Cultural Nights: An exchange of African culture, arts, cuisine

The school year is well on its way to closing out, and student organizations are pulling all the stops to celebrate. The Association of African Students is right in step, bringing together a night of continental-sized cultural highlights, including song, dance and cuisine.

The association will host their annual African Cultural Night on Saturday. The event will take place in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom, where artists and musicians will perform and restaurants will offer up Ethiopian and Somali cuisine. Dancers and rap artists will showcase their work, and a student-led fashion show will feature designs and cultural touches from their selected countries in Africa.

Association President Wienta Mebrahtu, a junior studying community development, pointed to an array of performers and artists who will be in attendance. She noted the Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, an area troupe dedicated to promoting cultural awareness, which will perform at the Cultural Night. Founded by Rolia Manyongai-Jones, Kúkátónón has performed at a variety of events, including Trail Blazers games and educational events.

“She is the instructor for these girls, several that come to perform,” Mebrahtu said. “They are a pretty inventive group, performing all around Oregon. They’re usually sold out, and support children who want to learn African dance. They emphasize confidence through dance.”

Additionally, the association will bring in Chatta Addy, a drummer that focuses on traditional African beats. In addition to his work with the Shi Dah drumming group, Addy also takes his work to schools for various educational programs.

Also performing will be two rap artists, Kirby and Robe. Mebrahtu noted that both artists have performed for several years at Portland State, in addition to performances at other colleges throughout the state.

“Both are young and talented, they’ve performed at [Oregon State University] and [the University of Oregon] the last two years for their African night,” Mebrahtu said. “They’re pretty well known among African collegiate school groups. This will be their third year at PSU to perform.”

Mebrahtu pointed to recent collaboration with African student associations at nearby schools as one of many goals currently embraced by her own association. In addition, the group strives to work with other similarly-aligned student groups to promote cultural awareness and open up the conversation.

“[The association] has definitely seen a lot of growth when it comes to community participation and being actively involved,” she said. “That’s been our goal, to genuinely connect with people through the events that we host. We have local non-profit committees come out and speak. We’ve teamed up with some students here, and also have members that are actively involved in the African Women’s Coalition.”

Food will also be available, offered by local restaurants Safari and Enat Kitchen. Mebrahtu explained that Safari is a newer restaurant serving Somali cuisine. She pointed to a longer-standing relationship with the North Portland Enat Kitchen, which serves Ethiopian cuisine.

“They are Ethiopian food. They’re pretty much the best Ethiopian restaurant you can find in Portland,” she said. “We have a pretty good connection with them. Both restaurants give really good portions of food when serving our events.”

In addition to their annual African Cultural Night, the association hosts a variety of events, including talks and a regular tea social. Mebrahtu also explained that they hope to work more with local elementary and high schools to involve younger students in a shared multicultural experience.

“We’re working with a lot of the local elementary schools in Portland,” she said. “A lot of our members are actively involved in groups that are formed in elementary schools and high schools. A lot of our members are involved in the immediate African community. One of our goals is to inspire other young Africans to be involved as they look toward college and finish high school.”