My Afrika is…students and community celebrate African culture

On Saturday, May 28, hundreds of Portland State students and members of the community gathered in the Smith Memorial Ballroom to celebrate the diversity of African cultures during the 36th Annual African Cultural Night. This year the theme was “My Afrika is…” and purposefully left open ended so everyone could reflect on what the continent means to them regardless of where they come from.

Rosa Tati is the Vice President of the Association of African Students. “The event is meant to celebrate African culture and share it with the rest of the PSU community and Portland community,” Tati said. “It’s not just for Africans. It’s for everybody.”

The evening began with an impressive and delicious array of African cuisine: Ethiopian food from Enat Kitchen, Moroccan food from Tangier Restaurant, and Somali food from Safari Restaurant. After feasting on everything from samosas to injera to falafel, the audience settled in for an equally impressive program of entertainment.

The Obo Addy Legacy Project consisted of drummers from Ghana, Loveness Wesa awed the crowd with traditional and original Zimbabwean music, Parfait Bassale shared his reggae-tinged and West African-influenced songs about our common humanity, and Oromo dance performed a traditional Ethiopian hair whipping dance.

Susan Addy is the Executive Director of the Obo Addy Legacy Project and she said the drummers enjoyed performing for other Africans and hearing how much they responded. “They love to share the traditions from their country with younger Africans who may never have heard this kind of music before,” said Addy.

One of the highlights of the program was the Zuma Zuma Acrobatic Troupe, from Nairobi, Kenya, who previously reached the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent in 2011. But for Abel Gebrezgi, the president of AAS, his favorite part was the fashion show.

“My favorite part would have to be the fashion show at the end of the event,” said Gebrezgi. He described how when the members of the fashion show came back to the stage, the front section of the crowd joined in and started dancing. “It is amazing how all of the people, on and off stage, were able to put aside any cultural or national differences and celebrate the whole of Africa as one.”

But the evening was about more than just celebrating African culture. When Gebrezgi opened the evening he held a moment of silence to acknowledge and raise awareness of the violence that has taken place in that part of the world.

“I hope that the audience acknowledged Africa’s wealth, cultural diversity, and strength when united,” Gebrezgi said. “Also, I hope that the audience was educated on the importance of breaking down African stereotypes.”

Not only is Africa Night a special event for attendees, but for the participants too. Mary Young is a PSU student who has volunteered for the Africa Night the last seven years in a row and participated in the fashion show. For her, this evening is always meaningful.

“I enjoy being around the energy of people of color,” Young said. “It makes me feel very safe, wonderful, and loved.”