Overwhelmed by the roar of the crowd in Ryan Auditorium, Weinberg junior Faith Ogungbe stepped outside into the silence for just a moment to practice her dance moves one last time. Then a freshman, Ogungbe was about to perform for the first time in Afropollo, Northwestern’s biggest annual talent show hosted by the African Student Association (ASA). The final performers of the evening, Ogungbe and her friend Amakie Amattey, Weinberg junior, stood anxiously in the wings as their act approached.
“When we actually were onstage, we heard all of our friends cheering, even people we didn’t know. It just became really fun and very exhilarating,” Ogungbe says.
Inspired by Amateur Night at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, Afropollo provides dozens of students, regardless of major or extracurricular involvement, the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of their peers. This year, Afropollo will take place on Saturday, Nov. 21 in Ryan Auditorium.
Unlike typical talent shows where a panel of judges selects the winner, the audience of Afropollo has all the control. Just like at the Apollo, the performer can either be cheered or booed off the stage.
“The audience votes on who gets to win the final prize,” ASA president Thelma Godslaw, Weinberg senior, says, which adds another layer of pressure for the performers.
“You have to start off strong and stay strong,” says Thaddeus Tukes, one of last year’s hosts, and a fourth-year Bienen and Medill dual-degree student. “It really forces the performers to push their limits to see what they can do and how far they can go with their performance.”
Weinberg sophomore Sterling Harris, who tap danced last year, says the audience typically tries to support the performer rather than discourage.
“To hear people cheer and clap and scream was really rewarding, and it encouraged me to keep going and do better,” he says.
Afropollo is not only an event dedicated to celebrating student talent but also an evening of community.
“It’s something that’s come to be a tradition on Northwestern’s campus within the black community and the African community,” Godslaw says.
However, ASA aims to attract students from all corners of campus to show them more about the group.
“They should expect to learn a few things about the African continent,” says ASA vice president Emmanuel Darko, Weinberg senior.
Tukes first heard about the show from friends as a freshman, and he’s attended every year since.
“I just like seeing the joy on people’s faces when they perform and hear people applaud,” he says. “People who may have been scared to sing decided to go for it, and now they have all of their peers cheering and yelling and screaming their names during the performance. I think that’s kind of one of those precious moments for sure.”
Tukes loves coming to Afropollo every year and witnessing the talent of his fellow Wildcats. But he also comes for the people.
“Afropollo, as an overarching event, is more than just, ‘Sit down and watch people perform.’ It is very interactive,” he says. “If you don’t leave with a new friend by the end of Afropollo, then maybe you did it wrong.”