Northwestern students celebrate culture in open mic night

Susan Du

The Gathering Place at Norris University Center was transformed Thursday night into an intimate coffeehouse setting, illuminated by the soft hue of tea-lights and splashes of color from ethnic placemats draped over the ordinarily austere white tables.

About 60 students soon filled the tables for Africafe/Cafe Noir, a bi-annual, bohemian-style open mic night for Northwestern student performers.

According to event organizers, Africafe/Cafe Noir is about legacy, including building community and expressing culture through the spoken word.

“Performance art is a form of expression for many, not only to the African American community,” said Communication senior Makda Fessahaye, president of the African Students Association. “The performing arts are rooted in the history of African-Americans in America.”

The concept of Africafe/Cafe Noir has been a tradition at NU since 2004, previously held by the African Students Association and African American Theater Ensemble as two separate events: Africafe and Cafe Noir. This year, the two student groups collaborated to produce the single event.

“We naturally joined efforts because we draw upon the same community,” said Communication senior Camille Edwards, president of the African-American Theater Ensemble.

According to Edwards, Africafe/Cafe Noir isn’t geared only toward the black community. Rather, she hoped that “all communities can come and view a night of poetry and song and monologues.” Of the event attendees, about 5 percent were student representatives of NU’s multicultural demographics beyond the black community.

Weinberg freshman Nebiu Tadele said he was impressed by the event’s turnout.

“There was good audience participation, especially at the end,” Tadele said. “There were a pretty diverse set of acts.”

While most of the work presented at Africafe/Cafe Noir was written entirely by students, some chose to perform their own renditions of work by notable artists such as Musiq Soulchild, Lauryn Hill and Beyonce Knowles. Of more than 20 performances, there were a capella songs, acoustic guitar melodies replete with bongo accompaniment, dramatic monologues and a healthy share of slam poetry.

Communication junior Amin Elsaeed, one-time board member of African Students Association and last-minute participant, shared his original poem “Tick Tock,” a powerfully articulated free verse “about waking people up to the realities of life and the injustices which people turn a blind eye to.” Elsaeed said his love for supporting student-run artistic programs overrode his nerves for performing.

Fessahaye said Africafe/Cafe Noir is just one step in the process of building African awareness at NU.

“This is how we build awareness for our organization and welcome the greater Northwestern community to a very culturally specific group,” she said.

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