The lights dimmed and drumming reverberated energetically through the SCERA Theater as it transformed into an intoxicating celebration of African culture on Feb. 18.
Voice of Africa, a non-profit organization created by UVU students Christian Apiah-Knudsen and Christopher Chileshe, acts to promote African cultural awareness through traditional storytelling, music and dance.
“Most of us grew up in our respective countries in Africa and now live here in Utah,” Chileshe said in a recent press release. “We relay those stories and memories in our performances and do our best to accurately present our cultures and traditions while expressing our values.”
While other productions may require nothing of their audience, this group encouraged full audience participation which brought the entire performance to life.
“It’s OK to smile, it’s OK to clap, it’s OK to shake your booty, and if you’re confident enough, feel free to join us onstage,” said Alex Nyagah to audience members as the show began.
From that point on, the audience knew they were in for an evening of good-natured humor and cultural enlightenment. Nyagah went on to explain the importance of storytelling in African heritage because the night was centered around this custom.
“African traditions are passed on through the generations by storytelling,” Nyagah said. “I encourage you to tell stories, it is a way of passing on wisdom and knowledge to those you love.”
The evening’s performance was set in an African village on the outskirts of an enchanted forest, in which lived “men with legs molded to chase antelopes and women who were beautiful and graceful,” as Nyagah put it.
Enhanced by brilliant traditional regalia and music, dancing and singing, the story line followed the most beautiful girl in the village as she dealt with the loss of her loved ones after their homes were ransacked. Thereafter fainting from emotional exhaustion, she slipped into a dream that taught her the importance of hard work, moderation and empathy through the illustration of a hard-working ant and a lazy, indulgent spider.
Thereafter men from another village found her passed out and brought her back to their home where she was revived and adopted, and eventually found happiness among her new friends. The story was one of love, loss, suffering and compassion.
“Wherever you have been planted on this land, your duty is to uplift the weak,” Nyagah said as the final message of performance.
Each aspect competed for the audience’s favor throughout the show because they were equally spectacular. The most significant aspect, however, was exposure to authentic details of some of the African cultures represented. Between the innate passion and lightheartedness lies a deep respect for the natural world and value of community.
They also taught the audience a Swahilian chant that was incorporated throughout the show, and although every song was sung in an African language, the English translation could be read on a backdrop screen which made it accessible.
During the final number the members of Voice of Africa came into the audience and urged willing individuals to get up on stage and participate in the dancing. Anyone who has attended one of their performances has been impacted by the experience, which was collectively generated by their incredible talent and enthusiasm for the beauty of African culture.
The organization is currently raising funds to visit Uganda to study orphanage dynamics, anyone interested in booking them for an event, donating to their cause, or just learning more about this incredibly dedicated group can visit their Web site at www.TheVoaca.com.