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Harambee by Jonah Buchanan, Julie Conrad, Josh Smith, and Jamauri Wakefield

Posted by on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 in 1010 blog posts, Blog posts, , .

EBJ_3891 (1)Harambee was produced by the African Student Union on February 10th from 7-10pm in Langford Auditorium on Vanderbilt’s campus. The audience ranged from proud parents of performers to interested Vanderbilt students. This collaborative criticism dialogue occured in upstairs Rand Hall, and included Jonah Buchanan, Julie Conrad, Josh Smith, and Jamauri Wakefield. Jonah Buchanan is a freshman from Hawaii. He is currently undecided about his major, but is interested in computer science. Julie Conrad is a senior from Springfield, IL majoring in Neuroscience and MHS. She will be going to medical school next year in Chicago. Josh Smith is a junior from Murfreesboro, TN majoring in Environmental Sociology. Jamauri is a sophomore from Jacksonville, FL majoring in Political Science.

Julie: My favorite part of Harambee was seeing all of the different African cultures being represented, and seeing the parents’ pride in the audience and the pride of the performers on stage when representing their own culture.

Jonah: I particularly liked the Caribbean dance number because it incorporated modern and more native Caribbean music into a nice enjoyable piece.

Josh: I enjoyed that as well about the performance, the modern music flashes drew my attention and focus back. My brain was like ooohh I know that song, what’s going on? *laughing*

Jamauri: The Caribbean dance number was very interesting to watch in my opinion too. Considering I was there to watch them practice that dance for months, I’m glad it seems you guys enjoyed watching it almost as much as they did performing it.

Julie: Yeah, I loved the Caribbean dance number! I could tell they were having fun on stage and had put so much work into it. One of my really good friends choreographed the piece so it was really great being able to see all his hard work come to fruition. I also really enjoyed the fashion show. It was super cool being able to see all of the traditional outfits and modern twists with the same theme.

Jamauri: The fashion show was my second favorite part. I’d admit some of them did look a little nervous walking out on stage but honestly I was just excited to see a style of clothing that I myself am not accustomed to wearing.

Josh: That part of the performance was cool, but the models did not “wow” me with their facial expressions. Some of the models made it enjoyable to watch, but others made me feel concerned.

Julie: I agree, I wish some of them had smiled a little more but it was really exciting when some of the models would come out on stage with huge smiles on their face while carrying the flag of the country they were representing.

Jonah: That is true but I also felt like this part of the show was really long and wasn’t as exciting for me compared to the dance numbers.

Julie: That’s fair. I think they do the fashion show every year, which is kind of hard to fit into the script so that is probably why it felt a little out of place and not super integrated into the rest of the story. Speaking of which, what did you guys think of the storyline?

Josh: When the storyline began I felt like I was not going to make a great connection with it, but as it progressed I saw many similarities with the college experience of Akinyi and Otieno.

Jonah: I agree with you Josh. Although I’m not from Africa I experienced a similar transition coming to college from Hawaii where culturally things are a little different.

Jamauri: I’m not from Hawaii but I completely understand where you’re coming from Jonah, I’m from Florida so I’m used to a completely different lingo, style of dress, weather, etc. I’ve heard that I actually sound a little country in comparison to everybody else.

Julie: *laughing* I can kind of see that! So one of the major themes of the show was how Akinyi and Otieno had a difficult time assimilating into American culture and faced some discrimination from their good friends due to their growing up in Africa and not the U.S. One of Akinyi’s best friends actually accused her of not being “black black”, despite the color of her skin, because she did not have to grow up in a predominantly white culture and was lucky to be born and raised in Africa where she was surrounded by people of her same culture. What do you guys think of that?

Josh: It is interesting to see how in points of the production they separated culture through statements like “ you’re not black-black”, but then tried to connect culture by saying “we are all from the motherland.”

Jonah: I agree that there is a clear difference between growing up in Africa and in America or anywhere matter of fact. But in America we label people by their skin color and things get complicated when people come from different cultures and backgrounds but they have the same skin color.

Jamauri: I understood why the phrase or description “black-black” was attached to someone who grew up around American culture. However, I still came to the conclusion after listening that “black-black” is just another way of dividing a demographic through this concept of labeling which I believe to be disadvantageous when attempting to unify a common people.

Julie: For sure. I thought they came to a really great conclusion when Akinyi broke the third wall and directly addressed the audience. She talked about how, although they might come from different backgrounds, they all share an important part of their identity and face oppression in the same ways due to the color of their skin. She thought they should all celebrate their differences as opposed to negating them, which I think is really great.

Jonah: Yeah that part of the play had a very positive reaction from the play and everyone began clapping agreeing with her.

Julie: So because every year they make a new script and change the storyline, why do you guys think they chose to address the topics that they did?

Josh: I feel like it was an attempt to unify the campus and oppose the social and political climate surrounding race.

Jonah: Yeah I felt the whole play was about finding a unified identity because our University is made up of a diverse mix of black students.

Jamauri: I think the topics were chosen to simply bring awareness to the fact that racism and segregation does not only exist within black vs. white culture.

Julie: I also think that current events such as white supremacy groups gaining ground and episodes of police brutality necessitates a unified front for all minorities.

Josh: Considering that what do you all think the intended audience was? Although is was an African themed production open to the public and Vanderbilt’s campus, I noticed a very diverse demographic in the crowd.

Julie: Yeah! I noticed that too. I think it was very welcoming to anyone who was interested in learning more about their culture. I think they wanted to spread the message of their background and values to as many people as possible.

Jonah: I also noticed that the performers weren’t all Africans or Black. They had a diverse cast including Asian and White people in the Nigerian Contemporary performance and the Melanated Acapella performance.

Julie: Yeah definitely. It was really cool seeing people of different identities all come together on stage to celebrate the same culture. I also loved the familial aspect of the performance. Parents and siblings filled the crowd and it made me so happy seeing them supporting their children in the performance. I know that a lot of my friends that were in it had their parents fly in so that they could watch it. All together, I loved the performance. I thought it was very enjoyable and I would definitely go see it again if I wasn’t graduating next year.

Josh: I third the notion on the diverse cast. I noticed that it brought back the theme of unity. Before the performance I was not looking forward to seeing it and thought of it as cramp in my weekend. Ohhhh boy did that change after the performance, I was thoroughly impressed and glad that I went to see it. It enriched my cultural capital and taste, for sure. On top of that I walked out of the performance feeling more empowered about my culture. I would 10 out of 10 go to see it again next year and would suggest anyone to take the time to see it!

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5 Comments on “Harambee by Jonah Buchanan, Julie Conrad, Josh Smith, and Jamauri Wakefield”

I completely agree. Seeing the diverse cast and all types of people was a very cool experience. I have never seen a show where so many different types of people were working together to achieve a single thing. It created a superb environment for all ages and genders. Without a doubt a “must see” play.

solomotl on February 26th, 2018 at 11:36 pm

I agree with the discussion and post above. Julie I also really liked seeing people with different identities celebrate the same culture. With the way things are these days it is not easy for people to come together as a whole a lot of people are labeled in America now days, like Jonah said. By having a diverse cast it showed how people can be one and celebrate together and perform. All in all, it was a great performance!

aaron on February 26th, 2018 at 11:49 pm

The dialogue for the performance of Harambee draws a connection between the plot and the social relevance of the performance. In the production, one of the main characters Akinyi, an international student at Vanderbilt from Ghana, faced backlash from her African-American classmate that accused her of not being “black black,” or as Julie phrased it, “not hav[ing] to grow up in a predominantly white culture.” This was obviously an issue because 1. by labeling people by their skin color, as mentioned by Jonah, it reduced Akinyi to being the girl from Ghana; and 2. it did nothing more than create a divide between Black people into those from America and those who are not. As Jamauri put it, the statement is “disadvantageous when attempting to unify a common people.” This was directly addressed in Akinyi’s monologue when she left the dinner table and broke the fourth wall, speaking about how despite their differences, all Black people face discrimination based on the color of their skin (as evidenced by police brutality and the subsequent arising of the Black Lives Matter movement), and that they should stick together in order to fight racism in America. The drawing of applause from the audience during and after this monologue relates to Goffman’s theory on social performance, where he notes that the encounter between an audience and the performer(s) can impact their repertoire of actions. In this case, Akinyi’s encounter with the audience through her monologue caused the action of applause from the crowd. Overall, the performance was able to address race relations in America through an engaging storyline and an entertaining performance.

Brendan Finnerty on February 28th, 2018 at 1:36 am

One theme within Harambee that was barely mentioned in the dialogue was familial relations. Julie mentioned that it was nice seeing the performer’s family members there to cheer them on during the performance, which ties into the plot of the story. In “Fresh off the Boat,” siblings Akinyi and Otieno are exposed to a new culture at Vanderbilt and are forced to navigate it as outsiders. Although they both make friends along the way, they always had each other to rely on and talk to about their experiences and whether or not they should assimilate or stick to their roots. This internal struggle between conformity and resistance – a relatable topic in itself – could be seen when Akinyi and Otieno returned home to Ghana in “Black-ish.” When their mom caught Akinyi performing American dances in her room, she was infuriated and was not willing to hear Akinyi’s opinion without accusing her of disrespecting her mother. This is a common struggle for people who come from strict parenting (a concept that isn’t specific to one particular race or culture), as they feel that their voice as a young adult should be respected and heard without being misunderstood as disrespecting the familial matriarchy. Luckily at dinner, Akinyi’s father was able to support her and show that she is a young adult with opinions that should not be buried in the hierarchal structure of the family. This critique is merely an acknowledgement and elaboration of a theme within the production that appeared to be overlooked by the dialogue. According to our notes, a critic should be someone that is “thoughtful, analytical, and perceptive,” and I believe that this criticism is nothing more than an extension of the dialogue presented, and is most certainly not a diatribe against it.

Brendan Finnerty on February 28th, 2018 at 1:54 am

I enjoyed reading Jonah, Julie, Josh, and Jamauri’s dialogue about Harambee; it was interesting to read about which parts of the show engaged each person the most, and about their individual thoughts on the importance of the production. While reading I found myself agreeing with many of their observations and opinions. I too enjoyed watching the different dance numbers and seeing how each group incorporated modern elements into their performance. Julie’s first comment about the audience resonated with me, and reminded me of the concept of the audience as a performer; Julie said that her favorite part was seeing the “parents’ pride in the audience”. This aspect of the show impacted me as well and actually enhanced my experience. When the students were performing and I saw the audience enjoying themselves and feeling proud of their cultures, I immediately felt a heightened sense of appreciation for the performers and felt the atmosphere become more energized. Like Jamauri, I also enjoyed the fashion show portion of the production because I was able to see beautiful garments that I was not accustomed to seeing. I appreciated how each of the members connected their perceptions of the performance to their experiences and connected certain aspects of the production to their own personal lives. They also participated in a brief discussion about how the script and storyline of Harambee related to race issues occurring in society today. Their ability to analyze the production on a deeper level added to their dialogue and made it an interesting and informative read. It was interesting to read their opinions on the deeper concepts that were expressed in the production. While watching the production I had similar thoughts to Josh and Jonah; they both saw the production as an outreach to unifying the campus across identities and ethnicities. Throughout the dialogue I noticed that Julie seemed to serve as the discussion leader; although she was the only one to pose questions, the rest of the members were fully engaged and participated thoughtfully and equally. What I most appreciated was their honesty. They made honest comments about what they thought about the production, which is important when making criticisms.

camposh on February 28th, 2018 at 8:18 pm

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