Thanks to huge heads from my buddy, Midwestphoto, I learned that Milwaukee has a Nigerian culture festival. Woo hoo! Now how could I miss out on that? It was held at the Nigerian Community Center up on Appleton Ave at W. Hampton. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was sure it would be an adventure.
I had to laugh as I pulled up to the building. The parking lot was being used for the festival, so attendees had to park on the street. Except the street was under construction. The far left lane was torn up, a lane of gravel about 4” lower than the street itself, marked off by orange construction barrels. So where had the Nigerian’s parked? In the under-construction lane. They’d just driven between the barrels, gone down the lip and parked on the gravel. I went the extra 20ft to the end of the block, turned onto the cross street and parked on the empty street.
At the festival, people were milling around inside and out. Lots of bright colors and a mix of Western and Nigerian clothes, just like in Abuja. The inside of the community center had something going on in nearly every room. Outside, a stage area was set up and a row of booths ran down the parking lot from the stage to a giant bouncy castle.
The festival booths reminded me a lot of the booths at the Nigerian Bar Association Meeting I attended several years ago, except without the magical potions. There were clothing booths with both traditional and club wear, and lots of food vendors. All of the food vendors were local catering companies. I talked to a couple of them. They make the food in their homes and then take it to whatever function has hired them. As most Nigerian food is not vegetarian-friendly, I had only a couple of fried plantains off my friend’s plate.
We watched two fashion shows: a club wear show and a traditional wear show. Both shows featured local designers. The club wear show models were all grown-ups (thank goodness!), and many of the outfits were rather risque. There was one white model and in one of the outfits, you could see her lower back tattoo through the dress fabric. None of the club wear left much to the imagination.
Outfit at the club fashion show
The traditional fashion show models were area students. They looked awesome. Some of them were a little shy and it was adorable. The designer had tried to feature outfits from multiple tribes. The models had to change very quickly and there weren’t a lot of them, so there was often a lull. But, the show overall was very nice and well done. Plus, the soundtrack for this fashion show was all Nigerian music. :)
Outfits at Traditional fashion show
Other performances on the stage area included a gentleman playing the talking drum and cultural dancers. The event was running about 2 hours behind the program schedule (I wouldn’t have expected anything else), so we didn’t stick around for the cultural dancers.
We did, however, check out the story time inside. That was very interesting. Gentlemen from different tribes took turns presenting traditional stories from their particular tribes. Mostly. There was a great rendition of the story about why the tortoise's shell is cracked. But there was one guy who got up and instead of telling a story – maybe he did eventually – he went on a 10 minute rant – at least - about how his tribe was the best tribe in Nigeria. Sadly, this was less surprising than it ought to be. I don’t know if he ever got to a story because we, like many others in the room, left.
Overall, it was a very fun afternoon. I felt a bit like I was back in 9ja. The Nigerian Community Center is having an Independence Day Celebration on Oct. 4th. Maybe I’ll go check it out. Maybe I’ll even be gutsy enough to wear one of my traditional outfits.
After enjoying enough Nigerian fun for an afternoon, I went for absolute culture-shift shock and headed to Cudahy for Sweet Applewood Fest. Twenty minutes and a world away.