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Music, dance and poetry: UNC celebrates second annual Africa Fest

Members of the a capella group Black Umfolosi dancing with members from the audience during Africa Fest on Oct. 15, 2022 at the CURRENT ArtSpace.

The 2022 Africa Fest hosted by the UNC African Studies Center was a day filled with live music, dance performances and poetry in celebration of African culture, art and history. 

Last Saturday, attendees gathered at the CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio on Franklin Street, a space run by Carolina Performing Arts, to enjoy three hours of programming from various artists and performers including DJ Bello, Black Umfolosi, CJ Suitt, Focus Dance, Zankiliwa, Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba.                                         

The festival also featured an arts and craft station for attendees to create Africa-inspired memorabilia and  Yagg Sii Tenn, a food truck that serves pan-African cuisine. 

At the second annual Africa Fest to be held at UNC, Associate Director of the African Studies Center Ada Umenwaliri said her team had ample time to prepare and coordinate logistics since the 2021 event, which was held outdoors at the FedEx Global Education Center.     

“Immediately after the last Africa Fest, I kind of locked down (CPA). It is an event space — it has features that we needed. The stage can be moved around. It has seating, it has sound and all the technical needs to help with sound production,” Umenwaliri said. 

Adun Akinola, a UNC student who is part of Zankiliwa, said her experience performing at this year’s Africa Fest was exciting for the dance group.

“I’ve been performing with Zanki for a while–just feeling the tension, everyone’s gotta be here on time, all the hassle and back and forth to have such an amazing product—it's really nice. You’re up there, the adrenaline rushes, the crowd is engaging with you, and all the faces, all the energy–it's a really great experience to perform,” Akinola said.

It was the first time attending the festival for UNC sophomore Foluwa Agbebi.

“It was honestly really cool to see just a modern African dance group at UNC, far far away from the place where it originated,” Agbebi said.

UNC Zankiliwa is one of four subgroups of the Organization For African Students' Interests And Solidarity.

“It was really cool the way they involved the crowd by showing them the dance moves — I was not expecting that at all,” Agbebi said.

At 8 p.m., Meklit Hadero — an Ethiopian-American singer, songwriter, composer and cultural activist — headlined a performance at Memorial Hall. 

Alison Friedman, director of the CPA, said in an email that there was a lot of enthusiasm to make Africa Fest bigger and better since last year.

“Festivals like Africa Fest help us celebrate what is right here in our own neighborhoods and connect communities across Chapel Hill and the Triangle that might not normally cross paths with each other,” Friedman said. “Africa Fest is just one of the many partners with whom CPA is excited to collaborate.” 

Victoria Rovine, a professor of art history and director of the African Studies Center, said the center is planning a state-wide kindergarten through 12th-grade curriculum about contemporary Africa. 

“Short term, we are always working to do events on campus and collaborate with K-12 teachers throughout the state and also to find ways for UNC students to go to Africa and bring African students to UNC,” Rovine said. 

In 2021, the Oak Foundation granted the UNC ASC $500,000 to expand its work into lesson plans across the state that focus on curated social studies, arts and music focused on Africa. In addition, UNC's area studies centers – which includes the ASC — will receive approximately $12 million in federal funding over the next four years to support global programming, events and coursework. 

“Since moving here, I’ve heard the assumption that Chapel Hill is not as diverse as it actually is. Fests like this showcase artists based right here in the Triangle, so communities and neighbors can celebrate each other,” Friedman said.

@dailytarheel |

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