Until three days ago, I didn’t know the ACAS Culture Fest existed. When I walk through library square I tend to keep my head down for fear of being hounded by political warriors and canvassers or being plastered with flyers for fancy dress events I won’t go to. It seems I’ve been missing out.
Societies like ACAS (African, Caribbean and Asian Society), SUS (Suubira Uganda Society), and HAS (Hear Afrika Society) occupy a middle ground. They camp out on library square, play music, fund raise, sell cakes and embrace and promote the diversity of cultures that make up our campus.
ACAS in particular organise poetry evenings, food nights and weekly meetings for debates, films and socialising, and of course host their annual talent showcase, Culture Fest.
Having won last year’s USSU Diversity Award, this year it had a reputation to uphold and expectations were high. Derived from the title of Barack Obama’s autobiography ‘The Audacity of Hope’, this year’s theme was Audacity of Expression, something which it undoubtedly had…in spades.
‘A particular highlight was a female troupe stamping and clapping to R’n’B classics. These were women no man should cross on the dance floor’
Watching the Corn Exchange fill up was an odd experience. The people coming in were old, young, conventional, traditional, alternative, religious, secular, black, white. It seemed that no social sector had been unaccounted for and as the show began it became apparent that the performances were to be as eclectic as its audience.
It kicked off, as promised, with a nod to Obama in a hip-hop remix of his most famous sound bites. There was singing, rapping, a short play in four parts, beat boxing, and all of it punctuated by the fashion designs of someone called Harold (among others).
These acts, however, took a back seat to the dancing talents on display. They ranged from the bounce of 1920s Lindy Hop and Charleston to sultry belly dancing and salsa to traditional African dances with a modern twist. A particular favourite was a female troupe stamping, clapping and slapping in time whilst two of their number sang R’n’B classics like ‘Bongo Jam’. At once feminine and powerful, these were women no man should attempt to cross on the dance floor.
‘As the show began it became clear that the performances were to be as eclectic as the audience’
The talent also extended into individual performers, most notably in the field of poetry. This was poetry in the best and most dramatic sense of the word. There are times when a person looks so completely at home on stage that you feel sure they were born for it. The last poet to stand and perform fell into this category. Kheston lyricised and tongue-twisted his way around ‘No F in Democracy’ (pun presumably intended) and an ode to a loved one inspired by a girl eating a panini by the pigeon droppings in Churchill Square.
The only act that felt a little out of place was a solo performer. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was sung beautifully by a woman in a white dress that got almost as many cheers as the performance, but it seemed an unlikely choice amidst such a wealth of African and Asian culture.
Throughout the entire three and a half hour performance the atmosphere was one of celebration and enthusiasm. I am not African, Caribbean or Asian but that didn’t matter: the festivities were all-inclusive and all-encompassing. My favourite moment had to be the valiant attempt by a middle-aged couple, who looked like they might have walked in the wrong door, to join in with the dancing, clapping and audience participation encouraged by the beat box duo Sam and Navid.
It was a good night, something a little bit different and out of the ordinary. And, to think, I might have just carried on walking.