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Olympic breakdancers, a best-selling author and more at this Black History Month celebration in Toronto

Similar to this KUUMBA festival in 2020, this year's edition will take place at Harbourfront Centre and feature works from a variety of disciplines, including visual arts, dance, film and spoken word poetry. (Submitted by KUUMBA - image credit)
Similar to this KUUMBA festival in 2020, this year's edition will take place at Harbourfront Centre and feature works from a variety of disciplines, including visual arts, dance, film and spoken word poetry. (Submitted by KUUMBA - image credit)

One of Canada's longest-running Black History Month celebration is back for the entire month of February.

The 29th KUUMBA festival kicked off Thursday night at the Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto ahead of a jam-packed opening weekend featuring art, dance, film and poetry featuring Black artists and Black-centred work. Kuumba, appropriately, is Swahili for "creativity."

The theme for the festival this year is voice, said curator Arinola Olowoporoku. "Celebrating Black voice and also examining how we speak, to whom we speak, who is listening when we speak and how we're being heard."

Arinola Olowoporoku is curator and festival lead for this year's KUUMBA festival.
Arinola Olowoporoku is curator and festival lead for this year's KUUMBA festival.

Arinola Olowoporoku is curator and festival lead for this year's KUUMBA festival. (Submitted by KUUMBA)

And there are plenty of talented voices involved.

Canadian R&B star Jully Black will perform later this month and New York Times best-selling author Angie Thomas kicked things with the keynote address. The film adaptation of her book, The Hate U Give, is screening Friday night.

Scarborough poet Dwayne Morgan, a veteran of the festival, says he'll be attending with his daughter, whom he once gifted a copy of the book for her birthday.

Morgan is also performing.

He says he's trying something new this year. He's one of three poets taking part in the inaugural KUUMBA 365 presentation, meant to celebrate Black culture all year long. Morgan and the others have filmed their creative processes over the past year and will present a spoken word piece about one of the festival's exhibits.

Festival celebrates Black history and Black futures

Morgan says new ideas and voices are what keep the festival fresh and relevant.

"It isn't always about looking at the past," Morgan said of Black History Month. "I think the festival is always trying to speak to the contemporary realities of what is happening, you know, right now."

Spoken word poet Dwayne Morgan
Spoken word poet Dwayne Morgan

Spoken word poet Dwayne Morgan is a veteran of KUUMBA, which he says is more about the current moment of Black history than the past. (Submitted by Dwayne Morgan)

The festival acknowledges this, calling itself a celebration of Black Futures Month as well as Black History Month. That's reflected in its programming too, which featuring new artists and mediums.

Look no further than Saturday's Rock Harder competition, featuring break dancers who will compete in the first Olympic breaking competition at the 2024 Paris Games.

"This is Black history that is happening right now," said Morgan.

Along with breaking performances, attendees can sign up for workshops to be a B-boy/B-girl or DJ.

The Rock Harder Breaking Competition will feature future Olympians.
The Rock Harder Breaking Competition will feature future Olympians.

The Rock Harder breaking competition will feature future Olympians. (Submitted by 300DPI)

'Something for everybody'

The festival will feature other spoken word performances, like Why Black Women Whisper by Anne-Marie Woods, which explores what happens when Black women speak up or are silenced.

The visual arts will also be on display, with a new exhibit on Black identity called (Screaming)...into the void, featuring individual work from Aaron Jones and Tiffany J. Sutton, debuting this weekend.

Paulina O'Kieffe-Anthony works on her KUUMBA 365 presentation at the festival exhibit, "Time of Change" by Anna Boghiguian.
Paulina O'Kieffe-Anthony works on her KUUMBA 365 presentation at the festival exhibit, "Time of Change" by Anna Boghiguian.

Paulina O'Kieffe-Anthony works on her KUUMBA 365 presentation at the festival exhibit, Time of Change by Anna Boghiguian. (Submitted by KUUMBA)

The full schedule is available on the Harbourfront Centre website.

While the festival looks at art and culture through a Black lens, Olowoporoku encourages all Torontonians to take some time this month to see something new.

"There's something for everybody," she said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)