On Saturday night, African Night proved itself to be one of MNSU’s most exciting and energetic international events. African Student Association’s (ASA) premier event featured dances, songs, poetry, and a skit put on by performers whose confident stage presence exuded enthusiasm. The crowd joined in on the action throughout the show, standing up, cheering loudly, clapping to the beat, and singing along.
“The atmosphere was just wonderful,” says Stephan Ovraiti of Nigeria, who played piano during a goosebump-inducing rendition of Kuliko Jana along with performers from a variety of countries. “Africans are very, very energetic.”
ASA did a fantastic job showcasing the dazzling diversity of the African continent. The event began with a flag procession, led by African Night’s King and Queen. Following the procession, a student recited a poem in which he spoke of Africa in the first person.
“I know what I once was,” he said. “But I know what I can still be.”
He then called out to the audience, asking each region of Africa to make itself heard. One by one, the regions cheered: east Africa, north Africa, central Africa, south Africa. Finally, when he called out well-represented west Africa, the CSU Ballroom erupted.
Students jumped to their feet as the opening dance began, pulling out their phones to record. A video was shown of African students around campus saying “welcome” in various languages, including Amharic, Swahili, Yoruba, and French.
Throughout the course of the night, songs and dances were performed from Eritrea, Ghana, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, Liberia, and Oromia, a region of Ethiopia with strong independence sentiments.
“[African Night] shows the diversity of the African continent,” says Belem Mamadou of Burkina Faso. “[It] is one of the unique opportunities for us as African students here in America to live our culture. I was feeling really at home.”
But African Night was not only intended to celebrate Africa’s diversity.
“It portrays unity,” says Ronald Sejjoba of Kampala, Uganda. “As you prepare, as you cook together, and as you practice together, you keep that bond. It keeps you together. If you keep doing small things together, you get to know about each other. There is no way you’re going to go out there when you’re divided.”
In one of the final performances, Oluwatomiisin Adeola of Nigeria recited a poem.
“We are all roots of the same tree,” he proclaimed. “We are one blood, one people, one Africa.”
The crowd roared.
Between performances, actors performed a skit that portrayed the story of a young man returning to his home country of Liberia after fifteen years in the United States. Having forgotten his African roots and traditions, he ran into all kinds of trouble in his native land. It was meant to tie in with the theme of this year’s African Night: “Deep in our Roots.”
“It’s all about knowing where you’re from,” says Mindorr Sarre of the Gambia. Quoting Adeola, he says that “if you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going to.”
“You shouldn’t forget who you are just because you’re in the U.S.,” says Sejjomba. “You should know that this is your culture, this is your tradition. You might dress differently, but you’ve got to stick to your tradition and let people learn about it.”
He laments that Americans’ vision of Africa is often limited to poverty and starvation. He emphasizes that “when you come out here, you show them the real picture.”
Abdi Mude danced to represent his homeland of Oromia.
“As Oromos, we have a responsibility to show who we are,” he says.
He says that around twenty hours of preparation went into the Oromia performance with practices in the Cities held every weekend. Mude has attended the past three MNSU African Nights, along with African cultural nights at the U of M, UMD, and St. Cloud State.
“Obviously, Mankato always has the biggest African Night out of everybody. Mankato’s number one,” he says. “Mankato is pretty welcoming [and] very diverse. I feel like people like diversity at Mankato.”
“This one was better [than last year],” says Ovraiti. “It always gets better.”
Freshman Guy Valliant Brasem Ntwari says that although he is the only student from Burundi at MNSU, the event reminded him of home.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” he says. “It was positive and they were showing a lot of dances and cultures from different countries. I think people got another image of how nice the place is.”
African students and non-African students alike enjoyed the show.
“I appreciated the richness of their culture in every performance,” says Thalia Escobar of El Salvador. “Instead of having emcees to introduce the event they started with a flag procession, which I found very authentic. I loved how everyone joined the stage at the end. I could feel the energy and the love they have towards their countries.”
ASA Vice President Samson Akintan says that ASA is the largest registered student organization on campus.
“The main goal of the association is to connect each and every single individual to each other,” he says. “Being in the association definitely gets you connected to more Africans.”
ASA meets every Friday at 4 p.m. in the Heritage Room in the CSU.
It’s worth marking your calendar for African Night 2018.