Revelers enjoy Farafina Kan African Dance ensemble at Africa Underground / Courtesy Dedicated partiers describe nirvana as that state where the vibe, music and atmosphere blend seamlessly.
Recently, Africa Underground was the place, and Nicole Cutts exemplified that state. She was one of more than 1,300 revelers at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art’s Africa Underground: From West Africa to the Caribbean.
At the beginning of one reggae set on Friday, May 20, Cutts was off to the right side of the stage grooving to Lenny Kurlou and the Reggae All Stars.
She was working it out: eyes closed, face lit up with a beatific smile, arms extended outward, totally wrapped up in the music. Kurlou called her to center stage so he could serenade her with Gregory Isaacs’ anthem, Night Nurse.
Cutts, the perfect ham, complied.
“I want you to stay right here so I can focus on you,” said Kurlou.
Cutts assumed an air of contemplation, placing a finger on her lips, still dancing as he sang. Then she put her hand over her heart with mock-seriousness, before bending over in a fit of laughter.
When she straightened up, the singer said in patois, “Gimme yu han’ girl. Don’t be running away…”
Kurlou captured the hearts of the crowd by substituting “D.C.” into many of the calypso and reggae lyrics, as in Marley’s No Woman Nuh Cry.
“I remember when we used to sit, inna government yard, in D.C,” he crooned.
Museum Director Johnnetta Cole, and husband James Staton, resplendent in colorful African attire - danced with unabashed glee. Smiling broadly, she pulled a series of women standing watching to the front to twirl and dance.
“This is my first time at this event,” said Brandie Maxwell, who enjoyed the festivities with her friend, Azara Turaki in the museum’s lush Enid A. Haupt Garden.
“This museum is at the top of my list. There are so many choices and the music is great.”
Maxwell, a 31-year-old Liberian and editor of the blog, Out and About Africa, was attuned to the African music.
“I think this is kind of nice because they’re not a lot of African cultural events here. Just the fact that they have our music and food – I love it,” said Turaki, a Nigerian native. “The natural hair does it for me. I love it.”
Maxwell credited social media such as Twitter and Facebook for making “people know they wanted to be here.”
The pair soaked up the event and the nighttime museum experience. Inside the foyer, people lined up to buy rice and peas, curry chicken, curry vegetables and vegan dishes. Others, spread out over several levels, listened to music, chatted or carefully perused the exhibits. While downstairs in the museum’s central building, Farafina Kan, a traditional African dance ensemble performed.
Inside, as Cole and Staton made their way downstairs, people greeted them, posed for pictures and exchanged pleasantries. Then they waded into the crowd and swayed as the dance ensemble started slowly drumming polyrhythmic beats which became more insistent, before climbing to a crescendo. Individual drummers stepped forward to showcase their talent, while enthusiasts slapped money on their foreheads as a sign of approval.
“Hello my brothers and sisters,” Cole said to the sizable crowd in the gallery’s lower level.
“I can’t welcome you home because you’re already here. You belong to us and the National Museum and we belong to you; don’t be a stranger.”
Staton, acting director of the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement, couldn’t contain his excitement.
“This is just wonderful, wonderful. There is lots of positive energy and diversity,” he said.
As the semi-circle of drummers called the ancestors down, Nikki Bouknight stood transfixed.
“I love the variety of activities they offer, and the liveliness of it all,” said the 35-year-old District resident, speaking of her second Africa Underground experience. “I love the beautiful gaze of brown people.”
Cutts, an organizational development consultant and success coach, called the night memorable.
“Totally,” she said, pointing to the dancing and atmosphere as the highpoints of the evening.
“I enjoy the museum and the garden. I come here all the time. I feel like I’m in my backyard with all you people.”
Her friend Hallely Azulay beamed and nodded in agreement.
“I love that it was outdoors and the weather was perfect,” the Israeli native said. “… music plus dancing, plus (it being) outside equals the formula for a successful evening.”