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Africa comes to Harlem: Celebrating the 1st African Day Parade
By Ayesha Attah

For the first of what will hopefully be more to come, the Africa Day Parade had a lot of potential. Its ‘parade’ moniker may have led some to thinking it was just a parade -- it was that and a part-concert, part-social fest at the scenic Morningside Park in Harlem, New York -- even a waterfall was in full effect. The parade was a chance to unite Africans from Cape Verde to Kenya, as well as lovers of Africa from all over.

The organizers of the event, encouraged all to come clad in traditional African wear and gave volunteers the chance to also represent their countries by providing them with bright badges instead of T-shirts.

The parade was themed, “Africa is the Motherland” with aims of uniting all in the African Diaspora. Paule-Sylvie Yonké, one of the organizers who proudly refers to herself as a “global African”, said the parade served three purposes. First, it stemmed from what they saw as a lack of representation of African culture in American festivals and cultural experiences; secondly, it was held to mobilize and organize continental Africans, to show the richness, beauty and diversity of their cultures. This, she said, led to the third point of the parade:

"By coming out in numbers, it allows people to see you and respect you and allows them to start doing business with you and start interacting as equal partners."

The performances were as varied as Africa is diverse, and they included Ghanaian Hiplife star, Papa Shee'ee; Guinean sensation Abdoulaye Diabate; Rwandese singer, Marie-Claudine Mukamabano, who introduced “The African Beauty Queens” in a mini-fashion show that could have been better organized. The parade also showcased performers such as JDiamondz, an American rap artist, who riled the audience by saying, “they say Africans don’t know about rap.” There was a great turn-out from Burkina Faso; a fact Yonké seemed especially impressed by.

Even though the energy could have been a notch higher, for most parts the audience was responsive, sometimes rather negatively. B-clay, who performed using a dancehall-infused riddim asked, "do you want more?" and most shouted with an overwhelming "no!" The MC was also booed at one point.

Ghanaian Hiplife artist Papa Shee'ee seemed to cause an initial flurry of excitement. He started with a customary Ashanti greeting and then segued into his performance, backed by three Japanese dancers. This was in sharp contrast to Petit John's performance right before, with two voluptuous Burkina dancers, effortlessly shaking their waists and behinds. He half-explained himself while in song, saying Africa was connected to every country, even Japan (referring to his dancers).

Despite the glitches, the organizers said they were generally happy with the parade. Another member of the planning committee, Ted Lawrence said his age and being African-American allows him to see things from a different perspective. He added that he was impressed with the diligence and creativity of the organizing committee, but had a few disappointments. He expected a higher turnout from VIPs who said they'd come and suggested that since the parade is all-inclusive, next time they lobby other branches of the African Diaspora, citing New Guinea and Brazil as examples.

Iyore Ayanru, who attended the event said, “The African presence has always been felt in Harlem. Today, it came out in force.”

Another, Biiftu Aba-Jebel, born and raised in Harlem, said she’d definitely come again next year.

Pictures from the event: