Monday, December 03, 2001

NKU students celebrate African songs, dance

By Karen Andrew
Enquirer Contributor

        HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — A bit of Africa came to Kentucky this weekend. Dances from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, a libation ceremony from Ghana and a fashion show were performed at Northern Kentucky University's African Student Union Cultural Fest.

        About 80 students from Africa study at the 11,250-student university in Campbell County.

        Olumide Balogun, a Nigerian computer-science student, staffed a table of African jewelry, books, tapes and carvings for sale as other students dressed for their performances.

        “Americans have a different perspective of what Africans look like, a stereotype of Africans,” Mr. Balogun said. “We come here as international students and we're showing our culture and our beautiful Africa.”

        Students performed dances and drumming, and displayed traditional and contemporary costumes representing a number of African countries as well as the Caribbean. Those who attended included Af rican-American families.

        Rebecca Threat of the NKU comptroller's office waited for the show to begin with her husband, Gregory, and son, Zachary. Mrs. Threat said one of the reasons they attended was to show their son African culture.

        “They try to diversify at school but maybe not so much about Africa,” Mrs. Threat said. “I heard about the show through the school communications and I thought, well, why not, it's something to do.”

        The audience also included NKU students.

        “We live in the dorms and a lot of our friends are from Africa,” said Adrianna Hernandez, an international studies student originally from Costa Rica. She will soon be applying for American citizenship.

        “We came to experience the taste of African culture and support our friends,” said Michelle LeCompte, a pre-elementary freshman from Henry County.

        A similar event is held by the International Student Union in the spring when students share their cultures through food. However, Burhan Mohamedali, external relations officer and biology major from Tanzania, said this was the first time this type of program was tried.

        “Our purpose is to increase multicultural awareness at NKU,” said Mr. Mohamedali, who wore a three-piece embroidered white overcoat, long shirt and trousers of lightweight fabric.

        “If you like other cultures, this is the best event of the semester. There is nothing like African and Caribbean cultures.”

        Prince Ellis of Ghana, attired in a flowing olive-green caftan, and his younger brother, Lukman, who was dressed in a light blue caftan, sang favorite songs a cappella before they performed the libation prayer ceremony. The ceremony asks for peace, unity and God's guidance in all things.

        When the lights went up for the next performance, a group of women dressed in brightly colored kangas, pieces of cotton cloth with floral and abstract designs that wrap around the body, stepped and swiveled to “Ukomobothi,” a popular South African song by Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

        The dance was performed by Joy Amekpor of Ghana and Elsie Opute, Victoria Ute and Amake Opute of Nigeria, all NKU students.

        “This dance expresses the pride of African women and their status in the family and society,” said Ms. Ute, who is also the president of the African Student Union and a computer science major.

        A piece performed by drummers illustrated the “Afro-Beat” from Nigeria. Patrick Lenga of the Democratic Republic of Congo played on a Western-style set of drums while Tosin Ayanrinola, David Okafor and Michael Oludare, all of Nigeria, pounded the beat on more traditional drums.

        The drummers accompanied other songs, such as the solemn choir-sung African continental anthem played at the beginning of the program.

        Dr. Jonathan Reynolds, a professor of African and Middle Eastern history at NKU, donned a light blue and white caftan and strummed his guitar between dances. He played and sang blues songs, which he said have roots in African music.

        “I know all the African students and they invited me to take part,” said Dr. Reynolds, a native of Boston. “I've been to the African continent seven times total, mostly Nigeria and Ghana. There is probably no place more misunderstood in the world by Americans than Africa. Tonight's festival is 100 percent elephant-free.”

        “It's entertaining. There were many Americans here and this gets the cultures to meet and work together,” said Viki Kimball, director of NKU's international student affairs office.


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