23 May is the anniversary of the formation of the African Union (then OAU) back in 1963. The day has come to be a celebration of all things African, and this year, the official theme is the African diaspora. A perfect excuse for as many Africans in Moscow as possible to get together. Not quite on the day, but an early June Saturday evening at the Radisson Slavayanka hotel was THE place to be, if you love African costumes and cooking and are in total awe of African drumming and dancing.
Moscow’s finest summer heatwave outside, and the air-con on full blast inside. It needed to be, as the evening hotted up. The welcome speeches were, in normal Moscow fashion, drowned out by everyone chatting, which is always sad, but all were in rapt attention for the fashion parade, consisting of a couple from each country in full national dress on the catwalk, from Algeria to South Africa and from Guinea-Bissau to Ethiopia. I don’t think any of the models were professional, being mostly staff and friends from the embassies, but they sashayed and swayed to and fro as if born to the job, to applause, flashbulbs and cheers.
Next up, a splendid buffet, arranged geographically with regional and national dishes competing for your forks. All incredibly inviting, but some of it deceptively dangerous for the soft, untrained European tongue. Luckily, liquid balm was also on hand, including again plenty of national pride, including Namibian beer and South African wine.
Then to the serious part of the evening, the music and dancing. The main band combined familiar rock with African themes (the Osibisa numbers took me back to student days), as well as combining Russian and African musicians. When they rested, the leopard-dressed drummers took over. Both genres were enjoyed hugely by their audience, who took to the floor in dark suits and floral dresses, several generations together. The rhythms were throbbing, the dancing pulsating. A fun celebration enjoyed by one full continent, and their guests from several more. Jambo!