July 2007

The 19th annual Afrofest
presented by Music Africa
July 7 & 8, 2007 Queen's Park Toronto
A Festival for Everyone
by Laila Boulos with photos by Roger Humbert
In anticipation of this year's Afrofest, it could be easy to become slightly stressed at all the decisions to be made. Decisions, you ask? Let me explain.

With all the choices and something-for-everyone vibe at Afrofest, there are many options available. For instance, would you like to see dance performances or do you prefer live music on its own? Of course the high point is the wonderful music and all the activities that surround it. On that note (pun intended!) are you interested in going to the main stage or the Olatunji Drum Stage? What about the workshops? We can't forget those!

The Baobab Stage catered to the interests of youth and many of the activities were created and presented by youth — ahhh, the experts agree that they (youth) are the only ones who can understand themselves, so why not let them run their own stage? By all accounts, this was a stellar idea!

Here at Afrofest, the organizers want to keep it just as fascinating for children. And fascinated and entertained they were. With their very own area, The Children's Village, offering African dance classes, mask making and various other craft-creating offerings, the youngsters were kept occupied and involved all weekend!

And we have not even touched upon the food choices! Do you crave samosas or roasted corn? Patties or fried plantain? Coconut or papaya juice? And for the less gastronomically adventurous, there are always the standby French fry and ice cream trucks.

And what about all the wonderful products for sale in the African Marketplace? With offerings from all over the world, vendors formed an endless array of kiosks. Again, this area too, reflected the all-encompassing sensibility of the festival. From clothes to cosmetics. Food products to musical instruments. Reading material to DVDs.

Speaking of DVDs... let's get back to the music. The main stage performances were so diverse. Not only were some musicians appearing with a variety of bands, but, the bands themselves were consistently astounding in their breadth and spirit, covering a wide scope of musical geography.

Again, it would be wonderful to dedicate an article to each of the performers but space limitations do not permit. Still it would be remiss to not mention some of the talents. So here's a very brief overview of some of the highlights: the wonderful harmonies of Ruth Mathiang and Friends (Sudan); the lock-up-your-crystal soaring vocals of Katenen 'Cheka' Dioubaté (Guinea); the flowing latin rhythms of Nya Soleil (Cameroon); the jazz influences of Source with Abdoulaye Diabaté (Mali) and Nawal's (Comoros Islands) soulful songs.

At one point during Zale Seck's performance, obviously wanting to stir up his audience just a bit more, he lifted a few children onto the stage to sing. Well, a number of them were definitely enjoying their moment. Zale proved himself to be a master of working his audience as everyone went crazy.

Of course, one cannot forget Samba Squad's invigorating performance that began on the main stage and later continued — no less enthusiastically — on the Olatunji Drumming Stage. Founded by Rick Shadrach Lazar of Montuno Police fame, Samba Squad's performance got everyone moving and almost split Queen's Park in two with the thundering percussion of their performance.

Although the organized entertainment appeared on the various stages, an easy glance anywhere in the park provided entertainment: children dancing and playing in front of the stage; food vendors warning that if you passed their stall "you'd be out of luck" because they had the best (of whatever it was that they were selling); Groups gyrating and singing together; People learning drumming off in the distance, and owners walking their dogs or parents pushing strollers around the grounds.

One of the presenters, Opiyo Oloya, commented how this festival was for everyone. Looking around the grounds of Queen's Park 'everyone' was there. It is truly one of the only festivals (if not the only festival) in the city where the feeling of warmth, brotherhood and camaraderie witnessed on stage permeates every aspect of this event. As Opiyo continued to stress, everyone has a place at this festival. There is no judgement and everyone feels safe and welcome.

This feeling of brotherhood was reflected on the stage as many artists returned to teach workshops and play and dance with their colleagues in many different reincarnations — they almost needed a revolving door backstage.

The underlying message of the festival and Opiyo's thoughts were reiterated many times during the weekend as many artists condemned war, promoted peace and equality and spoke about how we are all in this together. Performers would vocalize these and similar sentiments to the ever-expanding crowd either between songs or in the lyrics of their music.

If, through no fault of your own, you were one of the few people who were not able to attend this year's festival, you can rejoice in the following: The weekend's festivities were being broadcast live-to-air by CIUT 89.5FM and CBC Radio Two 94.1FM was taping the event to be broadcast at a later date.

Afrofest 2007 was definitely the most successful to date. At many points in the weekend the park was so packed with people, families and animals that it was difficult to manoeuvre around. But everyone was jovial, accomodating and brotherly. If it wasn't such an electricity-filled event, you could almost call the scene bucolic!

Afrofest 2007 — number 19 — was wonderful. We are all looking forward to the 20th anniversary in 2008 certain that Queen's Park will be positively bursting next year!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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