Africa Rising, the multi-faceted music, culture and fashion festival strutted, shimmied, crooned, rapped and blinged into Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts for its first staging in North America since its debut in 2006. Previously, the festival was held in Africa exclusively. But with an aim to change the image of Africa as a continent plagued by poverty, corruption and war, Nigerian newspaper magnate Nduka Ogbaigbena, publisher of the Nigerian newspaper Thisday, decided to use unfettered star-power.
And the stars came out in full-force for the North American installment of “Africa Rising 2008,” which had its first shows in July in Abjua and Lagos, Nigeria. From the opening note, sung by mbalax superstar Youssou N’Dour backed by a neon background and an elaborate light show, it was obvious that this concert was about the glitz and glam.
Music and fashion were interspersed, and the runway lit up after N’Dour’s all-too-short set for the designs of Nigerian designer Fati Asibelua, also knows as MOMO. Her breezy maxi dresses in brilliant colors bore the hallmark of elaborate Nigerian fabrics. In fact, shortly before his recent death, iconic designer Oscar de la Renta made a visit to her atelier. The models also drew cheers, particularly when Sudanese supermodel Alex Wek hit the stage in a brilliant blue mini that accentuated her sculpture-like stature.
Next up was another Nigerian designer, Deola Sagoe, whose work relied heavily on an eclectic blend of Victorian necklines and the quintessentially Nigerian fabric, Ashoki, which incorporates metallic threads with brilliant colors. In her segment, Sagoe gave the spotlight to Ethiopian supermodel and humanitarian, Liya Kebede, whose flowing gown in multicolored stripes brought down the house. “African fashion is on top right now,” Momo commented, noting that the local markets in African countries are the most inspirational creative locales in the world.
R & B’s wunderkind, John Legend followed up the fashion segment, lifting the audience higher with a solid hour of his hits from his first and second albums, doing songs like “Get Lifted,” “Save Room For My Love,” and “I Can Change.” He also dipped back into the old school rhythm doing renditions of the Beatles “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Sly Stone’s “Dance To The Music” where the crooner went out into the crowd to dance with the audience. On the more soulful side, Legend got the audience, who obviously listened to his first album religiously, to sing the majority of his mega-hit “Ordinary People” and gave a sneak peak of his upcoming release, scheduled for October 2008.
In preparation for the man who everyone came to hear, Nigerian jewelry designer Chris Aire, paraded some $450 million in bling fashioned as watches, tiaras, shorts and bras, down the runway, drawing more cheers (from women mainly) when an oiled-down Tys