Does Charlotte lack culture?
After spending three years here, Sambou Kamissoko said it does. He and his father immigrated to America from Mali nine years ago and brought the rich history of their continent.
"I'm a guy who loves culture, and pretty much since I've been in Charlotte I haven't seen many cultural events that inspire me that much," said Kamissoko, organizer of Saturday's African Arts & Culture event. Made up of more than 50 countries, 1,500 languages and thousands of ethnic groups, Africa is one of the most diverse continents in the world. "This is something I believe Charlotte should know about because we are a very diverse community."
The performances at African Arts & Culture Event, presented by AKA Creative, began with the soulful sounds of South African opera, followed by a traditional drum call that Kamissoko said is "made for the kings in our stories." Performers took turns displaying various styles of West African dance, such as coupe decale, zouk and kizomba, a slow, sensual music style and dance from Angola that's meant for partners.
Kamissoko said the performances are meant to help introduce people to cultures they may be unaware of.
"I do believe through music and arts we can better understand Africa. Our history is in music and art," he said. "It helps us better communicate with other people too ... they can see, they know exactly our roots, and we can explain to them who we are as a person, as a continent."
Gary Mumford of The Gary Mumford Drumming and Percussion Dance Ensemble played a key role in organizing the music and art arrangements for the evening. Working with youth for more than 25 years, he took center stage with drummers ages 5 to 13 and engaged a crowd of about 50 onlookers.
From African rhythms, like the mombasa and the four, four to jambo rafiki, a song from Swahili meaning "hello friend," they performed original pieces using pan drums, percussions, go-go and cowbells, rattles and shakers.
"I try to be a cultural ambassador and inspire youth through rhythm," Mumford said. "I try to correlate with hip hop and rap because that's all where it comes from."
Toward the end of their performances, the children wowed the audience with solo pieces and invited onlookers to clap along. "This is how we inspire our youth to stay positive," said Mumford.
Style was also highlighted in a fashion show featuring authentic clothing from Mali. Saihou, a local African artist, closed out the show with his song "Motherland."
Appolo Luanje, a Charlotte resident from Central Africa, enjoyed the show.
"I loved the culture, the drumming and everything. All the acts are African, and it makes me proud to be an African."