Apollo Night: How It Brings Different Cultures Together

By Shakila Caldwell-

Apollo Night originated from “Night at the Apollo,” which started back in 1914 in Harlem, New York. It historically welcomed African American performers during the Civil Rights era. The Menlo College Black Student Union (BSU) started putting on Apollo Night back in 2010 to celebrate the legacy of the historical showcase “Night at the Apollo.” The main goal was to encourage anyone at Menlo College who wanted to showcase their talents to audition and perform in front of their peers. Over the last six years, the BSU board has been working hard to improve Menlo students and guests experience at Apollo Night. I have been on the board of BSU the past two years and have noticed Apollo Night grow each year. Actively gathering feedback as a club, we realized we needed more space and a variety of different acts. We took everyone’s advice to heart which resulted in a phenomenal and hugely successful Apollo Night on February 21st, 2016.

Ashton Kent

Ashton Kent photo by Angela Tsung and Ngozi Harrison

This year’s Apollo Night took place in Haynes-Prim Pavilion (the gym) and had an attendance of close to 400 people. There were 23 acts that included performances of singing, dancing, beatboxing, poetry and more. We also had the privilege of welcoming two outside performances, Ashton Kent (singer and musician) and San Jose’s own Akoma Arts. Ashton Kent has performed at Apollo Night before and does a wonderful job every time. He has an exceptional voice that serenades the ladies with his insane vocal range and breathtaking falsettos.

Akoma Arts

Akoma Arts by Angela Tsung and Ngozi Harrison

Meanwhile, Akoma Arts was new to Menlo College Apollo Night and a treat to have this year. Akoma Arts is a West African Drum group who celebrates African history through song and dance. They performed a refreshing African dance and drum piece that gave the crowd a glimpse of West Africans’ and African Americans’ history and experiences. One of the periods they touched on in their performance at this year’s Apollo night was the African village drum dance, a tradition where Africans come together and eat and perform traditional dances for the community. They also included the enslavement period where drums were taken away to signify the weakening of the culture and the emancipation period of freedom and expression.

"Slay Team"

“Slay Team” by Angela Tsung and Ngozi Harrison

It was extremely difficult to choose winners this year due to the amount of talent that hit the stage; if we could have rewarded everyone, we would have. Third place winner “The Slay Team” did a wonderful job of incorporating history into their dance performance. The piece was about having fun, slaying the haters, empowering one’s self, and being proud to be Black. Ibrahima Mobley, Danielle McCarthy, and Vesinia Fale did a remarkable job at showing how dance is an important part of African-American culture because dance is the easiest way to express ourselves and share traditions that are easily lost.

Regina performing

Photo by Angela Tsung and Ngozi Harrison

In my opinion, one of the greatest things about Apollo Night is having the opportunity to share African-American culture and experience the different cultures of others. Second place winner Regina Hernandez and first place winner Andres Camarillo did a phenomenal job at bringing their own cultures and flavors to the stage. Regina has graced the Apollo Night stage over the past few years, taking on difficult songs that many of us wouldn’t dare to take on; she kills it every time. Regina has the ability to ascend and descend into notes with ease and it makes you smile just listening her sing. This year she brought some Latin flavor to the stage and it was beautiful. She stated, “It is amazing to see how tiny Menlo transforms us into bigger people. I definitely had a blast doing what I love.” First place winner Andres shocked the crowd when he brought the world of theatrics to the stage with a tear dropping operatic piece. People in the crowd said his voice sounded like an angel and he was all around amazing. Shocked that he had won he took to his Facebook stating, “Menlo has some talent that belongs in Hollywood and New York. Good job Black Student Union for putting on a fantastic show. Great way to start off my 21st birthday.”

Andres performing

Photo by Angela Tsung and Ngozi Harrison

Devin Gaines has been a part of the Black Student Union since his freshman year. He knew he wanted to join BSU and be more involved. He started off as a behind-the-scenes coordinator and is now the Vice President his senior year. Majoring in Accounting and in his last semester here at Menlo he had this to say about the performance:

“This year’s Apollo Night was absolutely amazing! It was a pleasure to see how much Apollo Night has evolved since my freshman and sophomore year, when it was held in the Flo Mo auditorium accommodating around 200 people to having it in the cafeteria last year, with around 250-300 people. It’s been amazing being a behind-the-scenes coordinator my freshman and sophomore year. This year, with about 300-400 people, it was a rewarding experience to be one of the audience members and a coordinator because it not only allowed me to help set up but also enjoy the show as I sipped on some alcohol (drinks were on point) that were available for students, staff, and guests 21 and older. I am very thankful for the efforts of the BSU board, facilities, student government, Chris Garret, our judges, and the Menlo students because it took all of these groups to pull off this amazing event!”

Students dancing at Apollo Night

Photo by Angela Tsung and Ngozi Harrison

Emebet Aklilu a transfer here at Menlo and also in her senior year, sought out BSU at the annual Club Fair, which allows clubs to recruit new members. She was recruited to the BSU board by Devin Gaines and has provided many exceptional ideas and implemented changes that have made the club stronger during her time here. In regards to Apollo Night 2016 she states, “It was really fun and a great way to showcase the strength of the African American community on campus. The show has a way of bringing everyone together and that is representative of our culture and the culture we want to have at Menlo.”

Overall it was a successful night and the BSU thanks students, staff, student government, facilities and the judges. You are the ones who make Apollo Night successful year after year.