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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Taste of Africa spices up the student center with a night of pan-African unity

Lexi Critchett | Staff Photographer
Members of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Students Association perform during the Taste of Africa event.

Lights. Cameras. Afrobeats.

The African Student Association hosted its 16th annual “Taste of Africa” event Saturday to celebrate the diverse culture of the continent with seasoned food and breathtaking performances for a night of unity. The event drew in more than 250 people to the Grand Ballroom in the University Student Center as executive board members said the day was months in the making.

Cocktail hour started at about 5:30 p.m. with sparkling punch in large white jars. Next to the drinks rested a charcuterie board adorned with crackers, cheese, ham and pepperoni and an assortment of fruits like strawberries and pineapples. A large photo-op installation near the entrance let attendees memorialize the event with a backdrop of dark green and gold balloons and light-up letters spelling “TOA,” or Taste of Africa.

The event was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., but in true African time, it kicked off at 7 p.m. with host and Bowie State University alum Tola Oludayo, or SJD Tola, introducing the first act, Ni Dembaya, a D.C.-based African drum ensemble. The beats lifted the spirits of the audience as cheers grew louder each time the three men sped up their rhythm.

Ululations and celebratory cheers spread throughout the lightly humid ballroom when the host announced the next performers: the Ethiopian-Eritrean Students Association. The team all wore Habesha kemis dresses traditionally worn by Habesha women. All eyes were glued to the stage as they performed dances from the Horn of Africa, like Eskista to “Mamayie by Mikyas Cherinet.

The University of Maryland’s African dance team Diazporić followed EESA with a performance highlighting signature dance moves throughout the continent. Musician Lelo then brought the show to its intermission with a saxophone performance. 

At the intermission, those observing Ramadan exited the room to break their fast before organizers began serving food to the crowd around 8 p.m. and continued to offer an assortment of dishes through the night. The food was set up on the student center terrace with options including puff-puff — a deep-fried dough eaten across the continent — and jollof rice.

The second half of the night kicked off with student musician Salah Mohammed, or Shaigi, performing songs from his debut album “The City,” followed by performances from GW’s Xola — an Afro-Caribbean dance team — and DMV-based artist Tobby Drillz. 

The night concluded around 11:30 p.m. with a fashion showcase featuring traditional and modern clothing crafted by local designers and modeled by students as well as a shout-out to the executive board for their work.

Senior Deseree Chacha, an international affairs student and the president of ASA, said TOA is her favorite time of the year because it’s “a great place for community.”

“You have people from all different places in Africa coming together under one roof, at one event, for one occasion to celebrate the unity, the oneness that is being African,” Chacha said.

Chacha said she looked forward to seeing people from different regions of the continent and diaspora come together. She added that the executive board chose SJD Tola as this year’s host because of his reputation as a “staple host” in the DMV African community and his experience at student events at other schools, including Towson, American and Howard universities.

Chacha said attending TOA helped her form friendships and connections with people outside of GW and hope that others could “fully celebrate their Africanness.”

“I hope that other students understand the magnitude of what it is for us to be able to host these events fully dedicated to the diaspora fully carried out by students who have so many busy schedules as well and to put on a successful event year after year after year,” Chacha said. “It just shows the greatness that comes with being African, and so that’s just something that I hope that people take away from Taste of Africa and are able to carry on in the future.”

Senior Tiffany-Chrissy Mbeng, a biology student and one of the directors of TOA, said she and Mudrakat Durosinmi, the other TOA director, started planning the night in August and had ideas for the theme as early as the second week of the school year. This year’s theme “Aduna” — meaning “the world” in Wolof — blends the importance and beauty of African nature with the traditions and cultural significance traditional masks hold.

“A lot of times you kind of associate them to witchcraft and black magic practices,” Mbeng said. “However, masks can tell a lot of stories and they hold a lot of cultural value to a lot of countries. Together, we ended up deciding to put these two ideas together to tell a story of nature unveiled.”

Mbeng said attendees should expect to learn “something new” after attending the night.

“We really aimed for Taste of Africa to spread awareness of Africa and Africa’s potential, not only within the continent but globally as well, so expect to learn, expect to feel empowered,” Mbeng said.

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