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"World Citizen" shows off a new side of Africa

By Hayley DeBerry
On November 14, 2011

This Friday, the Brandeis African Students Organization hosted its "World Citizen: A Night for Africa" event in Levin Ballroom to showcase the cultural, musical and aesthetic diversity of Africa. The event included music, poetry, dance and fashion.

After BASO members brightened the stage with a few flags of the 54 African countries represented at Brandeis, Prof. Nani Agbeli (MUS) and his "Music and Dance from Ghana" class performed an energetic drum song. The students, who dressed in colorful African patchwork pants for their performance, expertly played a repetitive beat that, when heard simultaneously, comprised a vigorous rhythm. Agbeli led the song on a drum so large its player had to stand to play it properly.

The event then focused on looking past the media's misrepresentations of Africa as a place of constant famine and tragedy. Jessye Akua Kass '13 performed a poem about the joys of Africa—its culture, music, dance and food—that are often overlooked. It's more, her poem explained, than a home to suffering. Africa is "at the center of the beginning," she said, and we must look beyond those media's misrepresentations of Africa and "see what Africa can be."

The subsequent slideshow included photos of some of Africa's many nations and the beautiful, colorful cultures unique to each one. In the same vein as Kass' poem, it reminded the audience that Africa is more than what we see in the media—it is laughter, love, dance and full of incredibly beautiful people and traditions.

The theme of the show shifted to love for and within the cultures of Africa when Brandeis' own Blessing Monday '13 performed a love song with Massachusetts Institue of Technology student Adaeze Ezeh. They sang in both English and in Hausa, a language spoken in northern Nigeria. The lyrics celebrated romantic, spiritual and joyful love. Both women enchanted the audience with their beautiful voices and bright energy.

Harvard Univerity sophomore Anshee Mungai then entranced the audience with a thoughtful spoken word narration, which cautioned men against unrealistic expectations for the women they love. "My piece was basically a word about the course of love," she explained in an interview with justArts. "The big thing I was saying was that you must love the woman. You cannot expect too much from her." Mungai's words were incredibly profound, giving a necessary reminder that a woman's appearance is fluid and changes with time, but that she does not, by any means, become less beautiful. Further, her beauty is not limited to the tone of her skin or the shape of her body—it can be something representative of her enduring personality, like the calluses on her hands that come from hard work.

Harvard band Wenyeji also performed two love songs. The first was a fun, relaxed piece, while the second included a fantastic guitar solo and mournful harmony, ending with the band's endearing singer blowing kisses to the audience.

The end of the evening celebrated Africa's aesthetic appeal through fashion and dance. BASO members modeled fashions currently popular in Africa. The models strutted across the stage in stunning, colorful and vibrantly-patterned clothes that ranged from formal to casual outfits and included everything from corsets and skirts to dresses to matching shirt and pants sets worn by BASO's male models. A particularly fantastic outfit showcased a summery peach color accented with elaborate red embroidery.

A series of dance performances concluded the show. Dancers wrapped flags around their hips and gave the audience a sample of traditional Ugandan dance. The gumboot dance, reminiscent of step dancing, illustrated how African workers tolerated the oppression they faced: "The gumboot dance is [when] we wear gumboots or rain boots, and it's about South African miners and during their spare time that's what they did—they slapped their boots!" said dancer Tawanna Johnson '15. The event ended with a highly energetic modern African dance performed to a variety of thumping beats. A traditional dinner was served afterward and a party in the Shapiro Campus Center atrium concluded the hugely successful evening. Said BASO member Sara Imhotep '15, "Being an African-American and being involved in this and the fact that BASO could put together something this beautiful is really inspiring. I'm even more proud of the African part of my heritage."

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