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“Bigger and better”: Africayé! the Musical is back

Genesis Hahn / Thresher

By Shreya Challa     2/15/23 12:15am

Africayé, the Rice African Student Association’s annual cultural showcase, is being held at the Shepherd School of Music’s Stude Concert Hall for the first time in history on Feb. 18, with doors opening at 4 p.m. Celebration of African culture is at the core of Africayé, from the overarching storyline to the food, music and fashion show. This year’s theme is Africayé! The Musical, with the aim of spotlighting the art, dance and music that come from African culture.

Aman Eujayl, RASA president, said that Africayé brings the community together as they work towards a common goal.

“Community is so integral to RASA,” Eujayl, a Baker College senior, said. “Often, we don’t really call it a club, we call it either family or community because that’s what we’re trying to build. The ultimate goal of RASA is to bring students of African descent together, to learn from each other, grow together, laugh together, celebrate each other.”

Eujayl said that RASA helped her find community at Rice.

“It really helped me … realize my Africanness, my Blackness,” Eujayl said. “I grew up in a place where there’s not a lot of Black people, not a lot of African people, so RASA was really important to me.”

Sean Nyangeri, a dancer and RASA committee lead, expressed a similar sentiment and said that it has been amazing showing his pride for African culture to the Rice community.

“The community is small, obviously, being at a [predominantly white institution], but it’s so close-knit, and everyone that’s involved in the organization is just very nice and willing to help out,” Nyangeri, a McMurtry College freshman, said. “There are a lot of people who have helped me along.” 

Eujayl said that while the decision to host Africayé at Stude Concert Hall for the first time was primarily in anticipation of the Rice Memorial Center being torn down, she has always dreamed of having Africayé at Shepherd since it has a larger seating capacity. She said that the showcase will use dynamic structures within the concert hall to tie into the theme.

“RASA as a club is always very ambitious, looking to be bigger and better every single year … It’s probably one of the first times the Shepherd School of Music has collaborated with a student organization on campus, particularly a Black student organization on campus … We’re hopefully able to host more people.” Eujayl said. “Last year, unfortunately, we had to turn some people away … It was kind of insane.”

Nyangeri is excited to celebrate African culture and hopes that viewers can see parts of it in a new light rather than with a one-sided view.

“Africayé’s not really just a cultural showcase, it’s a story about an African Student Association at a random college trying to come together to put on a cultural showcase,” Nyangeri said. “It’s a musical showcasing a story, taking you through the lives of many different characters and how they’re trying to work together. You’re truly immersed in a story.”

Crystal Unegbu, a dance director and actor in Africayé, said that one of the main goals during the showcase’s creative process was to be inclusive and authentic to the different talents the RASA and Black community at Rice have. 

“It was just a small group of us … writing the script, wanting to fit in everything … It was definitely a challenge, but we really try to incorporate everyone’s talents in the show through the little scenes in the musical,” Unegbu, a Hanszen College sophomore, said. “Africa is one huge continent with different regions and so many distinct differences that we wanted to highlight to our audience as well.”

Unegbu said that the showcase also addresses and issues that Black students at Rice face, and that there is a powerful piece from RASA’s poets that really shines light on Black history in America and Black struggles. 

“Every single time I watch them rehearse that scene, it really does touch me … I really want the audience to, yes, see that Africa is beautiful because of all our culture, music, fashion and food, but also that … we are real students, real people here,” Unegbu said.

For Nyangeri, Africayé has been an opportunity to come out of his shell and grow as a person.

“I’m really nervous because in high school, the African Student Association would perform, and I remember always wanting to do it … It felt really nice looking back and seeing how much I’ve grown because if I were to tell my high school freshman self that I’m part of a dance team, I’d probably be really shocked,” Nyangeri said.

Eujayl said she hopes Africayé brings RASA and the greater Rice community together.

“It’s one hundred percent worth it,” Eujayl said. “Engage with all the events that we have planned this week. Come to Africayé. Buy the Chaus drink. It’s really yummy.”

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