Ubuntu artistically celebrates African cultures

Zeke Martin

Contributing Writer

I’ll readily admit that when I entered Gault Recital Hall on Friday night, I was carrying a fair amount of anxiety along with my notebook and pen. The College of Wooster Center for Diversity and Inclusion describes Ubuntu as “an annual cultural showcase of the different African cultures represented on Wooster’s campus hosted by the African Students Union (ASU).” Being from a middle-class, white, New Orleanian family, African culture didn’t play a major role in my upbringing. However, as soon as I entered the recital hall, any concerns I had about standing out were dispelled. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly amicable. Scanning the audience, I recognized people from a variety of different cultural backgrounds and groups around campus. Once the host, Kevin Asiedu (or Mr. Cocoyam), arrived on stage, he wasted no time breaking the ice with a brief but hilarious stand-up routine about culture clash between him and his American former roommate. 

The word “Ubuntu,” meaning “I am because you are,” comes from a shortened version of a Zulu proverb, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu,” which means “I am a person through other people.” “We chose the name Ubuntu because its meaning very clearly describes the aim of ASU as a student group on campus,” says Efua Hayford ’19, one of the vice presidents of ASU. “We recognize that our group represents an entire continent of nearly 54 countries (with about 10 represented on this campus), so we work to ensure that each country and culture has the opportunity to tell its own story.”

This proverb is also tied into this year’s theme, “New Africa,” which focused on exploring modern African cultures and connecting today’s generation of Africans to their roots. “Our newer generation of Africans is no longer accepting the stereotypical narratives and ‘single stories about Africa,’” said Cornelius Gyamfi ’19, president of ASU. “Narratives about Africa are defined by how they are told and who tells them. In an increasingly globalized world, our power and capabilities to propel the continent to the forefront will be dependent on our freedom of speech and our changing this narrative.” Hayford also believes that this year’s show was very successful in communicating its theme. “Our generation of Africans is different from those of our parents and grandparents, and it is harmful to not recognize that difference,” she commented. “We have had people tell us about how they were not only entertained, but also educated by our showcases, and this is a signal to us of a job well done.”

Effectively encompassing this theme, Ubuntu showcased an astonishing range of art forms, including music, skits and two fashion shows, one planned and one impromptu. In one of the most breathtaking performances, actors hidden amid the audience stood up and announced themselves as prominent figures in African history, such as Nelson Mandela and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, connecting themselves to their ancestry and to the histories and struggles that brought them to where they are today. Among the other performances were traditional Ghanaian and Ethiopian dances, including an Ethiopian New Year’s tradition in which participants sing songs praising their neighbors while rhythmically striking the ground with long sticks. One of the last musical pieces came from a beautiful four-man drum band, and once their song was over, the host commented that it reflected something he loved about African music: it starts out slow, then picks up, “and then you understand.”

Of course, something so beautiful and diverse as Ubuntu didn’t come about without months of planning and preperation. As Gyamfi explained, coordination of the event began as early as the start of last semester. “We had to … seek assistance from faculty and staff, incorporate suggestions from our advisor and make sure our vision of the event was plausible within our budget,” he said. “This is all while also soaking in the pressure mounted by academic work.” Hayford mentioned that the community and cooperation fostered in the creation of Ubuntu is part of why the show is so successful. “The show is very demanding and requires many hours of scheduling and practice, and in many ways, working together on such a large project solidifies us a group,” she said. “Besides the performers on the stage, almost every member plays a crucial part in making sure the show comes together.”

Regarding the diverse audience and the inclusion of non-black performers and models in the event, Omar Kelly ’21, a member of ASU, said, “It was truly inspiring seeing people of all ethnic backgrounds at the show … this country is divided by economic status and identity, so to see the community brought together by a show centered around Afrocentric culture was truly amazing!” There were also a few audience participation events throughout the show, to which Kelly also responded, saying that they “only further showed the unity that the ASU and Ubuntu bring to the campus. Not only were we entertained, not only did we learn, but we were welcomed.” That last sentiment, for me, sums up the beauty and importance of Ubuntu. It is not only a show, but also an opportunity to learn about and grow closer to one’s peers and to the global community.

The African Students Union welcomes everyone to the weekly meetings held every Friday at 8:00 p.m. in the Babcock Formal Lounge. For additional information, email Cornelius Gyamfi at CGyamfi19@wooster.edu. 

 (Photo by Toshiko Tanaka)

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