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The World Natural Hair Show: 2013

*Sigh!!!* I should have taken more pictures…

There are two things I look forward to every year: Our annual vacation overseas, and the Natural hair show in Atlanta. (There was a time I looked forward to three things every year, but now that my uterus is no longer serving as a baby vending machine, I have pared those anticipations down to two.)

This Saturday I went to the Hair Expo with my longtime friend G. Berry, who was attending for the first time. Our combined excitement made it almost unbearable for me. I couldn’t wait to get inside and share with her the wonders of the show!

The we took a look at the line, which literally went down the length of the International Convention…no shorter than the 90 yards long. Our hearts sank. A burly female security guard vigilantly watching the main entrance confirmed that we would have to get in line and buy our tickets from one of the 3 open windows. This was insane! There were Black people – beautiful, Black people – everywhere, but we needed fewer of them around in that space and time to get our tickets faster. Eventually we spotted a tiny man with locks and Malcolm X glasses holding wrist bands and a hand full of money somewhere on the perimeter of the line. We descended on him like a flock of hungry gulls on a soggy loaf of bread. Golden wristbands in hand, we skipped into the show.

It was bigger and better than I remembered.

The lights were brighter, the stalls more elaborate and the attendees…have mercy! There was every style of dress you could imagine; Boho chic, Mother Earth, leather and lace, Africana, hip hop street wear and some other mess that I couldn’t quite categorize. Incidentally, I fell into this last group myself. I had attended a STEM Expo with the Girl Scouts earlier and was wearing a black peasant blouse, green khaki shorts, and Sperry’s.

Work usually interferes with the Natural Hair Show for me, but this year I had the day off. This was the first time I had been able to see any of the demonstrations that various vendors offered. There were two companies that nearly had me sold, and as an impulsive buyer I would have been trapped had G. Berry not warned me about their products.

“Girrrl, they sell that stuff at Sally’s,” she said with a laugh. “The sales lady told me it gets returned all the time.”

“What? Man, sometimes I think they pull people from the crowd who they know the product will work on.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“Well…yeah. It’s a classic snake oil salesman tactic.”

We pressed on through the throng of women milling through the wide aisles before stopping at an elevated stage where a young R&B songstress had just finished belting out some top 40 hit. A woman dressed in a black skin-tight unitard with 2 foot high shoulder straps embellished with silver studs and spikes encouraged the crowd to give it up for Somebody Michelle. (I didn’t catch the first part of her name.)

tita “Come on y’all! You can do better than that! Somebody Michelle!!”

Again, the crowd applauded weakly. I waited for her to yell “Randy Watson!!!” to make the moment complete. Alas, she did not.

The thing I like best about the Natural Hair Expo is that it is the culmination of every Tyler Perry imagination mad manifest at last. However, there are some things even the talented Mr. Perry cannot dream up. For example:

  • The 7 foot tall vegan man adorned in red, gold and green spontaneously dancing a wild samba/salsa/hip hop jig when some guy began to beat on his bongos on the same stage that Somebody Michelle had just occupied moments before.
  • The tiny Senegalese woman who was selling the most beautiful jewelry I’d seen in a while who refused to sell me her jewelry because I didn’t have enough money in the moment. “Do you have a shop in Atlanta that I can come visit later?” I asked. “No, I’m in Chicago,” she replied. “Oh good! I have a friend in Chicago. What’s the name of your shop?” “No, I am all over America,” she muttered. (It just dawned on me that she is probably an illegal gypsy alien.)
  • The woman dressed up as an ancient Egyptian despot, swanning  around the venue encouraging patrons to visit Luxor Couture. (Which I did. It was disappointing.) photo(9)

But none of that compared to one moment which will forever remained seared in my memory. Among the sea of buxom, Black beauties, there stood a frail ebony skinned woman clad in a flowing yellow skirt, cropped denim jacket and twists spiraling out of her pea sized head. She was standing behind a chorded veil that served as a partition between her and a low stage. From my vantage point, I saw her trip over a thick extension cord and stumble onto the stage ahead of cue as a woman with a crown of sister locks piled high on her head introduced her to a crowd of six people. Her voice was low and husky as she spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters – allow me to introduce you to a sister who is going to bless us with powerful spoken word this evening. Put your hands together for Power spelled backwards: Reeeeeewop!!!!”

Rewop? Isn’t that the opposite of power? True to her stage name, she presented as something rather powerless. Her limbs were far too thin for the large wedge heels that engulfed her feet and she whispered her spoken word into a mic that appeared to shield her.

“I hear the ancestors calling me…I hear the ancestors calling me,” she said in a hushed voice.

Ah. But if you hear a group of dead people calling you, shouldn’t there be more urgency in your voice Ms. Wop? G. Berry and I shuttled past her, hardly able to contain our laughter. When the guy dressed up in Teddy Riley’s orange underpants and combat boots stomped in our direction, our stifled giggles gave way to full blown guffaws.

photo(8)Apart from all the spectacle and pageantry, the other magnificent thing about the Natural Hair Expo is the incredible kindness exhibited by many of the vendors there. Every year I meet a woman or group of women who take the time to time to share information about their products in earnest; not to merely try to sell you something. Last year it was Isis. This year, Shea Radiance (www.shearadiance.com) virtually blew me away with their customer service.

“No, we don’t have cocoa butter here, but we DO sell it. We can ship it to you as soon as we get back to Maryland,” said Karen.

photo(6) Karen and I got on well immediately. She’s from Ghana. I think she’s my cousin. Our noses are similar.

In my never ending quest to find the right product for my hair, I think I finally may have done so with DNA’s product line.

These are the results.


Have you ever been to a Hair Expo? What’s been your favorite memory? Obviously, I don’t expect many men to answer…unless they are commenting on the avalanche of product being hoarded by wives/girlfriends underneath the bathroom sink.