Delphine Vakunta, of the African Students Association, is organizing Africa Night 2012
Dancers from last year's Africa Night
Desmond Tutu's daughter, Naomi Tutu, will be the special guest for the 10th annual “Africa Night” at the Memorial Union Theatre April 20.
The African Student Association of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will once again host the event to highlight the beauty and culture of the African continent.
“It's our 10th anniversary so we figured we have to go big,” says Delphine Vakunta of the African Students Association (ASA) who has helped to plan and promote the event the last few years. “It's in the Great Hall so the campus has recognized that our show is legit. The theater fits about 1,300 people and last year we had over 500 people. Our performances are going to be top-notch and we've been working very hard on our pieces. It will be a great show. I'm so excited.
“We've grown quite a bit in 10 years,” Vakunta adds. “We've done a good job of recruiting people and becoming more visible in the university and in the community over that time.”
Naomi Tutu is the daughter of Nobel peace prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“She will be talking about our theme, Umoja, and basically uniting everyone in the diaspora and people who have an interest in Africa who share the same identity,” Vakunta says. “She'll also be talking about some of her experiences because she is very active in many different causes. With her father being who he is, I'm sure she will have so many interesting stories.”
Tutu's professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa, to being program coordinator for programs on Race and Gender and Gender-based Violence in Education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. In addition, she has taught at the Universities of Hartford and Connecticut and Brevard College in North Carolina.
The theme of this year's Africa Fest is “Umoja: A celebration of a shared cultural Identity,” and it strives to bring together different elements of African culture through dance, comedy, theater, and music.
There will be performances by the Atimevu Dance and Drumming Company and spoken-word poetry by Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) First Wave students. The event will be hosted by the African King of Comedy, Michael Blackson. “He's an African comedian from Ghana who is really well known and very funny,” Vakunta says. “He's going to help make it a very exciting show, for sure.”
The event will recognize graduating seniors and ASA will give out “Member of the Year” awards. “We will also recognize some of our past alumni who have contributed a lot to the organization over the years,” Vakunta says.
ASA has more than 50 members right now. Its mission is to educate people and to debunk myths and stereotypes that exist about Africans and African people on this campus and with the students, faculty, staff, and whole community in general. They do that through programming and different events.
“I've been involved with ASA since I was in high school and one of the biggest things we had to work on was that while Africa is a very diverse country, the student population on this campus is heavily Western African,” Vakunta says. “We know that there are people who are not West African and sometimes they avoid ASA because there is a fear of not feeling welcome. Something we try to do at our annual show is to make sure we represent all parts of Africa. Everything we do, we really try to have some sort of representation of the continent as a whole. It can be challenging sometimes.”
Vakunta says that there is diversity within the members of ASA including a good amount of members that are non-African. “We have white students, Asian students, and African American students,” says Vakunta, who was born and raised in Cameroon and has lived in the United States for about 7 years. She is a graduate of Madison West High School. “One thing that I'm very proud of with ASA is that we retain members and have recruited non-African members because it used to be very heavily African-only,” she says. “I think ASA has done a great job of having an inclusive community and having a diverse general body.”
The ASA works to facilitate better communication and understanding between African students and other members of the university community, while encouraging activities that portray the noble cultural treasures of the continent of Africa. The ASA performs positive activities at Africa Fest at Warner Park each summer, and hosts back-to-school parties and barbecues, movie showings, workshops, and the Taste of Africa.
“One of the biggest things that we've tried to do this year is to become more active in the community volunteer-wise,” Vakunta says. “I think a lot of people know us for our dance and our performances and stuff, but we have definitely taken up a notch our community work and volunteerism.”
ASA works to collaborate and partner with other groups on campus, too. “Sometimes with all of these groups [on campus] we don't have a very united front,” Vakunta says. “But I think we've done a very good job this year collaborating with groups like the Black Student Union, some of the Hmong student associations and the Filipino Student Association. So, we've done a lot of collaborations with different student groups on campus.”
Vakunta hopes to see a diverse attendance at their big event this weekend — Africa Night 2012.
“You will want to come to this show because it will be amazing,” Vakunta says. “Our shows are usually pretty big, but this one is going to be bigger. The guests we're having are amazing and will have a lot of knowledge to share.
“The better question is,” she adds, with a smile. “Why wouldn't you want to come?”
The African Student Association of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be hosting "Africa Night 2012” on Saturday, April 20, 6:30-9 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater located in the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon Street.
On Saturday, April 21, 5-7 p.m., ASA will also host its annual Taste of Africa: An African Attire Affair dinner gala.