Now waaaaaiiiit a minute: The AFRAM Festival announced The Isley Brothers and Ty Dolla $ign as the the headliners for its 46th annual event at a news conference on Tuesday. Other renowned artists who are set to perform at Druid Hill Park during the Juneteenth weekend celebration include Eric Bellinger, Kid Capri, DJ Spinderella and Maryland’s own Tamar Braxton.

The AFRAM Festival, which debuted in 1976, is a celebration of African American culture, honoring food, music, art and crafts. Now the East Coast-based cultural arts fair is one of the largest in the nation.

Nearly 200,000 people attended AFRAM last year to see performers like The O’Jays, Le’Andria Johnson and El DeBarge.

Mayor Brandon Scott, who attended the news of the announcement, wrote in a statement that “AFRAM is extremely important for the City of Baltimore as it is one of our most time-honored traditions. This festival provides a unique opportunity for Baltimoreans and visitors to celebrate African-American heritage and culture in our city.”

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Ty Dolla $ign performs in 2016. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for MTV)
The poster for AFRAM 2023.

This year’s festival will feature a tribute to 50 years of hip-hop and celebrate the anniversary of a pivotal local phenomenon: Baltimore club music. The latter led to an important announcement of its own at the conference.

“Saturday, June 17, 2023, and every June 17 after will officially be Baltimore Club Music Day,“ legendary Baltimore producer Shawn Caesar said.

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Originating in the late 1980s, Baltimore club music is a sample-based production that uses a formula of tempos around 130 beats per minute. Some of the most popular examples include “Dance My Pain” by Rod Lee and “I’m The Ish” by DJ Class, which also features Kanye West on the remix. Its influence can be felt far outside the region, though: Production on Drake’s “Honestly, Nevermind” album features clear nods to Baltimore club music, such as Rye Rye’s “What” chant on “Currents.” (DJ and producer Gordo, who grew up in Frederick County, Maryland, is responsible for “Currents” and produced four other tracks on that album.)

With Baltimore Club Music Day, “We’ll be able to celebrate what we founded, what came from Baltimore is of us, from us and can never be duplicated,” Ceasar said.

The AFRAM Festival will take place from noon to 9 p.m. on June 17 and June 18.

Taji Burris has covered the Baltimore music scene since 2015 for outlets such as The Working Title and The 4th Quarter, and now at the Baltimore Banner.

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