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‘Africa Night’ unites UW-River Falls campus

March 4, 2015

“Africa Night” is held every February to wrap up Black History Month, and is hosted by the UW-River Falls Black Student Union (BSU).

This year it was a full house, held in Kleinpell Fine Arts’ Abbott Concert Hall. The hall filled up fast in anticipation of a good show.

An Ethiopian dancer has the crowd clapping and cheering at "Africa Night" in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building on Friday, Feb. 27.
An Ethiopian dancer has the crowd clapping and cheering at “Africa Night” in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building on Friday, Feb. 27. (Jack Haren/Student Voice)

BSU President Oboi Jones said the student organization has hosted Africa Night on campus for about 10 years. Many students in attendance at this year’s event had attended previous Africa Nights. Some had heard from other students who told them this was a must-see event.

Jean Paul Frederick of BSU opened the evening with jokes and trivia. Sharing MC duties was fellow BSU member Malory Tshioko. Tshioko is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The event began with a fashion show featuring students wearing authentic African garb from various African nations. Kenya, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were among the styles modeled. The colors were vivid with cheerful patterns and authentic styles.

Next came the dancers. They were lively and athletic, moving with the music as if they were dancing just for joy, not for an audience. Most of the packed hall smiled in response and kept rhythm with their hands and feet from their seats. An Ethiopian dancer had the crowd clapping and vocalizing amazement. At one point, volunteers from the audience were invited to come on stage and have a dance contest.

The crowd overwhelmingly voted on a small child, who had the courage to be the first one to volunteer. She danced bravely in front of everyone. She won an African necklace and was all smiles.

Throughout the program, African trivia questions were asked with necklaces given as prizes. Along with the trivia, Frederick and Tshioko ribbed each other and the audience, keeping everyone laughing.

The Duniya Drum and Dance group from the Twin Cities also performed with two drummers, each on a different type of drum. There were six dancers; only one was male. The group performed several numbers.

Tshioko, wearing a colorful, beautiful, hand-sewn dress from the Congo, sang a solo. Her voice conveyed intense emotion as she sang in her native language of French. Tshioko told the audience over 1,000 different languages are spoken on the African continent.

Samantha Herr, sophomore elementary education major, said she was glad to have attended.

“They included everyone in the audience in their performances,” Herr said. “They were very welcoming, they were funny, it was really cool.”

Finally, after all the entertainment, came the food. Damola’s Kitchen and Flamingo’s Ethiopian restaurants catered the meal. Included in the feast was cabbage, salad, beef, chicken and vegetables, a couple of different kinds of rice, plantains and fried doughnut-like balls called “puff puffs.” By the time the evening was wrapping up, most of the food had been appreciatively devoured.

“I’m just amazed by these 18 to 22 year olds who can pull this entire campus-wide, community-wide event off on their own,” said sociology Professor Paige Miller. “I might have given them a piece of advice or two but basically it was all them. It’s amazing, at 18 to 22 I was not doing something like that.”

Jones said the BSU plans to continue hosting this event every February. He said all are welcome to attend a BSU meeting.

“You don’t have to be black,” Jones said.

BSU meets 5 p.m. on Mondays in the Wind River Room in the University Center, for fun, fellowship and support.