Diversity Remains Focus of Cultural Rhythms

Harvard often boasts of its remarkably diverse environment, with the number of student groups dedicated to promoting the history and traditions of a certain culture rising rapidly in recent years. However, according to the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, many students may find it difficult to appreciate this diversity given the sheer number of performances and events that groups sponsor. On February 28, the Harvard Foundation seeks to address this lack of cultural diffusion on campus with its 24th annual presentation of Cultural Rhythms, a production that brings together many of these groups in a display of their artistic and ethnic vibrancy.

The increasing variety of Cultural Rhythms has paralleled Harvard’s growing diversity. Yet through the quarter century of the event’s existence, certain groups, such as the Kuumba Singers and the Harvard Intertribal Indian dance troupe, have remained a constant presence.

This year, the Harvard Foundation honors celebrity guest comedian Dan Aykroyd, original cast member of “Saturday Night Live” and the co-creator of the Blues Brothers. “We admire Dan Aykroyd for his development of the House of Blues and his contribution to making sure that African American music and blues are things that people are made aware of,” says Jacqueline C. Hairston ’10, co-director of the afternoon show.

According to the Harvard Foundation, the choice of Aykroyd as celebrity guest helps to achieve the two major goals of Cultural Rhythms. “The show’s aim is showcasing diversity by putting Harvard performing groups on a big stage where students and those in the Boston area unable to attend smaller shows can see them,” says Hairston. However, the Harvard Foundation also hopes to provide entertainment to students and the general community with this production. “We’re going to keep this show consistently fun and funny,” says Jarell L. Lee ’10, student co-host of the evening show.

The Harvard Foundation also considered the importance of combining entertainment with diversity in its selection of student emcees. Hairston and her co-director, Nworah B. Ayogu ’10—who have both been involved in Cultural Rhythms for the last three years—say that the Foundation chose student hosts based on their charisma and involvement in promoting cultural pluralism at Harvard and in the local community. Lee, for example, is Executive Director of the Boston Black Student Network, an organization that facilitates dialogue and exchange between member groups at 45 colleges and universities in the area.

This year’s Cultural Rhythms will feature a wide range of genres and styles, says Lee, including Clint Miller’s blues and bluegrass songs, Corcairdhearg’s Irish dance, and the Harvard Breakers’ street dance. “We’ve practised for about a month and a half... Our five minute performance is actually three routines combined into one. The routines are pretty different; while it’s mainly hip-hop choreography, one is much slower, set to a piano and with more fluid motion. We have this more distinct movement in there because we want to vary it up,” says Erfan Soliman ’12, a member of the Breakers, who are participating in Cultural Rhythms for their second year.

The directors and the Harvard Foundation have worked hard to ensure that this year’s show contains several new elements: this Cultural Rhythms will be the first to feature music from Lithuania, as well as dance from Ukraine. “We’ve never had performers this prepared, creative, and this talented,” Ayogu says regarding the lineup.

This is also the first year that the Harvard Foundation has organized an after party, which will be open to all Harvard students in the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub. In addition, the organizers have arranged a food festival in the Science Center which will take place between the afternoon and evening shows. Many of the performing student groups will present ethnic food.

Cultural Rhythms will be both an impressive cultural exhibition and an all-around entertaining experience. “This year’s show is bigger and better than it’s ever been before,” Ayogu says.