Tuesday, April 22, 1997

First Annual OBS Cultural Show Celebrates Black Heritage

First Annual OBS Cultural Show Celebrates Black Heritage
The Chicago Maroon
By Pamela Appea

The Organization of Black Students (OBS) hosted its first annual cultural show entitled “Visions of Heritage” Saturday, April 19, at the University of Chicago’s International House. Two hundred students and community residents attended the event.

“I think the evening was a success, and [part of that success] was the fact that we had a racially and culturally diverse crowd,” said Jimmie Wells, president of OBS and a fourth-year student at the College. “[The show] was a huge collaborative effort. I thought it was a beautiful night.”

Many cultural show attendees had a positive reaction to the show.

“The OBS cultural show was an exciting excursion through African music, song, dance, poetry and fashion,” said Vincent Howard, a second-year student at the Graduate School of Business.

“This [show] is a must see for the entire University. I hope to see the show continue every year on a larger scale,” Howard added.

The student Government (SG)-sponsored event cost around $2, 500. Tickets cost around five dollars, but young children were allowed in free. According to Wells, the two restaurants that catered the event gave OBS a special discount.

“[OBS] took a loss financially,” said Sherman Galbreath, treasurer of OBS and a third-year student in the College. “However the excitement and approval of the crowd made it worthwhile.”

The nearly three-hour show started out with the New Composers Ensemble. Using a combination of a vibraphone, drums, piano, bass, guitar, percussion and vocals, this group attempted to fuse modern jazz-inspired music with that of traditional African music in pieces titled “Psalm 37” and “Night Flight.”

Afterwards an African drumming and dancing troupe called Yahkowb and Company showcased a variety of different ancient musical traditions such as those from Yoruba and Ashanti (Asante) cultures. The troupe leader explained that in the African tradition, there is a close relation between music, dance and vocals.

“[The show] was really successful. My favorite part [of the show[ was the drumming and the dancing,” said Teyona James, a second-year student at Aurora University.

Traditionally, African music is polyphonic with sophisticated rhythm structures. Drums often “talk” or communicate to dancers, other drummers, and spectators.

“The drummer tells you how to do it, when to do it. You [must] listen to the story of the drum,” said the troupe leader of Yahkowb and Company.

Western African tension drums are used often in musical repertories because of their variable-pitch capabilities, which can be used to imitate language tones. A West African storyteller and oral historian, called a griot, uses the improvisational technique in performance.

Following the griot tradition, younger members of the troupe told tales through music and spoken stories.

“[The show] was unique and different. I liked every act,” said Lafayette Galbreath, a senior at the Milwaukee Trade and Technical high school.

The musical selection segued into poetry recitation. Kalisha Buckhanon, a second-year student in the College, and Marvin Chambers, a fourth-year student, separately recited their own poems.

Buckhanon’s poems reflected on the black family unit and issues concerning black females. Chambers’s poem/soliloquy, performed over 25 minutes, aimed to explore issues of inner turmoil, religion, self-alienation and insanity.

Chambers has written over 500 poems and has performed in several local poetry events and coffee shops. He altered his voice to represent changes in time, space, and character throughout the reading.

Galbreath explained that longer poetry readings can have the tendency to be boring or uninspiring. This time, however, he did not feel this way.

“[Chambers’s poem] was one of them things that usually makes me fall asleep, but [because] he is talented and the acting [during his soliloquy] was excellent, I had no problem [paying attention],” he said.

A fashion show consisting of four segments came afterwards. Traditional clothing, formal wear, dressy summer clothes and casual wear were all featured.

“The fashion show was really well organized,” said Myesha Banks, SistaFriends public relations chair , OBS cultural show backstage coordinator, and a second-year student in the College.

Aicha Balla, a second-year student, and Angela Carr, a fourth-year student, choreographed the forty-minute fashion show. Gingiss Formal Wear, Therapy Boutique, and Windows to Africa donated clothing for the event. The eleven fashion models moved to music by James Brown and Toni Braxton.

Six U of C women performed an “African dance interpretation” in the African and African-American artistic tradition.

Soul Umoja, the U of C gospel choir, wrapped up the OBS show with three songs. Gmerice Hammond, a first-year student in the College, and Rashad Burgess, a fourth-year student, each sang solos.

Soul Umoja has performed for many churches, a South Side event called “Vigil for Violence,” and the U of C’s SistaFriends March event, “A Gathering of the Sisterhood.” According to Jonathan Shepherd, co-founder and director for Soul Umoja and a third-year student in the College, a large Soul Umoja concert is planned for May 31.

Anna Hammond, a Chicago resident, particularly enjoyed the African dance interpretation and the Soul Umoja gospel choir acts.

“I appreciate the enthusiasm of the students,” said Hammond. “By putting on this cultural show, these [young people] are celebrating their blackness, and they are very, very powerful by celebrating this blackness.”

“I liked the choir. It was [especially] fun when they [sang] the song “Melodies from Heaven,” said Joelle Oden, a second grader at Laura Ward Elementary School.

“My mama plays this song at home [a lot,] she said.

The extremely popular “Melodies from Heaven” was penned by Kirk Franklin, who has written countless gospel songs trumpeting the music significance of gospel, or African-American church music, in the United States.

“With African-American music, it is important to distinguish what is known as ‘blues’ or ‘jazz’ from what is ‘gospel.’ These kinds of music are not all the same,” emphasized a cultural show attendee. “White music within the United States is hardly monolithic, so it is an injustice to categorize black music as such.”

She went on to explain that all African-American art forms do have a spiritual aspect to them since “they speak [about] the African-American experience,” she said.

While many enjoyed the OBS cultural show, some felt that for next year, a lot of little improvement should be made.

There were some complaints that there should be a greater variety of quality food.

Vee-Vee’s and El Dinamico Dallas Restaurant catered the pre-show dinner. Fried plantains, spinach pie, marinated spicy chicken, brown rice and other dishes were served.

“The turkey patties [were terrible],” said Ben Talton, a first-year graduate student. He feels that next year OBS should strive for better food.

Several OBS members and cultural show attendees would like see the diversity within black culture celebrated by including the black culture, music and dance from the West Indies and South America.

“[Also] what could be improved was the timing and the time limit on some of the acts [in the show,” said James.

According to Lafayette Galbreath, the show definitely needs a larger hall since many people had to stand.

“We would like to thank the community for coming out and everyone in OBS for putting in the time, energy, and effort. Also, we would like to thank SistaFriends for showing their support,” said Sherman Galbreath.

Originally published April 22, 1997