Musician ROSTAFA, at center, is seen playing at last year’s Kemet Music and Arts Festival, in Jersey City. The festival will be at the Montclair Brewery this year. (Photo by Carlos Bustillo, Courtesy ROSTAFA)

Musician and activist ROSTAFA was at a rally a few years ago when he first heard the term “Kemet.”

It’s what the ancient Egyptians called their home — literally meaning “black land.” It stuck with ROSTAFA.

“It stood out to me as very, very important. Whenever you’re on Kemet ground, you’re on black ground, a giving ground,” he said. “And the people of color in this country have given so much, whether through entrepreneurship or art or innovation or labor. The African American population is some of the most culturally significant people to ever walk the planet.”

But importantly, ROSTAFA said, Kemet isn’t exclusionary — it gives to and welcomes everyone.




And that’s the ethic, he said, that’s behind the Kemet Music and Arts Festival, which began in Jersey City last year and is slated to come to the Montclair Brewery July 31. 

Even with coronavirus restrictions in place last year, Kemet saw about 200 people come from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This year, ROSTAFA — the event organizer and producer — is hoping to see hundreds more come for local talent, guest speakers, poets and local Black-owned business vendors.

The event will raise funds for an album ROSTAFA and others will take part in titled “Black Is Beautiful” — centered around a decade of Black Lives Matter activism overall, but in particular on the high-profile, deadly encounters with police seen over the last year and a half, and the movements that responded. When the album is finished, 20% of the proceeds will be donated to a Black-owned business in need. ROSTAFA said he’s hoping to raise $10,000 to $12,000 in all.

ROSTAFA said he moved the festival this year to Montclair in part, because as a West Orange resident, Montclair’s always been his backyard. Montclair Brewery, as a Black-owned business with an inclusive ethic, was a natural fit, he said. 

The festival’s live concert will also be streamed on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook. A live and virtual raffle giveaway will help raise money for the album. The rain date for the event is Aug. 1.

Denise Ford-Sawadogo and Leo Sawadogo, owners of Montclair Brewery, say they’re honored to welcome the Kemet Festival to their business, the state’s first Black-owned brewery. “Kemet is all about connecting to the African diaspora with Black art, music and talent,” Ford-Sawadogo said. (ADAM ANIK/FILE PHOTO)

This year’s talent will include Lil’ Bastad, ROSTAFA and Co., Howlin’ Poets and Lynette Live. There will be local Black and brown vendors including Little Hot Dog Wagon, Talk Mac 2 Me and Cilantro Lime Tacos.

Montclair Brewery owners Denise Ford-Sawadogo and Leo Sawadogo said they’re honored to host the event this year. ROSTAFA said the event will mostly be based at the brewery, though he’s awaiting approval of a permit application to close down part of Willow Street to make room for vendors and to extend the festival out onto the street. 

“We are fortunate that we have enough space and that we are in a position to be able to host. With great power comes great responsibility, and we want to step up and give back. It’s raising awareness for a great cause, African culture,” Ford-Sawadogo, owner of the first Black-owned brewery in New Jersey, said. 

“Kemet is all about connecting to the African diaspora with Black art, music and talent. The festival connects it all, and we are looking forward to a great turnout.”

She recommends attendees get tickets in advance, because of limited capacity.

Montclair Brewery was one of 900 breweries that participated in the “Black Is Beautiful” beer collaboration in June of 2020, looking to draw attention to injustices people of color face. Participating brewers, all using a shared recipe, created and sold a stout, donating to local organizations that support racial and social justice. 

Montclair Brewery donated to DIFFvelopment, which looks to empower Black students through entrepreneurial and financial education, and IMANI, which offers educational programs to close achievement gaps in Montclair schools.

ROSTAFA said even after the activism of the last year and more, “we still have this fear of not understanding one’s culture when they’re within our community.” He hopes the emphasis on Black heritage and Black excellence — alongside, part of and inclusive to communities of all races — helps chip away at that.

“I really want to see people supporting each other. I want to see that people care about progress in their own communities,” he said.

And he hopes after a year of the stress, anxiety and isolation of the pandemic, and the pain that’s inspired BLM and related movements, “we want this to be a bit of a jubilee, and a resurgence.”

“It’s also nice to give to a community that’s been good to you,” ROSTAFA, who frequently plays at Montclair venues, said. “We want to make sure that people know, ‘Hey, we’re back to where we left off.’ That this is a celebration, for the town of Montclair as well as the people of color of Montclair. For everyone.”

Tickets for the event are available on Eventbrite by searching “Kemet.”