African Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


African Music in Canada

The 2006 census recorded more than 250,000 persons of African origin in Canada.
The 2006 census recorded more than 250,000 persons of African origin in Canada. Although the presence of Africans is recorded early in Canadian history, through slavery and migratory flows from countries such as the United States, it was not until the Commonwealth was established in 1931 and diplomatic relations were created through the Ministry of External Affairs and, later, the Canadian International Development Agency that economic and political ties emerged between Canada and many African countries. Although Brother Basile had published a work on African music, Au rythme des tambours, as early as 1949, the promotion of cultural exchanges only became a reality in 1968, with the creation of the Francophonie network, which established the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique. In 1974, the Agence organized a Superfrancofête in Quebec City that brought together 25 countries; Canadians, especially those living in Quebec, participated in a francophone forum about the power of African music and culture. Tambourine players from Rwanda, Senegalese griot players (oral historians who are regarded as the collective memory of Africa), and dancers from Burundi mingled to the rhythm of gigues and the refrains of popular singers.

Musical Currents
A rich and varied African musical culture, derived from countries and cultures throughout Africa, has had an important platform in Canada, especially in large urban centres such as Montreal and Toronto. African musicians who immigrated to Canada have often chosen to promote an African musical tradition in Canada. For example, Yaya Diallo settled in Quebec in 1967 and promoted the traditional music of Mali by means of the African xylophone and the balafon (or bala), a tuned percussion instrument from west Africa. Diallo's performances in Quebec and his teaching in Montreal exposed Canadians to the musical traditions of Mali. Senegalese musician Boubakar Diabaté played the kora, an African harp-lute, and introduced not only the traditional music of his country but also the world of the griots. The music, instruments, and performances have transmitted a sophisticated musical tradition.

People devoted to ancestral music traditions are found also among those who support world music. World music encourages contact and exchange between people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. In Canada, as in other countries that welcomed African immigration, there has been an awakening of Caribbean, Latin and inter-African music. The "Afro-beat" trend of the 1970s fostered a pan-African movement. Examples of this movement are Ricardo Pellegrin El Kady (with his album Osmosis), and Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, whose mbaqanga ("soup") musical style derives from cultural fusion. In Montreal, the presence of certain African groups who participated in this movement was proof of its vigour. Other groups who exposed Canadians to African music include the Lofimbo Stars, directed by the guitarist Koffi Agbéti from Zaire, as well as the singer Lorraine Klaasen, from South Africa, who has been described as the "African voice in exile." The annual Montreal festival Rythme du monde has also played a considerable role in promoting African world music.

African Musicians in Canada

Many musicians of African origin have been active in Canada. From Senegal came Boubakar Diabaté, a kora teacher, and Mandingue griot Amadou N'Gom and Ndiouga Sarr, who formed the group Diori Sîn, which recorded Dadjé in 1985. Ricardo Pellegrin El Kady, who came from Guinea-Bissau, settled in Quebec in 1974. Lilison Miniamba, also from Guinea-Bissau, recorded in Lisbon (1976) and Moscow (1985); his extensive research led him to promote a fusion between traditional and modern music. Lorraine Klaasen, who performed in several African languages, was influenced by her mother, Thandi Klaasen, a well-known singer in the 1960s. Jean-Yves Oloko and Mike Kounouare came to Canada from the Cameroons; the latter arrived in Canada in 1979 and recorded The Suffering for the Bikutsi label in Montreal. Daniel Sadi and Taki, who formed the group Kilimanjaro, originated from Zaire. From Mali, the drummer Yaya Diallo, also a pedagogue and writer, was a well-known African musician in Quebec and the United States. Diallo taught African music at Carleton University, performed traditional African music at the New England Conservatory; and lectured at the Smithsonian Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec. He published Profil culturel africain (Montreal 1985) as well as an autobiography entitled Healing Drum, in collaboration with Mitchell Hall (Rochester NY 1989). Pat Thomas, originally from Ghana but based in Toronto beginning in 1987, studied drums with his uncle Onyinah, a famous "highlife" musician. Thomas directed the Sweet Beans Band in Ghana 1971-7 and in 1986 recorded Pat Thomas '80 and Mbrepa for the Highlife World label of Toronto.

Quebec native Francine Martel, a percussionist who travelled for several years throughout Senegal, Mali and the Ivory Coast, founded the group Takadja with three other percussionists and two dancers and remains one of the few women African percussion performers. (Kathy Armstrong of Ottawa's Baobab Tree Drum Dance Community is another.) Sylvain Panneton, an ethnomusicologist and a specialist in the Mandingue balafon, worked in Guinea-Bissau for several years. Daniel Prénoveau, a composer and percussionist whose music is based on traditional African music, travelled throughout Africa, particularly Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Burkina Faso. In addition to composing music for African instruments, Prénoveau also built and collected traditional instruments. Michel Séguin, father, and Michel Séguin, son, have travelled throughout West Africa and more specifically in Senegal. Their music was inspired from the rhythms of the music discovered during their travels. Both John Wyre, animator of the World Drum Festival at Expo 86, and the percussion group Nexus have made African music a significant part of their repertoire.

Events and Instrument Collections

Collections of African musical instruments have been donated by missionaries and other workers to such institutions as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. The faculty of music of the University of Montreal, following the initiative of Monique Desroches, also established a collection of musical instruments in 1991, a quarter of which are African.

Propagation of African Music

During the 1980s, Canadian cities began hosting events that promoted African music. In Montreal, the season begins in May with Vues d'Afrique, which is devoted to intercultural relationships through film. Founded in Montreal in 1983, the annual event features African and Creole musicians. Vues d'Afrique has underlined the African presence on the Canadian musical scene: visual documents have included the film Yiri kanou la voix du bois (Burkina Faso), which deals with the art of the balafon, and the television programs "Unuvugangoma, l'arbre qui a la voix du Togo," "Ballets Djoliba" from Guinea, and "Music of the spirits" from Zimbabwe, produced by the Canadian Ron Hallis.

Several Canadian jazz festivals, especially those in Ottawa and Vancouver and the Festival international de jazz de Montréal ( FIJM) have largely contributed to the introduction of African musicians such as Youssou N'Dour, Touré Junda, Salif Keita, Ray Lema, Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, and Mory Kanté.

The Festival International Nuits d'Afrique de Montréal (1987) takes place each July and has grown from the original venue at Club Balattou to include several locations in Montreal. The festival features African and West Indian music, both traditional and modern, performed by African and African-Canadian artists who represent the cultures of the Cameroons, Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guineau, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Zaire.

The international festival Rythme du monde was established in 1986 by Korkor Armartéifio. Hundreds of artists (musicians, singers, dancers) perform during the festival at various Montreal sites, and African world music bursts forth with a carnival-like atmosphere. Well-known musicians such as Thomas Mapfumo from Zimbabwe, Lucky Dube from South Africa, Sunugal and Baaba Maal, both from Senegal, and Nakupenda from Ghana have appeared during the festival. Mixed groups from Montreal and Toronto, notably Lofimbo Stars and Takadja from Montreal and the "dub" poet Lillian Allen from Toronto, have all participated in Rythme du monde. Throughout the year, Montreal clubs such as the Rising Sun, the Balattou, the Kilimanjaro, the Kili, the Coconut Bar, and the Keur Samba have featured African music. In Toronto, Afrofest has been held annually since 1989. Established by Highlife World, Afrofest was first held at the BamBoo Club before branching out into Queen's Park in 1990 and then to other venues, such as El Mocambo and Harbourfront. The festival has included Aster Aweke, Sam Mangwana, and Okyerema Asante.

Radio and Television Programs

Several community radio stations have broadcast programs featuring African music. Norman (Otis) Richmond and Emmanuel Mankumah of the Development Education Centre produced a series on "African music as a means of education in development." The CBC also included African musical elements in its radio programming, notably "Des musiques en mémoire," "Ménage à quatre," "Multi-pistes," "African Guitar Summit," and "Concerts on Demand: Salsa Africa." On television, the TVA program "Bon dimanche" featured such groups as Touré Kounda.

Research and Cultural Exchange

A long road has been travelled since the Superfrancofête of 1974, when African music was taking its first steps on Canadian territory. Cultural exchange and the interest demonstrated by Canadians toward African projects have reinforced the ties among the cultures. African music has become part of the multicultural mosaic of Canadian arts, and in addition to concerts and performances, ethnomusicology research at many Canadian universities highlights African music. Several universities offer courses and programs that focus on the culture and music from Africa and from around the world. Programs such as the West African Music, Dance, Language, and Culture at the University of Alberta and the music courses at the University of Waterloo comprise a study component that includes travel to Africa. As part of Carleton University's African Studies, a variety of courses are offered in African music history, instruments and theory. Also, the University of Alberta, in collaboration with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, is home to folkwaysAlive! a centre that offers collaborative opportunities to scholars, musicians and artists from around the world. See also: African Music and Musicians; World Music; Caribbean; Harbourfront; Reggae; Calypso; "Tears are not Enough."

Further Reading

External Links