Africa Belle ( Diaspora Event Review)
By Marissa Williams
Alliance Française d’Atlanta hosted its annual African Belle event on May 8th 2015, in collaboration with High Museum of Art. This year’s theme –Rythmes Africains– promised a night celebrating the arts and culture of Francophone Africa through music, art, dance and traditional cuisine. This included a reception at the Alliance Francaise building, after which patrons were then invited to walk across the street to The High Museum of Art for the second part of the evening, including a fashion show and live music. The program was supported by many sponsors including the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
At this point you may be asking, ‘What does this have to do with the Caribbean?’ All I can tell you is that the ancestral ties between Africa and the Caribbean run deep and it was very evident that night; from the J’ouvert styled chipping in the streets of Atlanta, to the fashion show, to the entire ‘Carnival’ vibe. It was more than worth the minimal cover charge.
Things started off quietly enough. The welcoming reception at the Alliance Française d’Atlanta building was organized complete with a well-manned check in booth, ample food and drink representing the Francophone African countries and an overall pleasant and welcoming environment. Granted the food lines were a bit long for hungry patrons like myself coming straight from work, but, there were enough hors d’oeuvres to tide us over until we got to the front of the line. That coupled with a potent ginger drink kept me content while I waited. As I sat chatting with my friends, I could not even begin to imagine what was about to transpire. As the time for the fashion show drew nearer, my friends and I started packing our stuff to make the trek to the museum, when we heard what seemed to be the sound of drums coming from the hallway. Of course with our curiosity peaked, we all ran outside to see not simply drummers playing, but a procession of all patrons from the reception following the music as if being led by the pied piper. And this is how the entire party moved from the reception, to the High Museum of Art. We were all chipping to the beats of the drums through the streets of mid-town Atlanta without a care in the world, and, so the night of fun really began.
It was an eclectic mix of people who supported this event. Some seemed closely tied to Alliance Française , some seemed to be from the African countries represented, some were supporters of African fashion and culture and some seemed to be there simply to experience something new. One thing was certain though, by the end of the night, we were were all tied together by the common thread of truly appreciating a culture that is rich, unique and one which definitely felt like home (for me at least ;]).
After the drumming procession that led us all to the museum, we were treated to a show from the artistes. The pulsating rhythms had us all enthralled, and a few brave souls actually took to the middle of the stage to show off their dancing skills. This was the kick off to the second part of the evening’s program. After the welcome address from the master of ceremonies, representatives from each of the stakeholder entities were invited to the podium to speak. There was an ambassador from Alliance Française who seemed genuinely overjoyed at the size of patronage ‘that has grown tremendously since the inception of the event‘ . There was also representation from the Mayors Office of Cultural Affairs, the High Museum of Art and a special award to a female restauranteer who embodied ‘female empowerment’- this year’s theme. After the presentations came the much anticipated Fashion Show, albiet short but very impactful. The styles that came from the runway were elegant, bold and inspiring. My night was brought to a close by the riveting Kora perfermonce from Senegalese artistes Diali Cissokho and guest musician Sydia Cissokho. It was at this point I had to tap out because my senses were overloaded from the visual and oral stimuli that invaded it that night. The music and the fashion alone had my cup running over, I can only imagine what it felt like for the patrons who stayed for the art exhibit at the High. This event is an experience I recommend to any cultural enthusiast. The countdown has started for Africa Belle 2016.