February 2005

Africa Sings
in Celebration of Black History Month
February 4, 2005 Royal Ontario Museum Toronto
Report by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert

This month the Royal Ontario Museum is celebrating Black History Month with a series of four free concerts, one each Friday. First up was Africa Sings presented by Music Africa. The concert started at 6:00 but the sound of drumming greeted me as I entered the ROM at 5:30, nicely setting the atmosphere. In addition to the show, there were drumming demonstrations and workshops open to people of all ages, displays of traditional African instruments, African and Afro-Canadian art, and a screening of the film Salif Keita: Destiny of a Noble Outcast. Salif Keita is a huge star in African Music. An albino of noble descent, he grew up isolated and withdrawn but overcame huge obstacles to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician.

Dr. Modesto Amegago opened the concert with a traditional libation for the ancestors that included Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, and Malcolm X among many others. An interesting and varied program followed.

Eid Ismail, in a solo performance, sang traditional songs from Northern Sudan accompanying himself on the bongos. A new arrival in Toronto (2003), he has been a musician in Sudan and in Egypt for many years. Historically, Sudan was a meeting place for Arab and African cultures.

Zanzibar-born Abdulla Issa Khamis, the “King” of Taarab song, moved the audience through tragedy and suffering to the celebration of being alive in two songs. He opened his short set singing to us (first in English, then in Swahili) of the devastation caused by the Tsunami, reminding us that there were also victims along the eastern coast of Africa. His closing piece, like an antidote to suffering, was an upbeat mambo that had everyone moving and clapping.
Abdulla Issa Khamis
Adam Solomon, a.k.a. “Professor” because of his mastery of the guitar, incorporates American blues back into African blues. He played two pieces in a trio format—bass, drums and guitar—concluding with a solo performance displaying his intricate guitar work. The slow blues with which he started conveyed longing but it was not mean or lowdown; there was a delicacy to it that made it feel more open, less driven by form to an inevitable conclusion. A true artist, he is an explorer, capable of playing many styles and of forging his own new and unique music.

The dancers from the Southern Volta Association Cultural group, along with the powerful percussion section led by professor Modesto Amegago mesmerized the audience, transporting us all from the confines of Canada Court in the ROM to a village somewhere in Ghana.

The evening concluded with Ndidi Onukwulu singing the blues accompanied by Madagascar Slim and Donné Robert on guitar. An eclectic performer, Ndidi has been a vocalist with rock, hip-hop, and electronic music artists, and is now concentrating on the blues. Madagascar Slim and Ndidi are developing a new style of African blues, which combines traditional blues with Nigerian and Malagasy music.

The evening’s performance was like a plate of hors d’oeuvres opening the appetite for the two days of Afrofest to be held July 9th and 10th this year at Queen’s Park.

Ndidi Onukwulu
We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
Joyce Corbett
• •
Roger Humbert

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