Two hours of Africa. Quite a challenge given that Africa is a continent and not a country, let me reiterate that, Africa is not a country. Yes, it is in fact made up of 54 counties and has more countries than Europe.
So two hours of Africa really would be a challenge for anyone. But, as part of Lagan Village Community and Youth Centre’s objective to celebrate the diverse cultures which make up Northern Ireland they promised us a celebration of the world’s second largest continent, in just two hours.
The night, which started off a little slow, turned out to be a fantastic, and engaging event – well worth the wait. With the main hall beautifully decorated with fairy lights and various African fabrics, we were treated to a traditional dance by Nandi Jola, to open the celebrations. And what an opener – Nandi’s movements combined with the delicious mix of lively African beats was infectious. It was a sure way to snag even the more tense guests in the room and convert them to body wigglers.
There was a stall set up in the hall by the Tools For Solidarity Charity, who told us of their worthwhile endeavour which sends used tools and sewing machines to the poorest sections of both rural and urban areas of the Lake Region of Tanzania. The uniqueness of this project is that the sewing machines are refurbished in Tanzania by two trained local mechanics. With advantages meaning that the skills are transferred to the country where the sewing machines are used and it offers the possibility to develop other goods and services.
Art is a well-recognised form of treasure that can be found in Africa, Northern Ireland and the world over – as is traditional dress. Grace Awo of Awos House of Fashion-Couture featured her work, which combines traditional fabrics and modern looks for both men and women in a runway style fashion show, which inspired the children of the Annadale Haywood Community group – who also attended the evening – to get involved and strut their stuff in their own improvised fashion show.
Without a doubt the star of the evening was Wilson Magwere. Wilson is a gem in Northern Irish society. His natural ability to engage his audience, young and old and make them feel welcome and involved while creating a buzz is refreshing and innovating. Wilson, who has been involved in many intercultural events and projects in Northern Ireland, brought the small community centre that is Lagan Village to life on Tuesday night, turning it into a true social hub. His rhythms were contagious, in fact, by the end of the evening everyone in attendance was dancing and singing, some even playing musical instruments, all under Wilson’s command.
Obviously as in every good celebration of culture there was food. And as a bit of a foodie, it would have been rude not to indulge. Red rice, chicken and beans hot from the pot – a delicious combination that was more than worthy of seconds, lovingly prepared by Grace Awo – yes dress making is not her only talent. But what is a main without dessert? Nandi Jola also showed her talents in the kitchen – preparing coconut dumplings which were gone in a flash.
So although it would have been impossible to fit in all of Africa’s culture in just two hours, the evening proved a success, approaching African culture through, art, dance, music and cuisine. And more than anything, encouraged unity and provided an opportunity to embrace Northern Ireland’s rich and diverse cultural make up.