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African Cultural Night drums up interest

If you were strolling around campus on Friday evening you may have heard the sounds of drumming, singing and laughing. If you followed the jamboree, it most likely led you to the doors of the Smith Center.

From there, all you had to do was follow the crowd bustling in and out of the ballroom. The flashing lights, dancing bodies and clapping hands marked the 22nd Annual African Cultural Night.

The yearly event, put on by the Association of African Students (AAS), drew families, students, faculty, administrators and performers to PSU. The affair offered a taste and glimpse of the various African cultures represented at the university and around the metropolitan area.

The evening began a little after 6:30 p.m., when Michael Habtemariam and Mohamud Abi, president and vice-president of AAS, welcomed the audience. They were followed by a brief opening from Vice Provost Douglas Samuels, who commended the AAS and head of International Admissions, Paula Harris, for their work in bringing African students and culture to Portland State.

To prepare the ballroom Kwaken Mensah held a libation to bless the event and “ask for guidance with everything we do.”

The Woodlawn Dancers then came energetically streaming from backstage. The more than 20 rainbow-costumed performers danced, pranced and twisted to the rhythm and direction of four drummers and the troupe leader.

The audience was then treated to a keynote address by visiting professor Dumisa Ntsebetza, who addressed issues of amnesty and justice in his native country of South Africa. Then the crowd had a chance to fill up with African food and drink accompanied by the music and poetry of the Reparation Band.

After dinner, the AAS held a presentation about the organization and its accomplishments. These include the shipment to Africa of 27,000 books and 15 computers in conjunction with Books not Bombs, the collection of 15,000 signatures supporting the creation of a Black Studies major and the successful invitation of bell hooks.

The second round of entertainment began with Omanye, a five-piece ensemble that performed Ghanaian drumming and dancing. The two dancers tossed audience members a white horsetail, which meant they had to join the dancers onstage where they were commanded to “shake what you can shake.”

Then the Oromo dancers performed a courting dance, followed by Eritrean dancers, who shook their shoulders and moved their feet in traditional sun-bleached white and sparkling embroidered trim dress.

After an awards ceremony for AAS contributors, dancers from Somalia and Ethiopia graced the stage.

The final event was the fashion show. Students showed off styles, fabrics and struts from a variety of African countries.

DJ Da Real Chissu mixed up the music, and despite some technical difficulties and mistimed requests, he kept the show going.

“It’s real great to see African culture at PSU. I think it’s great what they (AAS) do for PSU,” commented Dune Zhu, the new ASPSU vice-president and AAS supporter.

The Woodlawn Dancers troupe leader said, “let’s keep sharing the universe.”

African Cultural Night was co-sponsored by Black Studies Department, Speakers Board Committee, Activities Committee, World Dance Office, KBOO, Education WithOut Borders, Conscious Bites and the Vanguard.