The annual parade that helps propel the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival returned in 2021 after a pandemic-forced absence. (TSD Archives)

The highly anticipated Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival (AIA) 2022 has in store some spectacular sights and sounds, according to directors, David and Yvonne Acey.

“This is our 35th year,” said David Acey, executive director. “We can hardly believe it has been 35 years. The time has flown by. We hit a snag in 2020 COVID-19 pandemic restrictions shut everything down.

“But all that is behind us now. This is our year of rebirth and renewal. It will be a more colorful, more joyful experience because everything is open again.”

David Acey and Yvonne Acey have shepherded the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival for 35 years, serving as ambassadors throughout the year at multiple events. (TSD Archives)

The Aceys wanted to create a festival that would celebrate an African country each year. Not only an educational experience, but the event was designed to teach African Americans about their “countries of origin.”

The couple envisioned strengthening the bond between “us and our homeland.

“We are so thrilled about what the festival has become,” said David Acey. “People call from all over the country, and they come to Memphis from other countries — Germany, Switzerland, England. Pandemic restrictions have lifted, and this 35th festival is our renaissance, a year of renewal.”

Slated from Wednesday through Sunday, April 20-24, 2022, the 35th Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival will honor the Republic of Malawi.

Located in southeastern Africa, Malawi’s capital is Lilongwe, which is located on the Lilongwe River of the landlocked nation.

Malawi is a country of nearly 46,000 sq. mi., with about 19.5 million in population. It has been dubbed “The Warm Heart of Africa” because of the friendliness of its people. English is the official language, although other Africa dialects are used in various regions.

Malawi is bordered by Zambia on the west, Tanzania on the north and northeast, and Mozambique to the east, south, and southwest.

“This year, we wanted to honor a country we had never honored before and one that is little known to most of us,” said Yvonne Acey, associate executive director.

“Malawi is largely under-developed, rural country that depends largely on agriculture. But the culture is rich in dance and mask-making. We hope that bringing attention to Malawi this year will help open up more economic opportunities for its people.”

The flag of Malaŵi. Officially the Republic of Malawi, the African nation was formerly known as Nyasaland. It has an estimated population of 19,431,566 (as of January 2021). The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name for the Chewa people who inhabit the area. The country is nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa” because of the friendliness of its people.

David Acey said presenting the festival this year in its rightfully designated month of April is “thrilling.” Last year, COVID-19 restrictions prompted the festival’s move to August.

“Last year, we were Africa in April in August,” said David Acey. “We honored the Republic of Botswana. We decided to have the festival in 2021 because I just couldn’t cancel the festival two years in a row.

“This year, 2022, the pandemic is finally past, and everything is open again. Definitely, this is our renaissance after a very long and dark night.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the festival will kick off with the traditional International Entrepreneur’s Luncheon at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave., 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday is “Children and Seniors Day & Parade,” which begins at 10 a.m. The parade will come down world-famous Beale Street and wind its way to the historic Robert R. Church Park at 4th and Beale Streets. Vendors and activities will be staged and situated throughout the park from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m., with emphasis on children and seniors.

Saturday in Church Park, vendors and activities will be set up from 8 a.m. until 12 midnight. Saturday is Health, Wellness & Community Day.

Sunday is International Music Day in Church Park, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. A day-long schedule of music groups and spectacles will celebrate a wide variety of music, from gospel to jazz, and everything in between. 

“As always, we invite people of every race and culture to come out and enjoy the festival,” said David Acey.

“Each year, there are unique experiences in store for those who attend. We expect this 35th festival to be extra special. All are welcome.”