Newswise — With African music, dancing and colorful visuals, the Spartan Marching Band will celebrate Michigan State University’s decades-long engagement with Africa during its halftime show on Saturday.

The Celebration of Africa will occur during the MSU vs. Penn State game, which starts at noon.

“Working with our African partners has been extremely rewarding and informative for our ensemble,” said David Thornton, director of Spartan Marching Band. “Throughout the show the audience will experience a variety of musical styles and visual elements that are found in various regions of the African continent.”

MSU tapped Ben Ayettey, artistic director of the Ghana Dance Ensemble and a fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, to collaborate with MSU musicians and design the show. Ayettey will also perform during the show, leading the drum line.

African student dancers and 250 singers from MSU’s choirs will join the 300 band members for the performance, which will include music from all regions in Africa, enhanced by the use of African instruments and West African drumming. The band will display various African symbols on cards and will conduct a marching formation of the baobab tree, a symbol of life and resilience.

In addition, the color guard will use colorful festival umbrellas. MSU’s dance and cheer teams, as well as more than 100 student athletes, will also be part of the performance.

Yacouba Sissoko, a world-renowned kora player, will play a solo during the show. The kora is a West African stringed instrument.

For two weeks leading up to the show, Ayettey and Sissoko served as artists in residence, meeting with MSU students and conducting outreach activities in Lansing and Flint. In addition, eight university vice chancellors from Africa will be on campus for the halftime performance as part of a series of meetings related to the Alliance for African Partnership, a new initiative that facilitates partnerships between MSU, African institutions and other international collaborators.

MSU’s Cultural Engagement Council – a group comprising leaders from MSU’s various arts and culture units and colleges – is sponsoring the performance in collaboration with the African Studies Center and other campus groups.

Saturday’s celebration is a preview for MSU’s Year of Global Africa, which will launch in January. During that year, multiple units and colleges across campus will host events and projects focusing on MSU’s rich history of research and education accomplishments with African partners.

For example:

  • With more than 160 core faculty members in 54 different departments, MSU has established one of the largest African studies programs in the country.
  • MSU offers instruction in 30 African languages, representing all major regions on the continent.
  • In 1960, MSU cooperated with the first president of Nigeria to establish a new African university at Nsukka, based on MSU’s land-grant model.
  • Building on decades of engagement in Africa, in 2017 MSU launched the Alliance for African Partnership to develop a collaborative and cross-disciplinary platform for addressing challenges on the continent.
  • MSU has the No. 1-ranked African history graduate program, according to U.S. News and World Report.

“This event is a great display of unity and collaboration from the MSU community, which is one of the key goals of MSU’s Alliance for African Partnership initiative,” Thornton said.

For more on MSU’s engagement in Africa, visit the African Studies Center.

Partners in the project are Athletics, the Cultural Engagement Council, African Studies Center, Office of the President, College of Music, Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at MSU and MSU African student organizations.