Africans in the Twin Cities defied unexpected dull weather to launch the first-ever festival of the Diaspora in the state and Mshale followed closely for the entire four-day celebration.
Rain is considered a blessing in most of Africa, but when it pours down on the weekend of a highly anticipated, first-ever outdoor cultural summer festival like Afrifest, one is left scratching their head in search of the good fortune.
At the culmination of the festival during the Lucky Dube concert at First Avenue on the night of Monday, Aug. 20, Afrifest organizer Nathan S.White was relieved that the event he had taken months to plan was finally coming to an end.
“I really need a vacation, but I don’t think that will be possible because already there are so many inquiries about being included in next years plans,” White said.
With regards to the weather he said he would consider an indoor event next year. Nonetheless, the four-day festival was a showcase of great talent and was received well by those who attended.
“They did a good job putting it together for the first time,” Gorper Kweekeh, who moved to the Twin Cities from Detroit, said about Sunday’s event at Currie Park. “I am encouraged that since I can’t be at the Africa World Festival in Detroit I can attend this one.”
Kweekeh’s 3-year-old son, Elijah Moore, enthusiastically swayed to the music of Tanzanian musician Innocent and excitedly dashed towards the stage to reward the musician with a dollar bill.
African “beauty and vitality” at its best
The weekend got off to an energetic start on Friday night at the Grand Opening event with a New York-style runway fashion show at Klub Afrika in Brooklyn Park. Africans, who are notorious for arriving at clubs after midnight, streamed through Klub Afrika’s doors early and by 10:45p.m a decent line had formed at the door, because the fashion show had generated quite a buzz.
Camera lights flashed from a hollering audience as models – clad in a cross of contemporary American fashion and African designs – strutted across the passageway. Dance group Diaspora showed off a couple of hip-hop moves in their choreographed dance.
“This is a taste of what’s in store for you for the rest of the weekend,” said the deejay who then proceeded to keep the revelers on their toes for the rest of the night with a sweet mix of African and American hip-hop tunes.
On Sunday the fashion show, which was saved for last, delivered as promised and was a favorite for many.
“This was my favorite part of the day,” said Nyakuan Daniel. “I thought it was perfect!”
Without the glitz and glamour of afore planned outdoor stage and lights, fashion show organizer, Victor Abalo, had to be creative about the setup, which was moved indoors due to the heavy rains. Perhaps the bright lights of the gymnasium were not a bad thing after all, for they enabled the crowd to get a better view of the elaborate designs of the clothes. Showcasing about 30 outfits – some made just for Afrifest – 19-year-old Sudanese designer, Nyamal Both, stunned the audience with her versatile collection. A dozen or so African models exhibited a range of magnificently-tailored Western gowns and contemporary African wear, and at times a creative blend of the two.
The casual segment was just as diverse in its range from swim suits, to camouflage combinations, to kikoi summer outfits. The expressions on the faces in the crowd said it all. There were claps, cheers, “ooohhhhs” and “aaaahhs.” One gentleman repeatedly said, “Oh my God” and, upon hearing of the designer’s age, loudly exclaimed “Walahi!” evoking laughter from those standing by him.
“Nyamal brought out beauty and vitality. She brought a smile to people’s faces despite the weather,” said Wade Bove of the designer.
At the conclusion of the display, a shy and humble Both came forward and thanked her sponsors and the crowd for their attendance.
“My fashion represents all of Africa,” she said, holding the microphone tightly close to her chest with both hands. “I hope you keep supporting me. I have more coming in the future.”
After the show there were many requests for Nyamal’s business cards. Someone even wanted her to showcase her craft for a wedding, but many were shocked to find out that she did not have a business card or store, but works from her apartment. Nyamal has never been to a tailoring class either. She has been sewing by hand since childhood and only recently did she teach herself how to use a sewing machine. She is taking some classes at Minneapolis Community Technical College and hopes to get into one of the larger fashion and design schools like New York’s Parsons School of Design.
The Afro-Latin connection
More, rain, rain, rain, on Saturday may have deterred many from going to the Gala event at the Cedar Cultural Center, but the energy from the performers was far from dull. Minneapolis-based Liberian songbird, Munnah Myers, wowed the audience with her powerful, passionate and soulful vocals in a way comparable to R&B artists like Mary J. Blige and Keisha Cole.
“I am blessed to be doing what I love most,” she proclaimed, as the audience applauded.
Some nodded their heads and other tapped their feet to the R&B beat of her music. But it was her song “West Africa” that brought the audience to its feet.
“Back home people don’t get to see musicians up close and personal,” Munnah said, as she introduced the song. “We only see them on the television. It is my goal to get musicians to go back home and have a big concert.”
Maria Isa, who is from Puerto Rico, also gave a riveting performance while reviving a sometimes forgotten Afro-Latino music connection.
“I hope you weren’t expecting a reggeaton show,” she said. “You are coming to a show of how rhythms come together through the element of the Bomba drum.”
Backed by the Bakers Band, Isa performed a mixture of song and spoken word, while at the same time beckoning the crowd to come forward and dance to the beat of the Bomba drum. Her efforts were rewarded as the crowd, which could no longer resist the drumbeat, made its way to the front during her performance of “Yo lo quiero” (I want it).
An African History lesson
Sunday, which had been predicted to be the better day of the weekend, saw a heavy downpour that seriously crippled the day’s schedule. Even though Mother Nature did not permit for the performances to be held outside, some people patiently waited as volunteers set up the music equipment in the Brian Coyle Center’s gymnasium.
In the lobby of the building Joseph Mbele, a professor at St. Olaf College, who hosted Afrifest’s education segment, was kept busy by many people who streamed by his table to inquire about his Pan-African historical material displayed on the walls.
Outside the hall, people – mostly children – took the opportunity to make a few brush strokes on the Afrifest community mural that was later to be displayed at the Brian Coyle Center. Children singing, “Rain, rain, go away,” kept themselves entertained with blow-up balls given to them by MoneyGram. Once set up, brothers DJs Hustla and Xpektt from Mezesha Entertainment spiced up the rainy day by playing popular contemporary African hits.
The chatter died down as Incognito, an African pop singer, took to the stage performing some of her songs from the previous night. Innocent, the local Tanzanian-born artist, thanked the crowd for staying despite the bad weather, noting that even some performers had left early. Due to time constraints, his performance was cut short, but was not lacking in variety. He played guitar and was accompanied by three percussionists playing drums and a xylophone. His cover of reggae legend Bob Marley’s “No Woman no Cry” and the popular Kiswahili love ballad “Malaika,” kept the festive mood alive.
All in all, the efforts of the organizers were recognized and appreciated and many said they were already looking forward to next year’s event.
“If you look on the bright side, next year can’t get any worse than this,” said George Ndege of Kilimanjaro Entertainment.
“I thought it was a good foundation to work on,” added Bove. “The rain provided a challenge which we can work upon and the event thus far has provided a glimpse of African talent.”