UCLA Center Rings in 50th with Senegalese Superstar Baaba Maal
Musician Baaba Maal (right) with African Studies Center Director Andrew Apter at the April 17 celebration

By Kevin Matthews, Senior Writer

UCLA Center Rings in 50th with Senegalese Superstar Baaba Maal

The popular Senegalese musician and his band joined a gala celebration for the golden anniversary of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center.

The popular Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal and his band joined a gala celebration for the 50th anniversary of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center (ASC) on Saturday, April 17, immediately after playing a UCLA Live concert in Royce Hall. The center organizes language teaching, degree programs and public events at UCLA and runs projects on the continent, including a partnership in Senegal with the Earth Rights Eco-Village Institute to promote sustainable rural development in the country.

Maal draws the name of the grand prize winner, UCLA's Paula Tavrow.

At the post-concert event, Maal draws the name of the winner of an African vacation, UCLA's Paula Tavrow.

At Saturday's celebration, attended by about 175 people, Maal randomly selected the winner of an African vacation for two, including accommodations in Cape Town, a safari in South Africa and a stopover in Dakar, Senegal's capital city. Among other prize-winners, a 95-year-old supporter of scholarship programs on campus, Catherine Bodenstein, won a stay at a luxury hotel in Manhattan Beach.

For more than 70 faculty members and students at all levels, from sixth graders visiting campus to doctoral candidates studying elections, Islamic finance or hip hop, the ASC has served for five decades as a place to think about Africa in all of its complexity. When the late Professor Coleman founded the center early on in his brilliant scholarly career, it was one of three such entities. Today, it is known internationally as a preeminent site for higher learning about Africa. Nicholas Entrikin, vice provost for international studies at UCLA, congratulated the center on its accomplishments in opening remarks at the gala event.

The life of the center has coincided with an age of globalization in the shadow of colonialism. Fourteen countries including Senegal broke away from France in 1960, the same year in which Somalia and Nigeria left England's sphere and the Belgian Congo won its independence.

"Fifty years of African independence is really what we're celebrating tonight, beginning with Ghana in sub-Saharan Africa in 1957," said ASC Director Andrew Apter at the celebration.

Apter thanked sponsors who made the concert with Maal possible and donated prizes, food, drink and support for the gala: South African Airways, USA for Africa, Joie de Vivre hotels, the Africa Channel, the UC Travel Center, the Consulates General of South Africa and the Kingdom of Belgium, Sun International, Mkuze Falls private game reserve, Artists for a New South Africa and KPFK radio 90.7 in Los Angeles.

Current projects at the center include work on public health responses to HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, a partnership for business education with Addis Ababa University and documentary treatments of life in African refugee camps. Even as the center has launched new projects and continued to publish scholarly and student work in African Arts, Ufahamu, and other journals, it has had to face cuts and uncertainty about future funding.

"International education is less of a priority, even though we are becoming more of a globalized world," said ASC Deputy Director Azeb Tadesse, who has served at the center for 10 years.

About the James S. Coleman African Studies Center

The African Studies Center oversees a master of arts program and a minor in African studies, and its staff assist students who participate in education abroad programs in countries such as Egypt, Ghana and South Africa. More than 70 faculty members across the UCLA campus teach courses on Africa and African languages. 

The center has a strong partnership with the UCLA African Activist Association, a student group dedicated to education and activism in the realm of African social, cultural and political issues.

In addition to publishing several journals, including African Arts and the graduate student–run international journal of African studies Ufahamu, the center was responsible for organizing and overseeing the Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, an internationally acclaimed archival initiative that compiled volumes of letters, speeches, pamphlets and other documents penned by the noted early 20th-century pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey.

In Africa, the center runs various research initiatives, including projects focused on sustainable development and eco-village design in Senegal, gender-equity and entrepreneurship in Ethiopia, and Congolese refugees in Zambia.

The center features speakers from around the world with expertise on Africa at its lectures, symposia, conferences and public education forums, and hosts an annual lecture in honor of its founder.

This summer, for the second time, the center will lead a group of American teachers to Morocco as part of a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program. For five weeks, the teachers will be immersed in the Arabic language and culture. The project's goal is to cultivate a better understanding of Morocco's place in Africa, North Africa and the wider world.

Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010