Diasporian News of Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Source: Dr. Galen Spencer Hull

Panafest: May 18th in the Global Mall at the Crossings

by the President, HULL International, Consultant to the Global Mall

Heavy rains continued to pelt the Nashville area late in the morning on Saturday, April 27th. But it was decidedly not raining inside the gymnasium of Saint Edwards Catholic Church on Thompson Lane! The sounds of traditional West African drums reverberated off the walls of the gym. Four young Africans belted out syncopated rhythms which got the audience swinging and swaying. The smallest of the drummers stood only slightly taller than the big bass drum he was beating authoritatively.

There followed a series of dancers, featuring four young girls of Sierra Leone parentage, born in the USA. Their sensuous gyrations left no doubt that they carried African DNA, very much connected to their roots. The event featured a traditional procession of Ghanaian chiefs into the gym, escorted by courtesans and drummers celebrating their entry.

They were ushered to seats prominently placed in the front facing the stage where they presided over the festivities. The audience was transported back to the Gold Coast – today known as Ghana - where such ceremonies had been conducted since time immemorial. Another procession presented Nigerian chieftains. And this, in urban Nashville! The event was hosted by Panafest and was billed as the First Annual Pan African Festival in Nashville, a celebration of African cultures, bringing together the various African communities committed to the wellbeing of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora.

The festival also featured exotic cuisine from various African countries. In the back of the room vendors offered an array of goods including kente cloth, with its origins in the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa. This is sacred Ashanti cloth worn only by royalty on special occasions. Over time, the use of kente has become more widespread, especially in the U.S. Sponsors of Panafest, described in a very colorful brochure and represented in person, included several ministers and their wives, photography services, an international market in Antioch, African hair braiding, a global education center, event catering, and a travel service.

Panafest, also known as Emancipation and tracing its origins back to 1992, is celebrated as an annual event in Ghana to remind people of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but also to link people of African descent from all over the Diaspora. Ghana was the transit point for trade in slaves from all over the continent. The attractions of Panafest have traditionally included presentations of dance, theater, drama, and poetry, often featuring a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of the slaves.

The inspiration for Panafest Nashville came from Kwame Ahima, adjunct professor of music and director of the Sankofa Performing Ensemble in the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. Born in Ghana, Ahima is descended from a family of drummers, dancers, and historians, achieving the title of “Okyerema”, master of the Asante Talking Drums.

Before coming to Nashville Ahima performed on various occasions in Europe and Canada, as well as 35 states in the U.S. After years of deliberation and reflection, in early 2012 Ahima decided to launch a campaign to promote African culture and economic development, both in the U.S. and in Africa. One of the first steps was to create a website (www.panafest.net) and then a vigorous program of social media and “good ole handshakes” in face-to-face meetings.

Panafest Nashville is managed by a committee of ten which worked for several months to bring about this first annual event. Panafest Nashville aims to serve as a forum to unite all the African communities as well as all those committed to the development of Africa and the African Diaspora. The committee is already at work planning for future events.

While busy bringing together last-minute preparations for the Panafest event, Ahima has found time to attend planning meetings of the Celebrate the Nations event at the Global Mall at the Crossings on Saturday May 18th being organized by Festival of the Nations, a program of Bethel World Outreach in Brentwood. He assures the planners of the Global Mall event that his Panafest participants will be on hand to represent Africa. His drummers will be called upon to announce to the world that the festival is on! This time their sounds will reverberate throughout the cavernous hallways of the Mall and into the Global Event Center.