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Africa on tap this week

Stewart Oksenhorn

Having worked in the wildlife conservation movement for 25 years, Eli Weiss came to the firm conclusion that saving wild animals starts with helping people.”You can’t do anything with wildlife without working with people,” said Weiss. “Once you reduce stress on people, then you can create an avenue to discuss wildlife preservation with the people who live amongst it.”

Thus the WildiZe Foundation, the nonprofit organization Weiss founded in 2000, has as much to do with African culture as it does with lions, rhinos and elephants. Its benefit event Tuesday, Soirée Fantastique Africaine, focuses primarily on the cultural side.The event, centered at Iguana’s restaurant in Aspen Highlands Village, includes the African Market, with an enormous offering of art objects for sale; an exhibit of works by painter Gustavo Novoa, a Chilean-born, Paris-trained artist whose work involves jungles and jungle creatures; and music by the Colorado band Jyemo & the Extended Family, whose music is derived from African rhythms.Also included in the ticket price is premiere seating for the opening-night performance by Les Ballets Africains, the 52-year-old, Guinean dance company. (The event will also feature a screening of a 23-minute film, shot in Africa, about WildiZe and its work.)

There is a combination of ideas at work behind Soirée Fantastique Africaine: The arts can be used to raise funds for wildlife conservation. Ballet and painting can also be used to raise awareness and caring for Africa.”Culture and art are a big part of African life,” noted Weiss. “This event is meant to reach the arts and culture community here, so they could understand they can support WildiZe by supporting the arts.”In addition to the conservation work it does in some 10 African countries, WildiZe also provides financial support and hands-on assistance to a variety of cultural and educational projects. Among these is the Tanzanian project Samawa, which incorporates traditional art, music and dance instruction into the primary school curriculum in three locations.

By providing an understanding and appreciation of their own culture, said Weiss, the students are more likely to be interested in maintaining their heritage.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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