The bass sounds of Africa Fest’s musical performances reverberated around the FedEx Global Education Center. People stopped to listen, and a crowd gathered in the grass near the outdoor stage.
On Saturday, the UNC African Studies Center hosted Africa Fest — a campus and community event dedicated to celebrating contemporary African art, culture and history.
The five-hour event included performances by Alsarah and the Nubatones, DJ Jahlion, Diali Cissokho, Kaira Ba, Pline Mounzeo and Chapel Hill Poet Laureate CJ Suitt.
The first event of its kind at UNC, Africa Fest had been in the making for nearly two years, ASC Associate Director Ada Umenwaliri said.
“The idea had been in the works since 2019,” Umenwaliri said. “We knew that there was an absence of an opportunity to learn about Africa that wasn’t technical.”
Africa Fest also included a panel conversation on “Notions of Global Blackness, Black Transnationalism and the Cultural Politics of Black Identity(ies).”
Umenwaliri said the panel was composed of students and African community members.
Keerti Kalluru, a senior and recipient of the James and Florence Peacock Fellowship, attended the event. The fellowship is sponsored by Carolina for Kibera, an organization that seeks to combine public service with research to aid in participatory development in Kibera, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.
Kalluru said she found the panel discussion especially interesting.
“A lot of it was about identity and the balance between — especially for people in immigrant families — being seen as not African enough, or American enough, and their experiences about Blackness in America," she said. "I thought it was interesting as an Indian American, since my parents immigrated from India."
The panel was meant to open and extend the conversation about inclusivity and diversity on campus, Umenwaliri said.
Umenwaliri also talked about performers like Alsarah and the Nubatones and the importance of their music, which has honored youth resistance in Sudan.
"Their lyrics are also teaching," she said. "And the instruments they use are not commonly used instruments. Everyone who comes to this event is going to see something new, spark a research interest and open-mindedness, and also highlight the differences in individuals."
Carolina for Kibera also participated in the event as an organization.
“We are a nonprofit in the U.S., an NGO in Kenya and an affiliate entity of UNC,” CFK Communications Manager Hannah Bain said. “We’re connected with the African Studies Center, and they invited us so people can learn more about what we do.”
Umenwaliri said she hopes Africa Fest drew Chapel Hill community members in to network, socialize and engage in celebrating contemporary African music and art.
The ASC has worked to promote this engagement in different ways.
Since working at the ASC, Umenwaliri said one of her favorite memories was when the center was awarded a $500,000 grant from Oak Foundation to provide lesson plans and resources for elementary school educators to teach social studies, arts and music focused on Africa in the classroom.
She said the Africa Fest event was oriented toward creating community, in addition to inspiring future research.
“If we create more opportunities, then communities will be more inclusive," Umenwaliri said. "We have a significant number of African scholars who are studying different topics in the continent and also the opportunity for interdisciplinary work and research.”
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