Smile Politely

Five reasons to explore the C-U Black and African Arts Festival

The C-U Black and African Arts Festival easily spans all of the Smile Politely sections (food, culture, music, arts). Yes, the line between arts and culture gets blurry in a celebration like CUBAAF, this arts editor offers the following suggestion. Whether you come to shop or to eat, be sure to stop and enjoy the performances, the makers and designers, and the interactive experiences made possible by an in-person event. 

According to its co-founders, Dr. Susan Ogwal and Cindy Ogwal, The C-U Black and African Arts Festival offers a “culturally diverse experience to the Champaign-Urbana community by expressing both Black and African heritage.” And by “bringing together a variety of vendors, creatives, influencers, and, community members to network and connect,” CUBAA doesn’t just provide the ingredients for a successful event. It sows the seeds for the future. 

Herein you’ll find five reasons to explore the art of the C-U Black and African Arts Festival.

Cultivate youth creativity and build a connection to Black and African culture

Though this intention is thoughtfully woven into the entire fabric of CUBAAF, here are some specific kid-friendly artists and performers to check out. 

Check out the kids’ corner from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for all kinds of creativity and community-building activities and don’t miss the kids’ dance jam from 11 to 11:30 a.m. For young visual artists, see Jax Canvas Kreations (see image below) for a variety of animal paintings and the live painting demo by Keith Jacobs from noon to 12:30 p.m. CUBAAF will also spotlight a number of young inventors and makers. 

Photo from CUBAAFFacebook page.

Move and be moved with dance performances

Photo from the CUBAF Facebook page.

Bring the kids in your life to kids’ dance jam from 11 to 11:30 a.m., then check out the Denis Productions African Dance from 3 to 3:30 p.m.  And considering the music’s running all day, there’s no reason to stop moving. But save some of your moves for the after party.

Experience a new soundtrack to your day and night

Photo from the CUBAAF Facebook page.

DJ Silkee, who brought us the latest “She Spins Urbana” girls camp, will be kicking off the music at 10:00 a.m. and keeping it going till DJ Yinka (see top photo) takes over for the evening shift.  Show your girls that they can spin with the best of them.

The Nigerian-born DJ Yinka brings a ” variety of experiences of events at colleges, political events, charity events,weddings, universities and sports events,” and has also “worked with different organizations teaching young kids the art of djing with the Springfield Boys and Girls Club, and the Springfield Urban League. Night owls can also stay (or come back for) the after party at the Rose Bowl.

Check out the wearable art 

Photo from the CUBAAF Facebook page.

Fashion design, for this writer, creates form of wearable art. And there’ll be plenty of great designers to check out this year. In the social media previews, I was immediately struck by the beautiful work of Eliba Fashions (above) and Hidden Jems (below). Like many of the other designers and makers exhibiting at this year’s CUBAAF, they exemplify how cultural traditions and new artistic forms of expression can blend seamlessly. 


Photo from the CUBAAF Facebook page.

Find authors and makers that feed your spirit

Photo from the CUBAAF Facebook page.

At the risk of stepping over the arts/culture divide, I invite you to experience the Black and African writers, influencers, thinkers, and motivators. They will remind of the rich diversity of Black and African experiences, identities, and dreams. From Dr. Faheem Judah-El (who has written on African History, Biblical Studies, and much more)  to DREAM (Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males). Resiliency is also a theme this year with author and consultant Dr. Mechelle Bailey-Moore. Bailey-Moore’s “ability to advocate, rebuild, and realign her own identity through Kingdom principles and surrendering to discovery her own uniqueness is a testament of true resiliency.”

Photo from the CUBAAF Facebook page.

The breadth of artists and makers attending this year’s CUBAAF is remarkable, as is the fact that their offerings may surprise you. White the healing arts sector often appears white-dominated,  the vendors at CUBAAF are here to tell you otherwise. Check out gemstone and herb remedies from makers like Serene Dream. And let your heart and mind fill with the art and words of Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure (see below). 

Photo from the CUBAAF Facebook page.

Final thoughts

If you are coming to experience a culture that is not your own, come with respect, and an open mind. If you are coming to join members of your community, celebrate well, educate well, and fill Lincoln Square with the sights and sounds of Black and African creativity and joy. CUBAAF is not just a chance to support Black and African-owned business, it is a chance to meet and learn from Black and African-owned makers and innovators.  If you come, please come (and stay) properly masked and do your best to social distance. The fact the this in-person festival has returned is itself a celebration. But with Delta variant numbers on the rise, stay safe so we can do this again next year. 

CUBAFF is sponsored in part by a grant from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program. This year’s organizers shared that in addition to funding CUBAFF, the Urbana Arts and Culture Program “fosters an environment for established and emerging artists to thrive in Urbana, promotes life-long participation and learning in the arts, and integrates art into the urban environment.”

C-U Black and African Arts Festival
Saturday, September 15th, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Lincoln Square Mall, Urbana

For updates, follow on CUBAAF on Facebook or Instagram.

Top photo from CUBAFF’s Facebbok page. 

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