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Wrap Your Mind Around African Headwrapping at Africa Underground

Experience the flavors and traditions of West Africa and the Caribbean tonight at the National Museum of African Art's Africa Underground event

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Africa Underground

Image courtesy of National Museum of African Art.

Planning on going out this evening, but looking for something a little…different? Then check out the nightlife at the second installment of the “Africa Underground“ events series at the National Museum of African Art from 7 to 11. There will be a feast of activities for the senses at this West Africa-meets-Caribbean themed night.

Lively up yourself as Kurow and the All Stars lay down a live reggae groove to start things off, and then get a little funkier as DJ Spyda spins Caribbean and West African beats into the later evening. Check out traditional African dance numbers performed by the Farafina Kan dance troupe and drummers. And the Moko Jumbie stilt dancers? They’ll most likely be doing things that will make my knees hurt just thinking about it.

But if you do have to sit down for a bit, you can take a break and listen to some traditional West African and Caribbean storytelling, and learn a few fashion tips at Yehie Moudou’s African textile headwrapping demonstration. And don’t worry, there will be specialty themed cocktails and finger foods available to keep you going.

The first “Africa Underground” event, which had an Africa meets Brazil theme, was a sold out, so make sure you order your tickets in advance here! As a little preview, I spoke to Yehie Moudou about the art of traditional African headwrapping below:

How did you learn the art of headwrapping, and how long have you been practicing the art?

I was born and raised in Africa before my family sent me out to live abroad, so it’s kind of the culture of a young girl to learn to wrap her head growing up for different occasions and different seasons. Headwrapping is a language, actually. It’s a way of communicating. To me, you cannot talk about Africa or African culture without talking about headwrapping.

What exactly does the headwrap symbolize or represent?

For an African woman, the headwrap says her age, her status and it communicates her wealth, which is different from status. Status is matriarchal position, and wealth is a woman who is very well-off. Two women can have the same status or they can both be matriarch. But sometimes you will have a matriarch who has wealth and one that doesn’t. And the headwrap communicates that clearly to the African society. That’s why I have to communicate that headwrapping is a non-verbal communication in African society. It’s a way, just like a tom beat will tell a village at dusk that it’s time to listen to the elders. The headwrap of a woman walking down the street will tell you if she’s a widow, a grandmother, or if she’s a married young woman.  It’s an element in the daily living of an African woman.

What types of materials do you use for the wraps, and do you stick to certain colors?

Yes. We go with bright and shimmery colors, basically. satin, but mainly cotton based material. In Africa the weather allows, or does not allow, leeway for most material. We go with cotton-based material because it’s comfortable and available and affordable.

And which wrap styles will you be doing Friday night?

I will cover different kinds. When Africa is spoken about it’s usually vague and unstructured. Africa covers so many cultures and tribes and languages, it’s a variety of headwrapping that’s readily available. What I’m going to do is touch on a couple of different styles that are particular to West Africa. You will have a style from Mali, a couple from the Ivory Coast, one from Benin, and the coast of Nigeria as well.

And can these be translated into everyday fashion for the average woman?

Absolutely! The headwrap is still in style. You will have a grandmother wearing a dashiki cloth with a headwrap, and her granddaughter will wear the same headwrap with a pair of jeans in a different style that still communicates the same femininity of an African woman. It’s timeless and still trendy.

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