Right as we were about to have dinner, one of Barth’s friends hugged me and said he wished he could stay but had to catch a seat at an event. I asked him what type of event he was headed to and he explained that it was like a big showcase with a variety of performers. I was intrigued. After asking a few more questions I had enough information to navigate my way there on Oslo’s very efficient transit system. I didn’t know what to expect but I figured I had arrived when I saw a line extending out onto the sidewalk in front of an unassuming venue. I began to get excited looking at the diversified group of people in line. A young man in line behind me introduced himself and told me he was a rapper. After hearing me speak he wanted to know where I was from. I love that when I travel abroad, I’m usually not assumed to be a tourist, let alone from America, that is, until people hear me speak. He thought “Mississippi” to be a funny sounding place and we shared a laugh over him trying pronounce it with his thick Nordic accent. Unbeknownst to me, I was standing in line to witness one of the most amazing open mic shows in Norway called Open Xpressions held at the Nordic Black Theatre! Why hadn’t this place popped up in my internet search?
The Nordic Black Theatre (NBT) was established in 1992 and is currently under the direction of Jarl Solberg along with Cliff A. Moustache serving as artistic director. The theatre describes itself as a “self run theatre foundation” that works within a wide spectrum of various creative arts. The Nordic Black Xpress Theatre School is also under the umbrella of NBT. Global music performances, plays, puppetry, and storytelling are just a few of the artistic renderings you'll find here. The theatre itself is reminiscent of an Elizabethan Theatre with upper level seating and thrust staging.
When I arrived, the show had already begun and the placed was packed. Since there was only room to stand and I'm...vertically challenged, I headed upstairs to get a better view. Despite having floor seating but I’d say the best seats are upstairs if you can get a spot. As a poet and spoken word artist, I’ve been to my share of open mic sets all over the United States. What I loved about Open Xpressions is that it sticks true to its name and provides a welcoming space for all types of performers and artists. The list is open to anyone from comedians, singers, rappers, poets and even novelty performers like The Yo-Yo Man! If you have any talent you want to share, you can do it here.
The most memorable performances for me were hip-hop by Ugandan rapper AfriKane and comedy by Sebastian Tjøerstad, a young man that just so happened to have been born without arms or legs. He calls his work “Stand Up/Sit Down Comedy”. Needless to say he’s hilarious! These two gracing the same stage demonstrates the inclusive culture of the Nordic Black Theatre and the bustling diversity of Oslo.
You can follow NBT on Instagram and Facebook. If you do get a chance to check out Open Xpressions get there early and come with an open mind!
Stay true! Subscribe.
The results of my internet search about the presence of Black people in Norway led me to the website of the Center for Afrikansk Kulturformidling (CAK), which translates to the Center for African Culture or the African Cultural Institute. Unfortunately, I could not get the website to fully translate into English. I knew they held some dance classes but couldn’t gather what the center was all about. To be truthful, I pushed this place to the back burner. Maybe it was an old site and they were closed. Oh well. As I continued to prepare for my trip, I learned that Oslo’s tourism team had created an app simply named “Visit Oslo”. It’s truly amazing and helps you plan your itinerary. What I loved most about the app were the suggested itineraries for what to do on rainy or snowy days. These really came in handy for me. While browsing the app, I came across Café Afrikaden which is located inside of CAK. That was all the confirmation I needed and solidified my plans to visit the center during my trip.
Once settled in Oslo, I ventured out to look for the Center for Afrikansk Kulturformidling one chilly evening. My visit to Oslo was in late January. It should be noted that it starts to get dark during this time of year around 4pm. Following the navigation of my GPS, I ended up in the general vicinity and a helpful stranger pointed me in the right direction. The center lies somewhat hidden in the corner of a plaza with a few other businesses. I literally walked right past it until intuition told me to turn around! Barth Niava, Board Member and Artistic Director of CAK, greeted me at the door and told me the Café was closed. After spending 8 hours inside a sweltering hot aircraft stuck on the tarmac and then being trapped inside JFK Airport for two days, I was not about to let him turn me away that easily! I introduced myself and told him where I was from. He was simply amazed that I had come looking for CAK. From there he invited me in and we sat down and talked along with an intern who was working there as well.
CAK is truly a hidden gem in Oslo with nearly 40 years of service to the community. The center serves as a haven for all People of Color to come together and celebrate their cultures through art and traditional music and dance. There was an Afro-Brazilian drum troupe practicing when I was there. One of the most popular events they hold is the Children’s Workshop. Children from all ethnic backgrounds gather to build friendships and enjoy cultural storytelling, African dance and games, and modeling of masks and jewelry. Also each year the center commemorates specific cultural groups within the African Diaspora. Past exhibits have focused on African descendants in India, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Baba Barth was so gracius, that he asked me to come back to the center to celebrate my birthday. “We’re going to throw you a party in the spirit of African hospitality,” he said. Needless to say I was blown away by his generosity. I returned on my birthday and joined in on the last half of one of his amazing dance classes. A few of the ladies stayed after the class and had a glass of wine with me. Then James, chef of Café Afrikaden and native of Ghana, served a delicious 3 course meal that I shared with Barth and his good friend, Hans Beukes. Hans is an activist and was one of the first Africans to integrate the University of Oslo in Norway. He was so kind to gift me a copy of his book, Long Road to Liberation, as a birthday present. I was so honored to be surrounded by such greatness and beauty. What a way to celebrate my solar return!
When you visit Oslo, do stop by the African Cultural Institute and let Barth know that Kanika sent you. He will welcome you with open arms!
Stay True! Subscribe.
Kanika: Poet. Lover of Words. One who tells the stories of the mundane and inanimate. Bearer of Light, Water, and Sky.