UCLA's students, faculty and staff as well as the general public were treated to a delightful evening filled with food and entertainment at the African Studies Center's Open House and Reception on October 2. The event, attended by over 200 people, including groups of undergraduates from UCLA, Occidental, and Whittier College, took place at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. The evening began with a courtyard reception where attendees were treated to a delicious assortment of African food catered by Ngoma Restaurant that included Poulet Yassa, Beef Mafe, steamed rice, and wonderfully prepared cabbage and spinach dishes. After everyone was thoroughly satiated, the crowd moved inside to the Lenart Auditorium where the evening's entertainment of dance and drumming with Aziz Faye and his troop was to take place.
Allen F. Roberts, director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center, welcomed the public and provided an overview of the center's activities. Next, Andrew Apter, chair of the Master's in African Studies interdepartmental degree program, briefly described the program, adding, "Africanist Scholarship is activist scholarship." Amy Jamison and Nickie Johnson of ASC’s student run African Activist Association gave a brief presentation on student programs and introduced Aziz Faye and his energetic group of drummers and dancers.
Aziz Faye, who comes from a long line of master Sabar drummers and dancers, grew up in Dakar learning the art of Sabar drumming and dance from his father, grandfather, and uncles. The music, dance, and song of Sabar is used as a vehicle to communicate the oral tradition of the Wolof. Aziz is now the Artistic Director and featured performer of Khaleye Nguewel Thi Keur Gui. Aziz has performed with the National Ballet of Senegal and has played with renowned bands such as Yousou N'Dour, Fallou Diene, Baba Mal, Ismiel Lo, and Mbaye Dieye Faye as well as Peter Gabriel.
Azis and his troop certainly lived up to their reputation, drumming and dancing for over an hour. The group played on an ensemble of Sabar drums with each drum specifically designed to create a unique melodic rhythm. Each member of the group took turns leading the rest in a repetitive complementary pattern, with a player occasionally breaking from the pattern to improvise. Aziz led the group in spontaneous dancing duels that at times directed the rhythm of the Sabar drums. The audience couldn't help but clap along with the mesmerizing rhythms and Aziz and the other players encouraged the audience interaction, often jumping off stage and dancing in the aisles of the auditorium. At one point, the troop invited a few people from the audience up on stage to dance. A small group volunteered and bravely shook their hips and other body parts to the intense drumming. Aziz and several in his troop demonstrated their amazing agility by jumping five or more feet into the air as part of their dance sequences.
All in all, the evening was an immensely stimulating experience for all the senses. It was a wonderful way to kick off the year for the African Studies Center, a year that promises to be very productive and filled with other exciting events.