When Angel Dahfay wanted to design her own website, establish a business and organize her first event, she had to learn how to do it completely on her own. Now, she's trying to take what she has learned, invite fellow creatives, and open up that body of knowledge for her peers in Connecticut.
That's the idea behind New Haven's inaugural Sweets & Sounds Con, scheduled for Saturday March 25 at NXTHVN in New Haven's Dixwell neighborhood. Curated by Dahfay, the founder and director of Sweets & Sounds Entertainment, the day-long convention features multiple workshops, two panels, multimedia installations, and a late-night afterparty at Jazzy’s Cabaret.
It marks a first for New Haven; previous conventions have taken place in Hartford. Tickets and more information are available here.
"I'm not doing it for me, at the end of the day," she said in a recent interview on WNHH's "Arts Respond.” "Like, this is an idea that I have, but my main thing is like, I've learned so many things and I want everybody else that's around me to know these things.”
“This is for you if you want to be better yourself as a creative, if you want to be a part of a community,” she later added. “This is for you if you care about stuff like that. And if you want to be able to learn things, so you can teach other people things as well, this is for you.”
Sweets & Sounds was originally born in late 2018, as Dahfay thought about bringing together her love for both music and food on an interactive platform. First came “Sweet Talk,” a series of YouTube videos in which she interviewed New Haven-based chefs and musicians, including Steve Roberts and Trey Moore (read more about that here). Then when Covid-19 hit, she took the time to reframe the work, beta testing different models before she landed on an events series.
Lockdown—in which gathering was still not safe—gave her the space to dream. She played with the idea of a small-batch bakery, ultimately realizing that it wasn’t exactly the right fit. She reworked “Sweet Talk,” inviting on new creatives like Say Kuro, ammar, and Kolton Harris. In the episodes, she balanced her own editorial voice and vision with an interviewer, the New Haven-based writer and comedian Sean Murray.
Angel Dahfay. Jeremy Grier Photo.
Since then, Sweets & Sounds has grown into a multi-part entertainment platform that honors, celebrates, and supports creatives, and in particular creatives of color, across the state. Last year, Dahfay birthed Jubilation, a dinner and multi-artist concert with installations in New Haven and later Hartford. It was then that she also spearheaded the first Sweets & Sounds Con as a way to share knowledge with fellow artists and creatives who might need it. The first iteration took place in Hartford at the end of 2021, produced with Cafeteria Media and New Haven Bank.
"The convention, for me, was me trying not to gatekeep all the things that I've learned being a creative in CT," she said. "I kind of wanted to figure out a way to hold the gate for people. It's like, 'I know this, now you know this, let's try to come together and grow and become the best version, and the best people that we can be as struggling artists in a way.'"
Even then, she said, she knew she wanted to bring it to her home of New Haven, a city that has both nurtured her and introduced her to dozens of rejections, funding hurdles, and challenges finding venues. She connected with NXTHVN, which in the past three years has become an incubator for creatives of color. She said the space, which lived many prior lives before becoming an art gallery and studio space, has been a very welcoming partner for the program.
As she began to design a full day of programming, she thought about the knowledge that has helped her in her own career. For instance, Dahfay taught herself to design websites through tutorials on social media, and has since turned it into an extra source of income for herself. She had to walk herself through grant writing, development, and fiscal sponsorships for individuals and for-profit businesses.
Out of that grew panels on web design, funding and fiscal sponsorship, creating a business entity, and branding and marketing. True to Sweets & Sounds’ mission, most of the presenters are artists and young professionals in New Haven and Connecticut.
She turned her attention towards two panels, both meant to feel like the intimate, sometimes vulnerable conversations she often has with her peers and colleagues in private spaces like peoples’ homes. Originally, Dahfay said, her goal was to be sure that listeners walked away feeling like they had learned something. She built them from there.
The first, titled “Boss Up,” is dedicated to storytelling from young entrepreneurs, including CTNext’s Onyeka Obiocha and Renee Loren, The Narrative Project’s Mercy Quaye, Cafeteria Media’s Joshua Jenkins and others. The second, titled “Creative AF,” is designed as a space for creatives to speak openly about what has worked—and what hasn’t—as they establish themselves as cultural professionals and working artists in their respective fields.
It includes photographer Shawn Llewllyn, digital creator Amani Richardson, DJ Meechie, photographer and The Photo Booth, LLC Owner Bizzie Ruth, musician and writer Dom McLennon, and musician Jason Cottterell. Journalist Ashley Raymond, a member of the editorial team at Cafeteria Media, will moderate the panel.
"I envision the panels as me sitting in my house, with a group of my friends," Dahfay said. "Sometimes it might be three people, and sometimes it might be ten people. And we're just having these dope conversations. So I wanted to figure out a way to take that from my own space and put it into this whole entire space for people to experience."
“Even though they come from different backgrounds, they still all have the same knowledge of trying to become who you are as a Black person in the creative world, and having all the struggles that we all went through,” she added.
In addition to workshops and panels, Sweets & Sounds Con will feature installations from The Photo Booth, Cafeteria Media, Courtvision, and the Westville shop, cafe and lifestyle boutique BLOOM.
As the date of the convention draws closer, she said she’s also hopeful that it will bridge the distance many creatives see—and sometimes create in their minds and their programming—between Connecticut cities, particularly cultural hubs like New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport. A native of New Haven, Dahfay sometimes hears from friends and colleagues who think of an event in Hartford as “too far” to travel—even though it’s only about an hour away.
In her opinion, she said, Connecticut creatives should collaborate more often than they do. If she will drive two hours to do something in New York City, why not the one hour to Hartford?
“Just come here because you care about the community,” she said. “Because you care about growth, and you care about learning and you care about seeing everyone prosper and grow. This is the type of space I like being in—learning and growing with the people who look like me, and want to be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.”
She added that her goal, especially for Black creatives, is to break down the barriers to entry that have existed for centuries, and still exist in New Haven. As she’s built Sweets & Sounds, Dahfay said, she’s learned firsthand what it’s like to be locked out of funding, turned down for an event, or told no on a proposal or workshop application. She wants to be a part of ending that cycle by giving people the tools they need to succeed.
“I hope everyone comes out, and I hope everyone has a great time,” she said. “I’m trying to make this the best experience I possibly can for everyone. Definitely come through and support, and leave feeling full.”
To listen to the full interview on WNHH Community Radio, click on the audio above. Sweets & Sounds Con is scheduled for Saturday, March 25 at NXTHVN, 169 Henry St. in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood. Learn more and buy tickets here. Arts Respond” is a collaboration with the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.