Over 500 community members and students attending the 36th annual African Heritage Night hosted by the Association of African Students at the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom on May 28.
This year’s theme was My Africa Is… Saturday’s event theme of My Africa Is… was purposefully left open ended so that the audience members and performers alike could reflect on what the continent means to them. Guests arrived to the ballroom welcomed by vibrant flags representing the various African nations and DJ Solo bumping African pop and hip-hop. The decorations and music made the whole ballroom energetic, lively and inviting for guests. The festivities began with a dinner of traditional cuisine from Ethiopia, Morocco and Somalia, showcasing the diversity in food throughout Africa.
Once the audience had reached their seats and finished their meals, the programs of the night were under way. Before any of the performances took off, the president of the Association of African Students, Abel Gebrezgi, gave a moment of silence for those in Africa who have passed within the last year. The first performance of the night was from a Ghanaian drumming, singing and dancing ensemble. They performed traditional Ghanaian war and harvest dances. Toward the end of their performance, they had the audience captivated and clapping along with the beat. Afterward, Jamaican singer Brandon Jay Foster performed his own songs reflecting the Caribbean community. Through his performance, Foster spoke about the importance of a united Africa and prevalence of African heritage in Caribbean culture. After Foster performed, a mother-daughter duo performed more traditional songs and dances.
Next, an African acrobatics troupe, Zuma Zuma, dazzled the audience with their thrilling balancing acts and brave stunts. Zuma Zuma, also semi-finalists on America’s Got Talent, left the audience with a standing ovation. After Zuma Zuma, there was a fashion show with all the different traditional outfits from throughout Africa.
While the event was a fun, with many entertaining performances and delicious foods, there was also a more important meaning for the evening.
“It’s a showcase of several thousand African cultures, and it’s magical the way the whole of Africa can unite in a place that’s very far from Africa in some place like Portland,” Gebrezgi said. “There are many misconceptions regarding Africa, for instance, people thinking Africa is a singular country instead of a continent with many different countries within it. Also the belief that Africa is poor, yet as I mentioned in my speech, Africa is naturally the richest continent in the world through natural resources.”
By holding cultural events like this, the Association of African Students, hopes to combat these stereotypes and misconceptions.