Dance, fashion, music combine to celebrate African heritage

Dance, fashion, music combine to celebrate African heritage

By Steve Brachmann

Using fluid dance moves and sharp hip gyrations, the Mandingo Dancers enticed female audience members to throw dollar bills during their performance at the annual Africa Night in the Curry Student Center Ballroom Saturday.

The two-man routine was one of many dance numbers performed at the International Carnevale show, sponsored by the Northeastern African Student Organization (NASO).

Flags from every African nation surrounded the festivities. This year’s theme was “Africa Unite,” with an emphasis on African culture as a whole, rather than specific countries.

“We’re here to exhibit what our culture is about, what our mission is about,” said Petra Broda, President of NASO and emcee for the event. After her opening remarks, a slideshow depicted scenes from African life was shown. It included pictures of war and the effects of AIDS, as well as African culture and entertainment.

Lyeoka, Northeastern alumna and performance artist, has entertained foreign dignitaries in the past. She acted out two of her own poems, one where she grieved about the difficulties of living up to the standards of a different culture, and the other about the hope she finds in her homeland. Her act was permeated by a fiery passion that held the room’s attention.

The event featured a fashion show displaying clothing from different African cultures. The show was divided into three sections; the first exhibited the wedding garb of northern cultures, as well as fashion trends in western and central Africa. The second presented the sarongs and cotton wraps of east Africa and the fashion of southern Africa, best known for its beadwork. The final part showed the clothing of royalty, along with a slideshow with illustrations of former African kings and queens, including Cleopatra and Shaka, King of the Zulus.

Along with the fashion show, a number of dance groups performed from different universities, including La Belle Afrique from UMass Boston, Pan-African Dance Group from UMass Dartmouth and Northeastern’s Haitian Student Union, which featured couples dancing.

NU Bhangra, another Northeastern dance group, began a routine, but had to stop due to technical difficulties. NASO had its own group of eight dancers, who garnered an ovation from the crowd.

While the dance groups were a major focus, other performers also took center stage. The Zili Band, an eight-piece, all-female group with a calypso feel, played two numbers. A four-member African drumming group also performed a set, one man beating the skins so hard he had to wipe the sweat from his brow several times. A few skits were performed, including a war skit in which a pregnant women and her husband were killed by commandos. The gunmen then killed each other.

Marsha White, who performed with the NASO dance group, said Africa Night was an opportunity to learn about her heritage.

“You never get to hear the positive aspects of Africa,” White said. “I’ve danced all my life, but I never got the chance to do any African dance growing up.”

Nyisha Robinson, a junior business major, came to support her friends in NASO, and said she also gained a lot from seeing the outfits and performances.

“There’s really so much more to black culture than what we normally see on TV or in the newspapers,” she said.

Yanoh Jalloh, vice president of NASO, said the group hoped to show the audience Africa’s progress through the years.

“We hope to broaden people’s minds and teach them that Africa is not a stark continent like how it is stereotypically portrayed,” he said. “It is not all primitive and there is more to the music than drumming.”

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