African women from all over the state joined together for the first annual Miss Africa Utah Pageant on Feb. 26. Melissa Henrie / UVU REVIEW

Combining the Miss Africa Utah Pageant with an African Culture Night was close to hitching a plane ride and ending up immersed into the heart of Africa. Put on by the African Club, the night was designed to bring students together to share their culture. From African food to traditional African dance, this night was a beautiful array of talent and culture.

The event started out with authentic food like stew, chicken and rice while participants were serenaded with multiple styles of African music. Crowds of people from all over the state came to celebrate African culture including families, couples and students.

After allowing adequate time for eating and mingling, the entertainment began with the women of the African Club performing a dance to the popular song “This Time for Africa” by Shakira. Next, there was a small group of dancers from Salt Lake City that performed. The crowd seemed to really enjoy their talents. Some fans from the audience even went up to the stage and with the non-verbal expression of “Hands down, you are incredible!” tossed some money to the dancers. Singing and dancing groups from BYU, Utah State and LDS Business College also performed as an example of how African culture is becoming widespread in Utah.

One highlight of the night was seeing the Burundi Drummers. They entered from the back of the audience and marched through the audience towards the stage carrying giant drums on their heads while playing them, all the while making warrior-sounding chants. An incredible sight to see, their performance pulled the audience in not only with their drum playing, but also by singing and doing a series of jumps and flips in the air.

Finally, with great anticipation, the Miss Africa Utah contestants filed onstage. Enormous amounts of cheering and support from the crowd made all the beautiful contestants beam from ear to ear.

A high point of the night was seeing the pageant contestants show off their traditional African dresses, each being uniquely different. The bright colors and immaculate head dresses made these women look stunning. Most of these dresses in Africa are worn during holiday celebrations, parties, church and sometimes daily attire.

The talents from each contestant usually included traditional dance from their country with a mix of more modern dance as well, while others sang. This was a great way to see the difference and beauty in each country.

By the end of the evening, the audience seemed to be inspired with enthusiasm and energy. For example, while waiting for the judges to finalize the pageant results, a lady in the crowd got up and began to move her hips and sway her arms to the background music. Soon everyone was joining in to dance along. Before you knew it, people were on stage free-styling. There was a definite feeling of connection in the air.

The idea of having a Miss Africa Utah is to experience what women from other countries can offer to our community, as well as to their own country. While every contestant from all over the state had an amazing performance, fourth runner up was Miss Ethiopia Adanech Anderson, a junior studying nursing at UVU; third runner up was BYU student Miss Ghana Jane Quansah; second runner up was also from BYU, Miss Nigeria Nancy Ovuaba; first runner up was Miss DR Congo Arielle Nguwa from UVU and the winner was Miss Mali Fatuo Tandia, a Business Management major, also from UVU.

By the end of this breathtaking event, the hope was that everyone learned something new and gained a greater appreciation for Africa. It was definitely an evening to be remembered and not one to miss in the future.