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The Mass Media

Party Proudly: The African Hut Club’s African “Nite” 2002

Natalia Cooper
The African Hut dancers

There are 53 nations in the African continent (56 counting the surrounding islands). Many of them are small, bearing unfamiliar names. Some are more famous; many of them, the nation of Sierra Leone for example, brought to international attention through the atrocities of poverty, class and race struggles, and civil war. Not all of these nations were represented by the crowd that gathered in the Snowden Auditorium last Friday for The African Hut Club’s African “Nite” 2002, but as the images of the various national flags passed before the audience during a slide presentation early in the evening, it was clear from the loud clapping and cheering that those countries which were represented were done so with pride and feeling. It was this same sense of pride and feeling that filled the evening’s performances, creating a positive energy that seemed to infect both audience and performers alike.

The evening began with the somber “Cry Freetown”, a documentary on the civil war in Sierra Leone, a reminder that the serious problems still facing the African peoples must be recognized and addressed, even as African culture should be celebrated and enjoyed.

Celebrated it was, and with style. Moving out of the sober political mood of the opening and affirming the up-beat, celebratory feeling which was to dominate the night, several members of the African Hut Club sang a rousing version of the South African National Anthem, standing tall on a stage decorated with the flags of many of the African nations (provided by the African Club of Northeastern University) which strikingly expressed the evening’s theme: “Celebrating the Spirit of Unity in Cultural Diversity”.

There was an emphasis on the lively and joyful in the performances, many of which were dances. The standouts among these, such as “Umoja” (performed by the African Hut Dancers) and “The Haitian Folklore Dance” (by members of the Haitian American Society), were energetic and sensual, expressing a strong self-confidence and celebrating the body as an expressive instrument. Many of the dances seemed to have a social as well as aesthetic origin; “Winner Takes All” was a kind of courtship dance in which the dancers show off their skills and vie for the attentions of the opposite sex, at one point “fighting” over their partners. The performance of “Asabone”, which translates as “Bad Dancing” was actually not bad at all; it was a good-natured dance, performed by several male dancers, in which the performers get a chance to strut their stuff before the audience. The performances were endowed with a sense of purposeful humor and playfulness, and the audience was often laughing just as much as cheering. Throughout, the dancers were passionate and agile, performing the bold and rhythmic movements of a long-standing dance culture tradition imbued with modern touches. The audience responded enthusiastically, cheering and clapping along to the intensely rhythmic, sometimes frenetic, drum-driven music.

A moment of calm was achieved in “Relax with the Talking Drums”, a moody interpretive dance. With breathtaking athleticism and a truly beautiful sense of the possibilities for emotional expression in dance, the talented male performer stilled the generally rowdy audience with an artistic portrayal of the attempt to release the pressures of social conditions through drinking.

But there was a great deal more than dancing at the African Nite. Balla Tounkara and his band performed traditional African Pop music, presenting a tight set of brisk, polished songs which incorporated the melodic sounds of the traditional West African instrument, the Kora (a plucked string instrument looking something like a cross between a banjo and an overgrown gourd) into the traditional Western rock arrangements of guitar, bass and drums. Balla was an infectious singer, enticing the audience to sing along and get up on the stage and dance. It turned into quite the little party with even the MCs -particularly the energetic Collins A. Kwarteng, president of the African Hut Club (who by the way showed off a bit of his comedic leanings during set breaks)-joining in the fun.

There were spoken word performances by Joneen Simpson (backed by drums which underlined the strong rhythms of her socially oriented poetry) and Gulet (who, in a moment which recognized the significance of personal celebration and thanks, dedicated his poem “Beautiful Black Queen”-a commemoration of the importance and strength of the African woman-to his sister). There was also a short play by Collins A Kwarteng entitled The Pregnant Virgin, a satirical piece that used comedy, music and dance to address the serious issue of revising outmoded cultural traditions.

And, of course, there was the fashion show, a parade of gorgeous prints and bright colors, simple designs executed elegantly, recalling the traditional modes of dress from which they took their cue. The wonderful thing about such clothes is that they are cultural expressions that can literally be worn with pride.

Certainly, pride of culture, homeland, and history was in abundance on Friday night. It showed on the faces of the performers and in the dedicated energy of their performances. It showed in the applause, in the shouts, catcalls and laughter of the audience. It was this undeniable pride, surging through the crowd that night, which took the party and made it a real celebration. The mutual energy and good feeling of all of those involved, combined with a sense of real importance and communion, made the evening more than just a good time, it made it…well, something to be proud of.

About the Contributor
Natalia Cooper served as news editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003 *News writer Gin Dumcius filled in as news editor for Spring 2003 before returning to their writer position. Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.