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‘We’re all we’ve got’: BSA and RASA celebrate shared identities

Photo courtesy Jake Barber

By Michelle Gachelin     2/15/22 11:36pm

Africayé and Soul Night are some of the largest cultural events on campus, hosted by the Rice African Student Association and the Black Student Association, respectively. They each showcase unique aspects of Black and African culture, and together, they create vibrant spaces to celebrate Rice’s Black and African students. The upcoming events are particularly special for organizers because they mark a return to an in-person audience, and will be the last events held in the Grand Hall before the Rice Memorial Center is torn down. This year, BSA and RASA have collaborated more to execute their respective visions for live audiences.

Aman Eujayl, RASA’s event coordinator, said that this collaboration is in part due to the overlap of performers in both Africayé and Soul Night. Last October, the two clubs hosted joint sessions to help performers prepare for their acts. Organizers met with students interested in performing at one or both shows to curate the performances to each event’s specific theme.

 “A lot of it is logistical. The Black and African community at Rice is very small, and so oftentimes RASA and BSA will share performers. We didn’t want our community to be burnt out after performing at the show that came first,” Eujayl, a Baker College junior, said. “We’re really trying to bring [everyone] together because we’re all we’ve got.”

The event organizers said they hope that by uniting BSA and RASA’s communities through these shows, they can remind audiences of their power. For Jake Barber, BSA’s creative director and Soul Night’s coordinator, the event’s overarching message is directly tied to its theme of Black excellence.

“It’s important to celebrate Black people excelling in spaces that aren’t designed for them,” Barber, a Hanszen College senior, said. “However, there’s also a lot of pressure to be excellent, to the point that Black people aren’t allowed to just exist in quote-unquote mediocre ways in the way that white people are.”

Barber believes that changing the conversation around Black excellence is key.

“I think a part of a healthy relationship with the notion of excellence is redefining it a little bit … Showing up and being your authentic self in a world that doesn’t like that is excellent,” Barber said. “So to me, celebrating Black excellence is celebrating Black rebellion against an oppressively white world.”

Eujayl wants this year’s Africayé theme, “An Evening in Africa,” to provide an immersive sensory experience for the audience. During Africayé Week, which culminates in the event, RASA hosts dress-up events and African Immersion Night, where guests can paint, sip European coffee and share stories about their experiences with evenings in Africa. A dinner of African cuisines will also be provided at the show.

“You can expect to see amazing performances from our talented community handling topics from Black love to African love as well as nostalgia about evenings in Africa,” Eujayl said. “We’re focused on providing an immersive experience for the Rice community to be able to experience an evening in Africa, which is a very glamorous, sparkly, love-filled, joyous celebration.”

Similarly, Barber wants to ensure that Black students in the audience can experience the events as profoundly as he has, particularly as a first-time viewer.

“As a freshman, I attended Africayé, and it was before Soul Night back then, so that was the first cultural show that I attended at Rice,” Barber said. “I just will never forget how it made me feel. I come from a predominantly white area, and this was just the biggest, grandest, loudest celebration of Black and African culture I’d ever experienced.” 

Barber was inspired to replicate the events’ energy for future audiences after witnessing the community’s embrace of all Black voices.

“It just felt like I was sharing in this huge warm cultural hug and it just made my heart feel so happy,” Barber said. “So all the work I’ve done for both Africayé and Soul Night since then has been to bring that feeling for future Black students that come to Rice.”

Wafa Mohamed, one of Africayé’s hosts, was also driven to become involved with the show after seeing it for the first time and not being as involved with RASA then as she wanted to be.

“It’s important to me to be able to showcase my culture, especially at a primarily white institution,” Mohamed, a Duncan College sophomore, wrote in an email to the Thresher. “I made it my mission to get more involved and I’m now glad to say that I am fully immersed in putting on Africayé 2022.”

Although the events are tailored towards Black and African students, they are meant to provide value to the entire Rice community. BSA Co-Secretary Angelina Hall, a performer in both Soul Night and Africayé and the director of Africayé’s introduction video, said that she wishes more people knew that they don’t need to be Black or African to support the shows, and that there are many perspectives within the African diaspora to learn from and about. 

Eujayl said she also hopes the events help students better understand their Black and African peers by the end of the evening.

“I want the Rice community to leave Africayé with this sense that their eyes have been opened to what it really means to be African and to live in Africa, and how those cultural influences influence the people they go to class with, or see at [Coffeehouse], or        that they’re friends with,” Eujayl said.

According to Eujayl, every act contributes a unique perspective to the evening, making the show all the more special.

“Each performer brings in an element of African love, of nightlife, of wedding culture and familial love and connection, and nostalgia back to their childhood. I think that personal touch from our community really makes Africayé,” Eujayl said. “I want our guests to leave with this insight and appreciation for our beautiful and magical and unique cultures that have shaped us today.”

Ticket sales are available now for Soul Night on Feb. 26. Dinner reception will be held at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. Presale for Africayé will start on the Feb. 21, and the show will be on Mar. 6 from 5-8 p.m. 

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