Outside of the University student center, loud African beats coming from oversized speakers clashed with the dreary overcast weather on a recent Spring afternoon. The Afro Festival was in full swing. Central Connecticut State’s Africana Center organized an on-campus cultural festival that introduced students to the dances, foods, and music of African people.
“The first of its kind,” said Oluwatoyin Awoderu, the director of the Africana Center when discussing the event. “The mission of the Center for Africana Studies at Central is to develop and encourage the study and teaching about Africa, African Americans, and people of African descent throughout the diaspora.”
As the sounds of the culture erupted from the speakers outdoors, youthful students dressed in white baseball caps, hoodies, and running shoes walked by with curious expressions. The crowd started off small but became larger throughout the afternoon, as the cheerful drum beats echoing outside welcomed the late festival attendees.
A painted picture of Rihanna screaming in neon pink, green, and blue colors was propped up on rocks next to the art vendor. The picture was so well-painted, it almost looked like an actual enlarged photograph of the Barbados-born singer. Pictures of other black pop artists were also displayed by the vendor, and it was refreshing to see black women of different shades and sizes with different music styles being celebrated at an event praising black culture.
Jewelry was being sold at the festival. Bright yellow, green, and pink waist beads were organized in a fashion so that the colors contrasted, making each individual group of colorful beads stand out. Bracelets of different sizes—as well as blue, purple, pink, white, orange, and green hair clips—all sat on top of a floral-printed table cover. “It’s nice to see the diaspora represented at school,” said student and vendor Aisha Issah. “I think it’s important to celebrate the African diaspora at school.”
The opportunity to be able to inspect uniquely crafted necklaces and charms before attending another class that day felt like a blessing.
“Nice to see a lot of people of color here,” said student and vendor Julian Davis. He was selling graduation caps with various art designs. “And I get to promote my business!”
A professional drummer challenged students to mimic his drumming in exchange for tickets that granted them access to free festival food. Once the man had gathered more than ten musically challenged and unchallenged students, the drumming session began. The sound of their musical uncertainty crept across the campus, as students banged on their instruments—some haphazardly and some in unison. It was likely that not a single soul up there had ever held a drum before; but regardless, when the session ended, everyone who participated was applauded, and the participants were fed.
The savory smell of seasoned meat wafted through the air. Senior Linette Perez and this reporter went to get tickets from a man dressed in African garb although we did nothing to earn the tickets. In line, students acted like hungry cats waiting for food to be poured into their bowls.
After about a ten-minute wait, Linette received a mouth-watering golden-crusted empanada. She took an eager bite, clearly enjoying her delicious beef-filled appetizer. Linette reported her “empanada was crispy, and the filling was tasty.”
After lunch, a man clad in bold green Ghanaian clothing performed the dances of his culture. The older man’s legs and arms flapped boldly, yet gracefully, to the sound of booming drums. He ended his performance dramatically; kneeling with his head down to the cream-colored pavement. With his head to the ground, the audience cautiously began to applaud. Though confusion could be heard in the sound of disharmonious clapping, the dance performer did not appear to be fazed. Despite the audience’s lack of cultural understanding, he bowed.
The vibe from the crowd signaled that the event should return and be heavily promoted. Gathering people together and setting up a celebration for African culture with the intention of educating students through cultural exposure is a creative way to share African culture and provide students with a break from classes and a chance to get a better understanding of African cultural practices.
Organizer Awoderu said, “It is envisaged that these programs would educate and provide knowledge of Africans and Africans in diaspora and address misconceptions about their contributions globally.”
Hopefully, the festival will be returning to Central’s campus next spring.
Alyssa Smith is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.
Header image courtesy of Alyssa Smith.