DETROIT – In search of a space to celebrate Afro-Caribbean music and culture, several friends decided to throw a party in the basement of their college apartment.
Now the event has evolved and is selling out all over Detroit and Ann Arbor, and has expanded to include shows across the country, as well as in Canada and Africa. We chat with one of Jerk x Jollof’s co-founders, Brendan Asante, about the recipe to the dance party’s success.
What is Jerk X Jollof all about?
It’s a hybridized Afro-Caribbean experience that combines the cuisine of the most centric cuisines of West Africa and Caribbean culture – Jollof rice and jerk chicken – with a dance experience surrounding the music of both cultures: Afrobeats, dancehall, soca.
Jerk X Jollof started in 2016, how did it all come about and what was your inspiration?
In college, my friends and I said we should do a party where there’s jerk chicken and Jollof rice. Someone’s mom made the Jollof. I picked up chicken from the Jamaican Jerk Pit in Ann Arbor. We did it at a basement and it was just this super sweaty dance party. We brought it back formally in 2016 in a club venue where we did two dates in Ann Arbor and then we moved to Detroit. That’s when everything just took off running.
We started getting calls to do it elsewhere, so we expanded to cities like Toronto, Los Angeles, Miami for Art Basel, Chicago for the All Star Weekend. We have one for fashion week in New York coming up. We’re working on finalizing a Euro tour. And Afrochella in Ghana is always our last party of the year.
What was the experience like building these events from scratch? Were there any challenges?
I was able to pull from my expertise in shows. I’m a singer and producer and I went to the University of Michigan for jazz studies, so I was already versed in getting into venues and starting to book that stuff.
I think the biggest challenge in the beginning was convincing venues that this is something they should try. When we were starting, Afro-Caribbean music and culture was starting to bubble up underground and people weren’t necessarily keen on the idea of having a whole night themed around that. But thankfully, the first Detroit venue was Marble Bar that took a chance on us. And gradually the party started getting bigger and we had to move to different venues in Detroit.
You’re now taking Jerk X Jollof around the globe. How is that experience going?
Our most recent international one was in Toronto for Canada Day and we sold out. It was our first time going back since 2018 and people were saying, “When are you coming back?”
Traveling with it is always really unique because the moment you put it on sale, you’re stepping out on faith. I make it a point, especially in a new city, to be there for the first hour at the door greeting people as they’re entering thanking them for coming. That is probably the most rewarding aspect. Not only are you finding people away from where you originally started that are equally excited about the experience you’re bringing to their city.
Do you feel that the timing of Afrobeats’ popularity has helped Jerk X Jollof?
100%. I think it was very serendipitous that around the same time we did the basement party in college and transformed it into the venue party in 2016, you had artists like Drake and Rihanna starting to dabble with these artists in Nigeria via WizKid or Davido.
As soon as “One Dance” and “Controller” came out, Wizkid dropped an album that put him on the map being like “Yo, I’m one of these voices of Africa.” And then you have Burna Boy who was just here in Detroit and it was a wild moment for me because younger me would never have thought that my culture would be celebrated enough to do something at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre. So it’s been really cool to see it splashing into mainstream U.S. culture. You have Ed Sheeran collaborating with these types of acts. Even Justin Bieber and J Balvin.
What do you hope people will get out events?
I want people to leave with either more hunger for the food, to either make their own or try other restaurants. But also sparking curiosity around the sound and the genre. I want them leaving with a bunch of new songs and a playlist, or even copping a ticket to go to Ghana to party at Afrochella. I love this idea of someone just being that much more familiar with something they weren’t familiar with. So if that’s the music, that’s the food, or even how people dress because people come really well-dressed to our events in just different types of garb.
The final Jerk X Jollof of the summer will be on Saturday, August 6th, 2022 at the Monroe Street Midway from 4 to 10 p.m. Admission is free with registration at JerkXJollof.com.