UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Students bring sights, sounds of Africa to UND

The African Student Union’s annual African Culture Night showcases African food, music and art 

The event kicked off with a flag walk, during which students walked down the stage’s catwalk waving the flags of African countreis. Photo by Owen Britton/UND Today.

On April 6, a student sat at the center of a stage in the Memorial Union Ballroom. In his lap, he tapped on a small West African drum called a djembe. As the rhythm became increasingly complex, hundreds of attendees of the African Culture Night slowly filtered into the room and took their seats.

“This event offers a rare opportunity for each of you to gain a deeper understanding of the rich history, traditions and cultural significance that define African heritage,” said UND student Flora Brown, one of the event’s emcees, as the event began.

“From the moment you step in, you’ll be surrounded by a tapestry of sights, sounds and flavors that will leave an indelible mark on your heart and mind.”

ASU brings UND to Africa

Afro Gen, a UND dance group, performed a dance to a medley of African house music. Photo by Owen Britton/ UND Today.

Brown’s introduction couldn’t have been more fitting, as guests were treated to an immersive event immediately upon entering the ballroom. For as the guests filtered into the room,  vibrant splashes of color, the thudding bassline and hypnotic refrain of South African singer Kamo Mphela’s song “Dalie,” and the smell of curry powder and Scotch bonnet peppers formed a sensory cocktail that transported attendees to Africa.

And this was all before the event officially kicked off. Introductions were presented by Precious Dada, president of UND’s African Student Union (ASU), and an acrobatic Sagini Keengwe, professor of teaching and leadership and the group’s faculty advisor. Sagini showcased an impressive talent at the conclusion of the speeches, performing several backflips to gave the audience a taste of the kind of energy they could expect from the event.

Nor did the event’s momentum let up over its three-hour run time. This was thanks in large part to Barry Tawka – a UND alum and former member of ASU, who performs under the pseudonym DJ Eazy-B – who cycled through an eclectic mix of afrobeat, amapiano and African house music tracks between the nine performances from Grand Forks and Fargo musical and dance groups.

The dance numbers, in particular, were electric and had the audience standing up on its feet to join. UND’s Afro Gen group danced their theatrical and expressive choreography to a house music medley, their moves punctuated by the crowd’s choruses of shouts and cheers.

Other UND students showcased their talents at the event, too, with Glory Agyemang — under his stage name Gee-Lory — and Melvina Potti each singing a song toward the end of the night. Gee-Lory showcased his impressive ability to seamlessly transition between an earnest tenor singing voice and a smooth rap cadence.

A meal of jollof rice and halal chicken was served during a brief intermission, sparking a playful onstage debate about whether Nigerians or Liberians served the better version of the dish. They took the dispute to the audience, polling by applause, though the results were split.

Following the performances, the African Student Union capped the night off with a fashion show highlighting the vibrant outfits worn by attendees. UND student Sessi Dossou-Gouchola was named the best dressed of the night for her dress with a vibrant red, green, blue and yellow pattern that echoed the color scheme of the South African flag.

Gee-Lory performed an energetic song that showcased his vibrant tenor voice. Photo by Owen Britton/UND Today.

African Excellence Awards

At the close of the ceremony, the African Student Union also acknowledged present and past members who have made the organization’s many events this year possible. The winners of the African Excellence Awards were as follows:

Outstanding Member: Prince Ikossie

Outstanding Executive Member: Precious Dada

Most Determined Member: Khadeejah Narejo

Outstanding Alumni: Emile Dargbeh

woman singing
One half of “Chanel & Yvonne,” a musical duo out of Fargo. Photo by Owen Britton/UND Today.

Africa, a place you want to be

After the event, Dada said that African Culture Night has a special significance for her journey at UND. It was her introduction to the African Student Union two years ago, and she wanted to ensure attendees truly enjoyed it.

“I first heard about African Culture Night when I was a sophomore. When I went, I saw people wearing fancy outfits and felt the energy of the event, and I was like, ‘Oh, what is this?’” she recalled. “The president of the African Student Union reached out to me and said I should join the club, and now I’m serving in an executive role. So, tonight has been great.”

According to Dada, the event was months in the making. There were many moving parts, she said, and she and her colleagues began preparing for the night nearly six months before the event.

“I really hope that people can see all of the work we’ve put into this behind the scenes. We’ve worked really hard to put this together,” she said. “In October, we started forming different committees for decorations, food and the fashion show. We wanted to make this night the best it could be.”

Dada said that it was important to her and her ASU colleagues that the event felt like something people “really wanted to be at.” And judging by the raucous applause, laughter and smiles from the audience that night, they succeeded.

What does Dada chalk that success up to — the dancing, perhaps? The music? The jollof rice? While those are all perks, what Dada feels makes this event special are the people.

“This event is really meaningful, not just to me, but to every other person on campus,” she said. “I feel like it’s important to learn about not just Africa and the culture, but the people who live there and their characteristics. I think that’s what made tonight a success.”