“I can see there is one group here, one over there,” said SambaDá vocalist Dandha Da Hora to the crowd at the 35th annual Multicultural Festival (MCF), “I want to see you guys blend. That is multiculturalism.”
The festival, held on the Oakes College lower lawn last Saturday, featured a striking display of diverse student performances, dancing and cultural food — all with the intent of promoting unity among different cultures on campus. The festival boasted performances from 17 student organizations and also featured headlining bands Candelaria and SambaDá as well as former UC Santa Cruz students DJ Dahi and rapper Buddha G.
Since its inception in 1979, the festival has been a grassroots effort, said performing coordinating Adrian Dorris.
“[MCF] started as a way for underrepresented students at UCSC to showcase their cultures on the campus and to the rest of the Santa Cruz community,” Dorris said. “Organizations made a commitment to work with each other so they could share their culture with each other and the larger community.”
Thirty-five years later, the event continues to be student-planned and run, with the supervision of Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR). Identifiable by her turquoise shirt and headset as a student organizer, fourth-year Zatchell Fortin expressed the excitement of planning and running the festival with her peers.
“Students want to be a part of this so they can show their passion,” Fortin said.
The festival allows students to express aspects of their cultural identity perhaps not evident in everyday life, said audience member Nestor Gutierrez.
“When it comes to culture, you have to embrace it,” Gutierrez said. “Because even though we’re like a melting pot, we could also be individuals.”
Around 2 p.m., the African Student Union (ASU) stood in the patch of grass between the stage and the audience for their performance. Never staying in one spot too long, performers paired upbeat, percussion-heavy African music with emphatic hip motions.
At one point, one of the students leapt into the air with a kick, eliciting cheers of support and applause from the audience. Dressed in traditional patterned African fabrics in hues of purple, red and green, the students incorporated elements of dance from Ethiopia, Nigeria and many other countries in both east and west Africa.
“Africa has the richest history and the richest culture in the world,” said ASU member Aladdin Mohamed. “People see Africa as one country, when it’s divided up into so many countries, cultures, traditions and customs. We were trying to bring that to the plate.”
Latin dance troupe Sabrosura explored a similar diversity, but of Latin@ cultures. With the women donning bright red cocktail dresses and their male counterparts in suspenders and bow ties, the group kicked off their performance with a collective “Sabrosura!” chant. Within 14 minutes, they presented an expansive mix of genres from more sensual stylings of salsa and merengue to quick-stepped, polka-based corridos and bachata, a dance originating from the Dominican Republic.
“There are a lot of people in our group and they all bring something new from their cultures to the table,” member Peter Truong said. “It was good to learn not only what I know from Mexican culture, but I learned a lot from Salvadoran, Punta and all the other different genres that we do.”
Ankit Jambusaria, performing with the Indian dance troupe Tohfaani Raas, said the six months of practice his group had put in for their routine was well worth it.
“We perform at weddings and birthday parties, but MCF is probably one of the best places I’ve performed at,” Jambusaria said. “The crowd here at UCSC is lively. There’s really no other way to describe it. People are jumping in the audience, people are screaming and yelling — that’s what motivates us to put our all in.”
As the day stretched on, dances from student organizations came to a close and the festival moved into the second half of its program, which featured the headlining artists.
DJ Dahi, who worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, was joined midway through his set by Buddha G. Born Gregory Allen Mitchell, Buddha G is a UCSC alumnus affiliated with Oakes College. His raps criticize societal issues like gentrification, economic disparity among cultures and the prison system.
“At MCF, it would be a receptive audience to topics like these,” Buddha G said. “We’re all on this campus as people of color. Whether you’re a business and economics major or a history major, you’re going to be framed in a certain political context. Folks are going to be thinking about those things no matter what. I was like, if any place is going to hear me speak, it’s going to be at Oakes and at MCF.”
SambaDá, a Brazilian band formed in Santa Cruz, took the stage late in the afternoon. The band’s 45-minute blend of salsa and funk beckoned the scattered crowd away from their seats to dance. SambaDá vocalist Danda Da Hora led the crowd in a series of traditional Brazilian dance moves, calling them to symbolically stomp out negativity and protect themselves from danger.
During SambaDá’s final song, they invited the audience to rush onto the stage and dance with the band. With smiles on their faces, students took turns showing off their dance moves before Da Hora led everyone back onto the lawn. A circle of song and dance formed among the audience as the song ended, crystallizing the day’s cheerful spirit.
As the crowd left the festival, the day’s thrill had yet to wear off for Martha Gebru, a performing member of the African Student Union.
“I know the crowd is not going to be turned down,” Gebru said. “I know they’re going to be turned up for us. It feels good knowing they have a place for us here.”