Pick of the Week

Fighting AIDS With Style

Living in America these days, it's hard to comprehend just how tough life can be for people in other countries, like Ghana. Shockingly, about 130 people there currently contract HIV/AIDS every day, and about 330,000 Ghanaians between the ages of 15 and 49 are living with the disease. The United Nations program on HIV/AIDS has declared it to be Africa's worst killer.

As you might imagine, this has devastating societal, political and developmental effects throughout Ghana. Households and families are torn apart. Businesses and schools suffer because many in the country's most productive age group are ill and dying. And since about 70 percent of the country's infected population is female, a huge increase in HIV-positive births is predicted. As for those Ghanaian children who haven't yet contracted the disease, about 160,000 are orphaned by it.

Without more education to combat Ghana's widespread medical ignorance, the disease will continue to spread at exponential rates. And if Ghanaian children can't learn appropriate social, life and academic skills through outlets other than their families, they won't grow up to be responsible, contributing members of society.

That's why it's so important have to organizations like the Ghana Education Project (GEP), a youth-run, American nonprofit dedicated to its motto, "Education is the foundation of freedom." Started in 1999, this group (www.ghanaeducation.org) sends Red Cross-trained volunteers to Ghana to set up youth library programs and to infiltrate communities with certified international AIDS instructors. Currently, the GEP is working on a project called the Epidemic Prevention Vehicle, a mobile hospital that will provide needed access to health care that would otherwise be impossible in many areas of Ghana.

What does any of this have to do with Tucson? Well, if you're a dedicated and ambitious young person, you might be driven to check out the GEP and learn how to become a volunteer. If you're looking for a simpler and less life-altering way to help out, all you have to do is attend the Diaspora Showcase Africa, an African fashion show and dinner held every year to benefit various charities. This year, proceeds from the event will go directly to the GEP and its projects.

The main draw of the event, the fashion show itself, is bound to be absorbing. Following an African renaissance theme, the show will fuse Western style with the vibrance of traditional African attire, and will feature designers from both Africa and America--including 10 designers from Arizona. The clothes will be wacky, beautiful and unique, consisting of everything from Jennyvi Dizon's classy bridal wear, embellished with North African embroidered patterns, to Angela Johnson's "T-shirt composition" of formal ball gowns, complete with ruffles that look like peacock feathers.

For the more musically inclined, there will be live entertainment by acclaimed African musicians. Guinean Prince Diabaté, who sings and plays an African instrument called the kora, will perform songs that combine traditional West African music with modern fusion, incorporating reggae, rap, blues and funk--all punctuated by the occasional, innovative use of the wah-wah pedal. Recently, his performances have even made use of the kamelen n'goni, an instrument from the Wassoulou region of Mali. In addition, percussionist Alioune Faye from Senegal will treat his audience to the powerful beats of sabar, tamba, djembe and soruba drums. According to press materials, Faye has worked with Whitney Houston, Peter Gabriel, Jimmy Cliff, Stevie Wonder and many other famous people. And he creates some very rhythmic and danceable music.

The event's featured speaker will be Noah A. Samara, the Ethiopian-born founder of WorldSpace Corporation, which delivers news and entertainment programming to parts of the world that previously lacked radio reception; he also played a role in the creation of XM Satellite Radio. Hosting the evening will be Vanessa Williams, who can be seen in many movies and television shows, including Showtime's Soul Food. And speaking of food, the dinner will consist of delicious dishes from 15 countries, including Nigeria, Togo, Kenya, Egypt and--of course--Ghana.

According to Kwevi Quaye, the founder and producer of the Diaspora Showcase Africa, all kinds of people will attend this event. "The cultural mix of our audience is really good," he says. "It reflects the mosaic of diversity of Africa itself by the American audience that attends the Diaspora Showcase. Last year, I asked one of the people who attended our event if he liked it. He told me that the event is incredible, but beyond that, the attendees were equally interesting. He told me that here he is at the show, sitting between two guys. To his left is a hippie, to his right a university professor, and he himself is a senior executive at a major corporation."

Overall, the Diaspora Showcase Africa promises to be entertaining, educational and uplifting. As Quaye declares, "There is no other event of its kind in the world. When you come, you will see Africa in her most gracious form and beauty."

The Diaspora Showcase Africa will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. Advance tickets are $45 for the general public, $35 for seniors and $25 for students, and may be purchased at Malkia World Art (2924 E. Broadway Blvd.,884-7494) , Suwatana Imports (2748 N. Campbell Ave., 323-2407) or Hair Follicles House of Hair (3206 E. Grant Road, 327-1811) . Admission at the door is $45. Call 327-1811 or e-mail info@diasporashowcase.com for more information.

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