Ne-Yo headlines first day of Baltimore’s 45th AFRAM festival

By Grace Kpetemey and Tinashe Chingarande,
Special to the AFRO

The first day of the historic AFRAM festival in Baltimore concluded on Saturday with a performance from Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter Ne-Yo. 

Ne-Yo delivered an electric performance to shreiling fans that sang every lyric, evoking 2000s nostalgia with tunes like “Miss Independent.” He also danced to the beat of pop songs that will be released on his new album coming out in July. 

“It was great – amazing,” he said, after taking to the stage.

The R&B artist was the headlining act at AFRAM— one of the largest free festivals for African Americans on the East Coast. Thousands of people flocked to Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park to celebrate Black food, music and heritage on the first day of the event.

“AFRAM is Baltimore’s festival,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. “We’re here to celebrate Blackness– the past, present and future.” 

The festival was started in 1976 as part of Baltimore City’s Showcase of Nations, an event that spotlighted local musicians and their catalogs. Past editions have included the likes of celebrities such as Toni Braxton, who was the grand marshall of the AFRAM parade in 1994.

The AFRO scored an interview with Ne-Yo after his hour-long set.

Wearing his classic black velvet fedora and a black sleek suit with gold detailing on the sides of his slacks, Ne-yo said that he loved performing at AFRAM.

The R&B artist’s performance took place on the eve of Juneteenth, a federal holiday that commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States. 

Juneteenth is originally a Texas holiday, however, its increasing popularity across states resulted in President Joe Biden proclaiming it a federal holiday in June 2021 through the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. 

When asked about what Juneteenth means to Ne-Yo, he said it “freedom” and “Black beauty- I love it.” 

The singer is also no stranger to performing at renowned Black festivals. In addition to headlining AFRAM, he has appeared at Essence Fest and Lovers & Friends.

Aside from AFRAM, Ne-yo has other summer performances lined up in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The new album is titled “Self-Explanatory” and will be available on streaming platforms on July 15.

“I’m excited for this to go out into the world,” he said in between taking pictures backstage with enamored fans. “I’ve put a lot of work into it and I’m ready for it to be out.”

During his AFRAM set, he wowed the audience with one of the album’s pre-released tracks “You Got The Body,” a slow song where he alternates between sultry melodies and lyrical rapping. As he performed the song, his four dancers twirled around him in their four inch stilettos and black leotards. 

Ne-Yo also announced that he will be touring with the album, which comes after a four year hiatus.

When not on the stage hypnotizing crowds with his popular tunes —and other 2000s songs that he co-wrote such as Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”— he is involved with the Compound Foundation, a charity he founded that increases awareness about children in the welfare system.

AFRAM will conclude Sunday with performances from Rotimi, Dj Tanz & Friends and The O’Jays. 

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