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Civic Impact

Harbourfront Kuumba Festival reinvents Black history for 20th anniversary

For his first attempt at programming Harbourfront’s Kuumba Festival, one of the city’s longest-running Black History Month celebrations, Sergio Elmir faced the unique challenge of marking the festival’s 20th anniversary.

“We had to honour the community, represent them correctly and honour the legacy of Kuumba with a fresh perspective,” says Elmir. “The 20th anniversary was a catalyst to do something special.”

So the team decided to go back to the future for this year’s festival, which runs February 6 to 8, looking ahead by embracing the past in the form of the Afrofuturism artistic movement.

“It’s a concept that was coined in the 1990s, but it’s been around since the ’60s and ’70s,” says Elmir. “The idea was that the Black community was pursuing their own freedom through sci-fi-related elements and concepts. For example the idea of leaving the Earth to conquer a Black planet was a concept introduced by [famed jazz musician, poet and philosopher] Sun Ra years ago, but now it’s been adopted as an aesthetic and a style. If you look at André 3000 or Janelle Monáe, the way they dress, the way they make their music, it’s all very futuristic. But we’re not just looking at the style but the history of Afrofuturism as a movement.”

Along with the panels and film (1980’s classic Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise) that deal directly with Afrofuturism, the program plays around with the broader theme. February 6’s We Got Next! program features performers Pierre Kwenders, Keita Juma and Shi Wisdom, “which is really the next generation of Afro-Canadian musicians.” Broader still is Kenny Robinson’s Nubians on the Waterfront Comedy Show.

The complete Kuumba Festival program is available here.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Sergio Elmir
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