Every year during Black History Month, Lawrence’s Black Student Union (BSU) hosts many events that celebrate Black culture. Cultural Expressions, the last event in this lineup, was hosted on Saturday, Feb. 25 in the Esch Hurvis Room. Performances included poetry, singing, dancing and other artful articulations of pain, passion and celebration. It was more than just a performance, however: it was an experience that truly took ahold of my conscience.
This year’s Cultural Expressions began with Nathan Ferguson performing the Black national anthem: “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The hymn was written by brothers James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson, depicting freedom and faith through its arching melodies. Ferguson astounds on the trumpet here, employing a powerful tone and impressive range to set the stage for a gripping show.
Up next came Afrofusions, an act with three appearances throughout Cultural Expressions. “The Greeting,” their first dance, showcased an electric and riveting routine choreographed by Debbie Osso and Malachi Gastison. The floorboards vibrated with the bass from their music. While undeniably groovy and expansive, Afrofusions maintained an enrapturing intimacy through this routine and following performances throughout the show.
Tomi Oladunjoye’s “Sound Bath Symphony” enhanced this intimacy. By utilizing stock and AI-generated footage — along with absolutely fantastic music — he took us far away from Esch Hurvis, spiraling underwater. His conceptualization of the Lost City of Atlantis was vivid, vibrant and titanic.
Following that, Debbie Osso’s performance of “Koto na Koto” by Serge Beynaud contrasted sharp and fluid movement, underscored by a rapid-fire light show that commanded the audience. It was an impressive feat of bodily autonomy, one that left everyone — including myself — awestruck.
Vivid G delivered the first of her two performances of the night, entitled “H.O.E.” — Hell on Earth. Luis accompanied her beautiful poetry on piano, aptly paralleling the intersecting themes of religion, rage and suicide. One line stood out to me in particular: “Police are supposed to protect, / not cause a pleading to ‘please stop.’” “Without love, I’m dying,” she also confesses, providing a brutal, yet beautiful, moment of introspection.
To continue the constantly-shifting tones of the night, Kayci-Ann King covered the classic “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy on violin. She bowed the melodies with a special attention to dynamic contrast at the beginnings and endings of phrases, smiling and swaying to the beat. Of course, the audience sang along during the chorus, bobbing their heads in their seats.
The joy carried on to Amaka Uduh’s dance performance of “Odogwu (Champion),” showcasing her Nigerian pride to a fast-paced and bombastic backtrack. She also utilized the aisles and floor in front of the stage to truly engage with the audience. Uduh truly dazzled us here, unafraid to make eye contact and giving her heart to every viewer. It was an especially powerful moment.
Keeping our interest, Braden “Made You Look” Richardson propelled the first act with a hysterical comedy routine. From joking about making weaves out of Brokaw shower-drain hair to exploring the hilarities of his childhood in a self-deprecating veil, Richardson had everyone in the room laughing. His candor and natural charm allowed for a lighthearted point before the intense ending of the act.
Savon Williams, the penultimate performer, poetically told the story of her grandmother’s passing with nauseatingly grounded imagery. “It’s ugly,” she frequently repeated, exploring themes of vanity and loss. My favorite depiction of such is how she described her grandmother’s absence, like “grief under tectonic plates.” Her words resonated deeply across the room.
Afrofusions returned to close the first act with an artistically explicit performance, entitled “Black Erotic.” While sensual, it was also a reclamation of Black sexuality, unafraid of judgment. It was a powerful way to end the first half of the show, with fantastic and flexible performances by every dancer.
During the intermission, I went to see the Cultural Expressions gallery in the next room over. It featured several art pieces and poetry by some of the performers about colonialism, tokenism and Black history at large. Not only did it enhance my experience, but it also proved to be an educational tool as well — especially the featured poetry.
To begin the second act, Savon Williams returned with her own poetry, accompanied by excellent videography from Nate Smith. This multimedia experience was entitled “In a Black Boy’s Teardrop,” grappling with Black masculinity through imagery of water and fire. It emphasized the importance of motherhood and individuality and empathy, featuring shots of several Black male students at Lawrence.
Zhi Li, the next act, brought the energy with a cover of a Chinese jazz-pop song, “Baby Bye Bye.” Li boasted an expressive voice and a lively stage presence, getting the audience to sing along with her through the last chorus. Her performance was effusive and skillful, continuing the excellence of Cultural Expressions.
At the summit of this excellence came Tyler Antoine’s Vogue performance, perhaps my favorite act of the night. Antoine undulated between pops, dips and spins up and down the aisles with an intoxicating passion. His execution of the genre was a beautiful, queer and Black celebration of ballroom culture; the audience likewise cheered with every fantastic move.
While brief, the next performance, by Kayla Soto, left a hefty impact. Her poem, based on one of her friend’s stories, detailed an assault and its associated mourning. “No one is worthy of me but me,” she proudly proclaims.
NORCOM followed, performing three songs from his most recent project, “It’s All Love.” His melodic rap style was poetic and charming, tugging on the heartstrings of many audience members. Because of technical difficulties during the first song, he performed it a capella, yet kept it just as potent. Some microphone difficulties also tried to hinder his performance, but he carried on all the same. His confidence and dedication to his performance was yet another highlight of the night.
“Karma’s Session,” a dance performance, progressed the power — this time highlighting the individual talent of four spectacular dancers: Chloe Thomas, Raven Ganaway, Kaylen Bertrand and Alicia Brown. With an R&B backing and fantastic lighting, their respective talents bloomed, spotlighting individual routines.
Another group number came with Nico and Camara White singing “Two Sleepy People,” with Owen Finch on piano. It was a jazz tune, featuring a chanteuse and baritone exchanging memories of their love, nocturnally intimate and harmonically beautiful. I especially loved the key change near the end of the song; it signified a clear tone shift lyrically.
Vivid G returned to deliver the last of her two performances, this one called “Sleeping with the Devil.” It poetically documents a story of a relationship’s waxes and wanes, grappling with suicide, drugs and the loss of a child. It was one of the heaviest performances of the night, with Malachi Gatison performing alongside Vivid G’s words: he reenacted a silhouetted suicide to conclude the experience.
A short intermission followed, allowing the audience to introspect, where the band Kvng Alx set up their instruments. Nathan Ferguson returned, this time juggling trumpet and vocals, and equally talented on both. His smoldering voice covered “Blessed” by Daniel Caesar and “What You Won’t Do for Love” by Bobby Caldwell, accompanied by a fantastic band. The last chorus on the former was a notably compelling moment, with layers of instrumental talent intersecting to form a euphonic bloom.
Seckou Sangare, as well as several other musicians, joined the band to cover “John Redcorn” by SiR and “Best Part” by Daniel Caesar and H.E.R. Sangare and Ferguson’s voices harmonized over rainfalls of Rhodes, percussion and bass, swaying the audience along with the music. On the last chorus of “Best Part,” a hefty portion of the crowd was singing along — a unifying and unforgettable moment.
Brianna Carvalho and Nate Smith — leaders of Lawrence’s BSU — then acknowledged the many people who made Cultural Expressions possible, to thunderous applause for every person. They also bid farewell to the graduating BSU seniors. These moments were exemplary of the evening’s mood: smiles, tears, hugs and celebration. It was a bittersweet moment that anticipated the finale of the show.
Afrofusions returned for the final performance of the night, involving many of the performers throughout the show. In “Igbo Landing,” they celebrated freedom, love and assurance — leaving a lasting and beautiful legacy for years to come. It was a multifaceted and heartfelt ending to the experience.
Through poetry, dance, song and everything in between, Cultural Expressions was an evening of many emotions, and one I will not forget anytime soon.