For all, Africa Night exemplified the diversity in African culture. For some, it exemplified a shift in African culture.
“Basically, the idea behind Africa Night is just to showcase the African culture, and to showcase how it is in Africa, and basically how things are. So that, when you go there, you know what to expect,” said Oliver Bizmana, event coordinator for the African Student Association at the University of Idaho.
The event featured many performances, from local artist DJ Goz and friends’ cover of “Every Thing is Gonna Be Alright” by Bob Marley, to the Afro fusion dance team of four women. These performances ranged from singing, dancing, reciting poetry and playing instruments. The presentations at Africa Night 2017: IFE SO WA PO, “Love binds us together” featured a modern touch, compared to a more traditional one.
Distinguishing between the country origin of African music artists is nearly impossible, he said.
“People are not learning their native cultures anymore,” he said. “We are in a period of fusion of culture in Africa now, where music has now become a continental show business.”
This has resulted in less diversity in the culture overall, Afatchao said.
He said the dances and music performed changed from a traditional dance in the early 2000s, when he first began teaching at the university in 2006, to more modern ones used today.
Bizmana, who also goes by DJ Goz, said the modern dance was more fitting to his generation. The event is a way African youth can share their ways of celebrating their culture, he said, as many performed modern style songs and dances while wearing traditional clothing. He said they add another layer onto the traditional style performances, to show what he calls the real Africa.
“We keep our costumes and our culture and everything,” Bizmana said. “But what we have, what we show, that’s how it is. When you go there you’re gonna see people dressed like that or looking like that or doing the same thing.”
In Afatchao’s 16 years attending the event, he has seen two large shifts take place in the demographics of UI’s African community. He observed a shift to more control of the event by prevalently undergraduate students rather than graduate students, who he said often ran the event in the early 2000s.
“That is telling you there’s that economic shift,” Afatchao said. “People are rising up in Africa and they have more economic opportunity now that is allowing them to send their kids to come learn at the best universities — not just in the U.S., but in the U.K., France and everywhere now. And it’s a good thing.”
Before the shift, graduate students comprised a large amount of UI’s African students because many relied on the funding from an assistantship or fellowship, he said.
“We also see a shift in the part of Africa that’s represented at U of I,” Afatchao said.” In the early 2000s it was mostly East Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, you have a few Ghanaians, maybe one or two Nigerians. Today, it’s mostly West Africa, mostly Nigeria and Ghana, and then you have a few people from Ethiopia, Eretria, Sudan, maybe one or two from Kenya, so it’s like a total shift.”
This demographic shift is also reflected in the West African food at the event, which he said contrasted with the East African food at events in prior years. Afatchao also identified the Western African influence on some music at the event, which he said is a result of mostly Nigerian and Ghanaian representation in the student body.
Many of these students come from cities, where they’re exposed to African modern music. Afatchao said the influence of both East and West African culture has enriched Idaho.
“For the kids who come here from Africa, they come from different countries. Within countries, they come from different culture … I like seeing them under the banner of Africa, where there is no division of this person is from Kenya or where this person is from,” he said.
Some misconceive that Africa is one country, or one culture, which ignores the diversity present in the 54 countries in the continent, he said. For instance, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with a population near 200 million people, Afatchao said. This diversity has fostered rich culture, but he said identities have been an area of concern.
“We struggle with that. We want people to be unique. We want people to have that identity,” he said. “But at the same time, sometime too much identity creates conflict. Some of the civil wars that some countries are experiencing in Africa are because of identities.”
While areas differ in culture, Africans are united by love, Bizmana said.
“If I had a problem today, I could go see my sister who is from Nigeria, and I know I’m going to get help,” Afatchao said. “I could go see my brother who is from Tanzania or Kenya, and I know they’re not going to see me as a foreigner from Togo. No. For them, I’m a brother.”
Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @pfannyyy
Correction: Nov. 7, 2017
Due to an Argonaut error, an earlier version of this article said Afatchao began teaching in 2001. He came to the University of Idaho in 2001 as a graduate student and started teaching in 2006. The error was also published in the Nov. 7 print issue of The Argonaut.