The Harbourfront Centre’s 14th Kuumba Festival is the centrepiece of Toronto’s Black History Month celebrations, with a proactive vision of the future to celebrate. Among the festivities, musical events weave traditional black styles from around the world and modern, constructive rhymes.
“The Kuumba Festival tries to cover the black community in its entirety,” explains CEP Programmer Dalton Higgins. “Our programs work because they connect generations. We’ll get a musical icon and pair them up with new artists. Also, the line up’s very diverse. The black community is not a homogenous group — there are Africans, Caribbean Blacks, indigenous Canadians, Afro-Americans, and so on. Our mission is to connect the diasporas in a positive way.”
That positive connection is exemplified by Harbourfront’s Urban X-Posure: SoWhatChuSayin?
“Urban Exposure is the brain child of me and (UMAC President) Will Strickland, to promote conscious rap,” says Higgins. “When you turn on the commercial radio, you’re only hearing one slice of hip hop culture: violence, crime and misogyny. But what we want is people talking about community and exploring the real breadth of human experience.”
Though there are lots of thoughtful rap artists working today (KRS 1, The Cool Kids) it’s still tough for less bloody-minded rappers to be heard.
“Not everybody’s role model should be a rapper or an athlete or a drug dealer,” says Hogtown’s own, Tristan “T-West” West. “There are community heroes too, like (Toronto educator) Christopher Spence, to talk about. Kuumba lets us say things the record industry doesn’t.
“This festival’s definitely necessary,” adds West. “Even just for the venues. Most black events are hosted too far north. The Harbourfront Centre’s right downtown. Nobody has an excuse to not come.”
West represents Kuumba’s Black to the Future/One Love theme, running Feb 13-14. This weekend’s theme is Old School/Power of Soul, as exemplified by Toronto’s funk soul diva, Saidah Baba Talibah.
“This weekend’s about the connective tissue between past and present,” says Talibah.
“That’s what I grew up with. My mom (jazz/blues vocalist Salome Bey) performed live while pregnant with me. I grew up listening to hip hop and pop, but I also loved the music of my family.”