by Guest Blogger John Kurowski
On Friday, July 9 the first official Taste of Africa Street Party kicked off at Disney's Animal Kingdom Harambe Village in an attempt to heat up summer nights from now until July 24. The event promised “Eats, Drinks, and Culture” according to the in-park signage. A special guide map for the event informs guests that, “Our festival celebration brings nations from all over Africa together into the streets of Harambe.” The descriptions and materials for this event hint that what's in store will be very close to a mini version of Epcot's ever popular International Food and Wine Festival.
Marketing for the event was relatively low-key as I overheard many people attending the party say they did not know about it beforehand, or they just happened to stumble upon it. Earlier in the day, I found a guide map sitting at the cash register station at Pizzafari Restaurant but it was not offered to me by the cashier, nor did she engage in any conversation about it when I picked it up and started to read it. I noticed a manager walking around from table to table with the guide encouraging people to stick around for it. Later, someone told me that he saw the guide maps located at the Tip Board but they were in an inaccessible spot and he actually had to ask the Cast Member if he could have one.
There was an announcement right before Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade stepped off made by the DJ/Announcer of the event, informing guests in that area that in a little while the streets of Harambe Village will turn into a street party. (Regular visitors to American Idol Experience will surely recognize the announcer.)
The party kicks off after Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade returns to Harambe Village for its daily encore. Just before the gates close on the last performers and the crowd begins to disperse, the stilt walkers about-face and come back down the street while a new, live, soundtrack is supplied by the band Wassalou -- playing right on the street.
Meanwhile, the entire parade cast (who have sneaked backstage around Tusker House) charge up the street from the opposite direction riding bicycles, waving flags, dancing, and playing percussion instruments. The instruments are then passed to the guests and everyone is invited into the street to join the celebration.
This start had much energy, the kind of entertainment Disney is famous for! I was amazed for all the people I saw coming into the area too. I have seen Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade numerous times before and I always preferred to watch as it makes the trek back to Africa as that portion of the parade tends to be less crowded and makes for a more interactive experience with the performers and characters. Unfortunately, most of the crowd were there simply because they were following the parade from Asia/Discovery Island and a good number of those people left the parade at that point and headed over the bridge towards the park exit.
The house band, Wassalu, were a delight throughout the whole evening. They are a musical trio that would be intermixed with cultural dancers and singers throughout their sets. The African-inspired music played ranged from traditional (Pata Pata), to contemporary (Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al) to Disney (Selections from The Lion King and its spawned album Rhythms of the Pride Lands). During breaks the DJ would take over and play some other African tunes, which he would tend to teach guests the artists name and what the words they were singing meant in English. As opposed to other music-based events this summer, such as Disney's Hollywood Studios Rock and Glow Party, the volume of the music is not intrusive and actually provides a great soundtrack to the event as well as compliments the entire theme of the party overall.
Each quick service food location reopened during the kick off festivities with a “Featured Festival Menu.” Taking its cues from Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival, each item was priced as a sample. The portions were generous for the price and great for sharing. Disney foodies might not find any of the foods available here that unique as most of them are already regular staples on other Disney menus, namely Tusker House, Boma, and Sanaa. Each location offers two-three different food options, all listed on the guide maps and on special Festival Menu signage located in front of each venue.
Wine enthusiasts will definitely want to check out the Beer and Wine Walkabout, located in the Tamu Tamu courtyard. Guests can buy a wristband and passport to sample 4 of the 12 wines available or the 4 different African beers.
The courtyard is separated into five different sections. Three representing different South African wine regions, one for beer, and one for juice. The South African wine regions are Paarl, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch. Each station has four offerings, each wine station offers two white and two red wines, while the beer station features two beers from Ethiopia, a beer from Morocco, and one from Kenya. Then Kenyan beer, Tusker Lager, is available throughout Disney's Animal Kingdom as well as Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.
On a crowded night this area could end up congested and rather unpleasant. On the first night it was relatively empty the entire night. There's not much seating to offer either.
The other drink offers exclusive to the street party are in the usual Africa watering hole, Dawa Bar. In front of the Dawa Bar a cast member demonstrates how sugar cane is juiced using a juicing mill which is then collected into a pail.
The Dawa Bar still serves its full bar menu as well as two Featured Festival Drinks, a Sugar Cane Mojito and a Sugar Cane Sweet Tea Cocktail. Both drinks are very sweet and served with crushed leaves. The mojito has a sugar cane stick with it as well.
The other drink available for the party is a Mango shake. A nonalcoholic, sweet treat that is served at Tamu Tamu. This proved to be very popular among the guests, as not only were guests enjoying it throughout the night but also the DJ was making many comments about it on the microphone.
Besides the cooking demonstrations and sugar cane juicing there were two other cultural offerings. One was the Harambe School that usually takes place during normal operating hours while guests are exiting Kilimanjaro Safaris or Rafiki's Planet Watch. This takes place behind the Harambe Fruit Market. The cast members staffed there tend to give little facts about different African animals, with trivia questions geared towards children.
The other offering was a mask maker, who had various masks in the forms of African animals. These masks are very intricately designed and highly detailed. The artist told me that she works for the company that sells the masks in the Italy pavilion at Epcot and once the festival is over these masks will be sold there as well.
With park closing at 7pm, the DJ took the microphone again as Wassalu was playing to kick off the event finale. Live performers came running back into the streets of Harambe waving large colorful banners, which were then used for guests to run under them, like an African version of London Bridge.
The music then quickly turned into Wassalu playing the now famous song Wavin' Flag by K'naan, the song that served as the theme to the 2010 FIFA World Cup games.
The DJ bid everyone good night and each food venue closed up shop, forcing everyone to make its way to the exit.
It was rather unclear to me what Disney was expecting from this event. For the amount of managers on hand to witness what the first official night was like, they were clearly hoping for some strong results in revenue.
However the only tables to enjoy the food are in the Tamu Tamu courtyard, between Tamu Tamu and Tamu Kibanda, and behind the Harambe Fruit Market it does not offer much optimal viewing for the main street. The mood at the event is a good mix between energetic and relaxing as you have roughly three hours to enjoy it at your own pace, similar to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Also, Disney's Animal Kingdom is usually criticized for being too hot, especially in the summer, and seeing how this is an event that's held all outdoors, except for a few fans placed here and there, the air can get stifling on humid nights.
I would like to see A Taste of Africa make it as a hit and get extended longer into the season and beyond as I did have a good time sampling all its culinary and potable selections as well as the interactions with the people working the various stations. A manager that I spoke with said that this was a test to see how the turnout would be and maybe once they get their systems in place, more advertising and a better word of mouth will make this an event that will help Disney's Animal Kingdom lose its stigma as a “half-day park” that many critics deem it to have.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Taste of Africa street party is running nightly until July 24 as a limited test run, with the possibility of being extended. The party begins each night immediately after Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, and runs until the park closes, even on Extra Magic Hour evenings.
The previous post in this blog was A Special D23 Event with Dave Smith, Disney Archivist.
The next post in this blog is D23 Hawai'i Homecoming Reception - DVC Au’lani Resort .