Regular readers will have noticed that we have followed the story of Kenya's African Heritage establishment from its early days, 40 years ago, as the first such organisation to take genuine African culture and fashions to the West, rather than the other way round, to now, its final fling, the Gala Night of the Century in Nairobi last month. The occasion, to celebrate the book African Twilight by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher (reviewed in earlier NA issues), also provided the opportunity to showcase the best from around the continent.
Starting at twilight, the show opened with a presentation by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, with images from their life's work shown on a giant screen in front of the vast expanse of the Nairobi National Park.
The sound of chanting was then heard from behind the giant screen. Bounding on to the stage, Samburu warriors and women took to the catwalk and stages for a memorial to their fallen comrade, the legendary musician Ayub Ogada (see New African, March issue), who was to perform that night but died during the preparations.
Images from the film The Constant Gardener, with Ayub playing his mournful, most famous song, 'Koth Biro', were shown before Papillon, a protege of Ayub played his composition, Ayubu', an ode to Ayub, while Samburu women chanted, their necklaces clacking in rhythm to the music.
Dancer Fernando Anuang'a, with his troupe of Maasai who have danced with him at Espace Cardin in Paris, strode on to the stage as Rose, a model in a Maasai beaded dress, poured a libation of milk from a traditional calabash, and dancer Fernando performed sensuous moves to the music by Papillon.
Maasai and Samburu dancers entered the African Heritage House, its columns and arches bathed in red light, to take their position on the upper verandahs where they performed for the rest of the evening.
The African Heritage Herald in embroidered Ethiopian velvet trousers and silver jewellery opened the show with an ivory and embossed-silver horn from Guinea. Models in the royal textiles of Ghana appeared in flowing evening coats of hand-woven and hand-printed fabrics, woven and printed with calabash stamps and combs by Ashanti men.
They were escorted by male models draped in the royal cloths adorned with bronze and gold accessories. The show then moved swiftly with models wearing the gauzy embroidered Sbarma cloth from Ethiopia which Alan Donovan, founder of African Heritage, used in his first design in 1971.