Open the Gate: African Hubs in London You Shouldn’t Miss

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Open the Gate is a volunteer-run organization. Its  mission is to promote African Cultures in London and UK. It does so through Arts, Design, Music and cultural events. It showcases a variety of art forms – music, dance, storytelling, fashion, arts and crafts, and drumming. All these are usually shown within the same event, in a participative way for the audience.

Today, we talk to Sandrine Herbert-Razafinjato. Sandrine is a socially-driven designer and events manager. She is also the Co-Founder and Director of Open the Gate.

Sandrine, Co-Founder and Director of Open the Gate

Sandrine, Co-Founder and Director of Open the Gate

Open the Gate Initiative

As the co-founder and director, my role is quite broad. People usually describe me as the ‘Mother’ of Open the Gate. I do everything from development and strategy to traders liaison for the African Market. I also design products for Open the Gate Handmade and supervise The Pen & Paper Campaign.

We feature a variety of cultures and traditions with original top quality artists. They come from Madagascar to Jamaica, passing by Ghana, Kenya, Somalia, Algeria, Brazil and others. Our aim is to provide affordable events across the communities and to increase the audience’s knowledge of African culture.

We don’t stop at event organising. We also support the musicians of our network thanks to the booking agency we created. The African Market offers a platform of advice and networking for the traders and designers. We also nurture our artists with Open the Gate Handmade, our ethical fashion label, and Open the Gate Sound, our very own DJ and MCs crew.

We also initiated The Pen & Paper Campaign in Gambia. It is a charity project helping the development of Gambian educational system. We also wanted to raise the tourists’ awareness of its problems.

 

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Open the Gate Festival Scene in 2014

Live African Music Concerts

My partner and I started with single live music concerts. We had a lot of friends who were talented musicians from Africa and the diaspora. We felt there was a lack of avenues for them to perform.

We like to showcase rarities, traditions with a contemporary twist. This way, the audience can discover new instruments. They can also learn about the roots and traditions of the various artists.

Until now, Live African Music and The African Market is probably the most popular activities of Open the Gate. They have been going on since 2009 and has never failed to attract more audience.

Our audience is very mixed – students and adults, lovers of Africa and world culture. Of course, African communities and the diaspora would come. Bloggers and influencers attend regularly.

Artists gain more and more followers each time. We have seen artists who have started with us in small venues have now achieved some level of success. They expand their project, release albums, and perform on renowned stages. This has been very motivating for us.

 

The African Market

The African Market started in 2010. A friend of mine was organising some pop-up African Markets a few times a year. We had a discussion, and decided to run it on a monthly basis. They would still be pop-up markets, but with a stronger brand.

Each pop-up is adaptive to the location. One can not only find stalls but also bring activities for the family, like drumming and crafts workshops. What is most important is the atmosphere. The African Market is a big family of traders and designers, helping and supporting them.

On the first edition, we had a strong selection of designers. It was an immediate success. Afterwards, we worked harder on the marketing to create a strong label. We simply named this brand ‘The African Market’. We started building the audience from there.

The African Market showcases original and ethical fashion. This includes accessories, jewellery, shoes, arts and crafts, homeware, natural health and beauty products, books, music, and more. Local and international charities are also present, promoting their actions and raising awareness. They also sell goods to raise funds.

Since June 2013, The African Market has been resident at Old Spitalfield Market London on every fourth Saturday of the month. Open the Gate works regularly with Hackney Council to produce The African Market. We were also the Mayor of London’s programme partner of “Africa on the Square” (Trafalgar Square, 2014 and 2015).

 

The old African Market at Old Spitalfields

The old African Market at Old Spitalfields

Strengthening the African Presence in London

There are a lot of African Communities in London. Unfortunately, there is still little visibility. The image of Africa in the media is very restricted. A lot of them are negative. Stereotypes of African poverty surround us, online and offline.  It is important for us to work towards providing a better image and share the richness of the continent to the people.

Fortunately, the initiatives of Open the Gate are working. Since we started, we have seen an increase of interest for African themed events from the wider public. We have had requests from various entities to work with us to provide quality events in content and delivery. This has really motivated us in our mission and pushed us to always do better.

 

Come Visit Us!

If you have never visited an Open the Gate event before, I really suggest you to give it a try. We bring Africa to you, rich in culture, with new things to discover. Bring your children and your friends! It is also a perfect place to find, meet, and network with like-minded people.

 

The African Market takes place in various indoor and outdoor locations. It has been run in RichMix in Shoreditch London E1, Gillett Square in London Hackney, and more. It has been part of Festivals such as the Back2Black Festival (London, 2012), Film Africa Festival (London, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and  Kaya Festival (North Wales, 2013). It has been also hosted at  The Africa Centre in Covent Garden London in 2012.