It’s possible you saw the Channel 4 documentary about how the rich live in Britain. There was the bit about the Nigerian wedding planner and the extent to which Nigerian spenders go to host the most awesome events. The bit that never ceases to amaze is how much is spent on food. Sometimes authentic food is flown in from abroad, prepared by the best chefs from Lagos, Accra and Port Harcourt. And nowadays, there are super, super African businesses that cater for events on a scale comparable to the best in Lagos. It’s the same for most of other African countries: the Diaspora has finally caught up with the homeland.
But, what really is an ‘African’ event? It’s a legendary fact thst Africans love to celebrate. They celebrate the birth of children, adult birthdays, community festivals, coronations and chieftaincy conferment; of course, weddings. They’ll also call a party for funerals, memorial of family deaths, house warming, graduating from school. Virtually anything can be the cause of a party.
Depending on the nature of the event, the preparation may take a number of different directions.
Some events happen within short time frames. So, in the event of a death in the family, religious or cultural norms may prescribe a limited time frame to conclude the event. On the other hand, a milestone event such as 50th birthday party offers much advance planning.
Many top-class venues in countries around the world have hosted an event paid for by Africans. London’s top hotels and event venues such as The Grosvenor are quite accustomed to them. These venues are often used by the super elite who are based in Africa but see the world as their playground in the company of their global business partners.
There are also other venues around global cities that are not in the top class. As the African Diaspora becomes more settled and more affluent, so have their taste in choice of party venues become more sophisticated.
The most popular venues for parties are community and church halls. They offer affordable rates and available to rent for a range of time slots, often into the early hours. They also allow own-catering by giving hosts the opportunity to cook their own food and serve their own drinks. Interior decoration is also easier to customise.
Depending on the choice of venue, the options for food and drinks are varied. The most liberal opportunities are offered by community halls and bespoke private venues. They allow access to kitchen facilities, refrigeration for drinks as well as parking spaces for guests.
The African food sector has exploded in the last twenty years. Many of the restaurants have thriving outdoor catering units that supply food and event staff to parties. They provide a scale of service suited to any budget. The key point of all this is for guests to enjoy ‘authentic’ African meals and drinks that they won’t ordinarily encounter in daily European or American life. And there’s a contest among caterers to provide the widest range of food and drink. What you get is about how much you pay. One thing is sure. A Nigerian party without Nigerian Guinness is not a Nigerian party. And that goes for specific drinks from other parts of the continent. The venue you choose affects these choices. Pick the wrong one and your guests may end up smuggling in their own drinks from the shop across the road. Not a great tale to tell about your party!
Every African party aims to outdo the last one. Interior decoration of the venue is one of the distinguishing marks most sought after by hosts. From the simple to the elegant to the outrageous, interior colours are much the fancy of African party organisers. Party hosts come up with ‘colour schemes’ arrived at from a melange of considerations. We won’t go into them. Not a task for the faint-hearted! Certain types of venues offer possibilities. Some historical facilities -Listed buildings in Britain – do not allow any outlandish decoration. Ask before you book.
Music is at the heart of African parties and other events. A number of DJs are very much sought after. They don’t come cheap. You need to book well in advance for the top guns.
However the really big events will also have a live band on stage. There’s something about the live band that a DJ cannot do –massage the ego of the guests and the hosts. In events sponsored by Diasporans of west African origin, (and increasingly elsewhere as the younger generation marry across nationalities), ‘spraying of currency notes on the forehead of the hosts and other guests is part of the vibe of the party. It’s also one way of the hosts to recoup some of their expenditure. Dancing to the music of a live band offers ‘customised’ praise-singing that engenders a merry atmosphere much enjoyed by all.
You have to do some things to maximise the live band. Get a good MC.
An excellent Master of Ceremonies is a valuable asset to have on the day. The top MCs help to oil the event in such a way that guests feel valued and entertained at the same time. Watch out for ‘turf’ war between the DJ and the Live band as they compete for airtime. Even the MC may get entangled in the battle for time to ply his trade. Get an Event Manager, whether a professional or a friend or family member. No event is too small to be choreographed to success.
With the live band comes cash. Your guests will be handing you wads of cash in several ways. Some may slip envelopes into your hand or pocket. You’ll need to be conscious that you’re not being pick-pocketed. Others may paste notes on your forehead. For these, appoint a trusted friend or family member to hold a bag and collect on your behalf. It’s tricky but it works.