big, something that has become indispensable to Barcelona’s Black community.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been doing, me and my colleagues. It’s crazy in 3 years the amount of stuff we’ve been able to accomplish. As a group of black guys born in Africa going to Spain, it’s crazy cuz it’s… I don’t know. I’m proud.”Olamide Adisa, Voodoo Club Team Member
The Afrobeats Carnival, a large-scale version of the collective’s usual weekend functions, was simply the next step in the Voodoo team’s upward trajectory.
Taking place at iconic Barcelona venue Parc del Forum, the Carnival was part of Nits del Forum, a music concert series organized by famed festival organization Primavera Sound. The night’s lineup was expansive and impressive, featuring Voodoo affiliates Oseka, Jimmy Bones, DJ Nagui, SlimboyFlacko, DEEZYNTD, and Selectya Glossy; Spanish acts Lapili, Horacio, and Chica Gang; and UK-Nigerian DJ collective Vivendii Sound.
For much of the Voodoo clan, this was to be a night of firsts. I sat down backstage with Lapili, dancer, stylist, and master of all genres from Reggaeton to Afrobeats; and she told me just as much. “I’ve known Voodoo Club for around a year,” she said, “so during that time [the pandemic] I hadn’t been to a Voodoo Club party – this is going to be the first!” This performance was coming after recent releases like her track “Chicha” with Wekafore and her tape Peligro de Extinción, produced by British-Ghanaian powerhouse GuiltyBeatz. There was certainly much for her to anticipate.
“I’m so excited!” she said. She looked like it too, so much so that I couldn’t help but feel the excitement along with her. “Two years without performing, it’s crazy.” Still, she admitted, “My nerves come up when I’m there [on stage] with the microphone waiting.”
Oseka, nickname Diamond Boy, told me something similar. Sitting calmly backstage clad in a red and blue Wekafore bowling shirt, the artist seemed the image of pure composure. When I asked him how he was feeling, however, he replied otherwise. “Nervous,” he said, then, “Excited. I don’t know man… I just want to see how I do out there. I wanna see if I impress myself.” It was to be his first time on stage ever, following a recent drop of his avant-garde, genre-bending EP Diamond Boy. With the ever-increasing influx of people to the venue, excitement was high.
Even with this admission, Oseka still assured me that the event Voodoo was hosting was a necessity. “The Black Community in Barcelona needs a space to interact,” he began firmly. “They need a scene where they can show their ideas and bounce shit off each other. The past years before COVID, this felt different. There was so much joy here, there was so much happiness. So we’re trying to bring that back, bring that energy back.”
“What I’ve seen from Voodoo is the first time in Spain that someone has made an event for African music and culture…The music that’s the most mainstream in Spain and that usually occupies big festivals and events is more pop music, is white music. Even though most of these things are inspired by Black music, they don’t mention it.”Lapili
The energy was certainly back tenfold, as we could hear Chica Gang’s lively set and the crowd’s response from backstage.
It also seemed that the Afrobeats Carnival was something that the Voodoo team needed, too. “We’re mostly just proud of seeing our friends do shit,” Oseka told me. “Like come out, DJ, and just have fun.” and they did just that.
Soon after night began to fall, Lapili took the stage. The excitement in the venue continued to rise steadily as more and more people streamed in, ready for an event worth expelling 2 years of pent-up energy. As expected, Lapili rose to the challenge with grace. Clad in a bright green leotard and flashing gold jewellery, hair held in twin braids that fell down her back, and flanked by two dancers decked in gold costumes, she shook the house. With diverse hits like her Afrofusion bop “Xena” and choreography inspired heavily by Nigeria, South African, and Ghana, to name a few places – Lapili’s set took the energy that was already steadily mounting to a new level.
Oseka followed her soon after, supported by Voodoo members DEEZYNTD, Jimmy Bones, and SlimboyFlacko at the DJ booth. Though it was his first performance, it was impossible to tell: he commanded the crowd with all the experience and energy of a veteran. Playing everything from Afrobeats to his Trap track “Confetti”, Oseka took a crowd that was already on its feet to a different height, causing any hesitation that might have existed in the space to unravel entirely. The crowd was alive and the event was officially in full swing, so much so that crowd control was caught in a frenzy trying to return guests to their assigned seats, threatening to stop the set altogether if the crowd refused to relax. (Though why they brought Black people to a music venue and expected calm, to this day, is still a wonder.)
The night did not get any tamer. Much to the dismay of crowd control, Nagui’s DJ set practically caused upheaval as she played an infectious mix of Dembow, Brazilian Funk, Trap, and Reggaeton. No matter how many people were chased back to their seats, they could not be stopped from congregating together to dance (and I, among them).
It wasn’t long before I went backstage once more, where I found Wekafore, or as he’s known in the world of music, Spirit Disco. He, like his younger brother Oseka, looked calm and content. When I sat down with him, I asked him what he felt about everything that Voodoo had been able to accomplish throughout the years.
“When I think about it, it’s amazing, especially for Black people in Spain,” he started. “I look at it from a theoretical point of view but it’s really nice. We’re the first Black enterprise in Spain shifting culture and making a healthy impact on the multiculturalism of Spain. So it’s iconic.”
Iconic it was. Even as we spoke, we could hear the beginnings of the set by Vivendii Sound, the DJ duo composed of Nigerians Jimmy Ayeni and Ola Badiru. Ola was calling out loudly, “Where are all my Africans?” and the crowd, exhilarated, responded in kind. This, I suppose, was the exact kind of multiculturalism Wekafore was talking about.
“It’s crazy,” Wekafore continued. “It’s like total freedom for them to be Black and just feel represented in nightlife. And represented not just vanity-wise, but in terms of soul.”
It was only after Wekafore said this that I understood all that I had been witnessing that day. Events like the Afrobeats Carnival were not necessarily about just seeing Black people but also feeling them. That, ultimately, was what Voodoo was about: finding all the people who felt an unshakable pulse to dance, sing, and create, and creating a communal space for them to do so. Even as I interviewed him, we both strained against our seats, eager to dance as we heard the beginnings of Vivendii’s DJ set. Soon enough, Wekafore and I walked quickly back to the main stage, where we were met with the glory of Vivendii Sound.
“It’s just a bunch of kids doing what they love to do. There was kind of always a space for us who didn’t really conform to the mainstream shit. And now we’re here, it’s cool. I’ve built a relationship with Voodoo Club over a couple of years, and I love what they’re doing out here. It’s actually Naij guys in Spain, it’s amazing. So I show them so much love, they show me love, and anytime I pull up out here it’s just so much love. I’m grateful.”Jimmy Ayeni of Vivendii Sound
Vivendii came through with all the gravity of a star football player ending a match, using their best moves to manoeuvre the pitch. In their case, these “moves” were a trifecta of dynamite tracks: Burna’s “Kilometre”, Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence”, and Rema’s “Dumebi”. It was instant gratification, and Vivendii knew that that was exactly what we needed. It shouldn’t take much to divine the crowd’s response: unrestrained dancing, joyful singing, and, above all, immense happiness. The energy of the place, if only for a moment, felt tangible.
It was not long before crowd control, having attempted to pacify the venue all night, cut the event short under the claim that Vivendii had “incited a riot”. While we had been busted, we exited the venue with smiles plastered to our faces, brimming with an energy that we hadn’t felt in months and eager to find the next move. To put it simply, no one would have taken the fun back for anything, because Voodoo had promised to make Barcelona like Lagos and emerged triumphantly. (If anything, the short-lived nature of the event was a testament to its success: If authorities don’t shut you down, is your space truly radical? Answer: probably not).
Standing outside the venue, I was beginning to fully grasp the weight of what the Voodoo Club had done. Around me were Black people dancing, laughing, and gisting with each other on a Barcelona night, even as the event they travelled far and wide for had ended. Looking at them all, it was impossible to deny something that Oseka had told me during our interview, something that had been playing over in my head the whole night.
“We’re the future. We’re the fucking future. African creatives are the next generation of everything.”
Credits: All photography by Pavlo Rubio (@pavlone_)