Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited come to Winnipeg

Unique arts festival highlights African/Black musical diversity

Artistic and ethnic diversity are vital to the survival of arts communities. One event that celebrates diversity in the arts is  Black Arts Fest (BAF), which has recently teamed up with the West End Cultural Centre (WECC) to create a concert headlined by the “Lion of Zimbabwe,” Thomas Mapfumo, and his band, The Blacks Unlimited.

Darryl Reilly of Guerrillas of Soul comments, “to see the way everyone reacts to (Mapfumo), he is like a rockstar.”

Thomas Mapfumo, one of Zimbabwe's most influential musicians, will perform as part of the Black Arts Fest. // Supplied image

“He is so popular and such a cultural and musical icon. I was blown away the first time he played at the West End. Not just by him and his band, but also by the reaction of the city and how many people came out.”

Several local artists will also take the stage, including Juno-nominated Anishinaabe singer/songwriter Leonard Sumner, CBC's Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa and the band Guerrillas of Soul.

BAF’s artistic director and founder Nomaqhawe Sibanda says she created the event to showcase African and Black musical talent in Winnipeg.

BAF was created “to provide more spaces for African and Black diaspora to see themselves and to celebrate the traditions of our cultural expressions,” she says.

“It is not about creating separate space. It is about creating additional, inclusive spaces for representation.”

Sibanda says although the event’s name might sound exclusive, this event is open to all of Winnipeg.

“BAF is Black-led and Black-centred, but it is for everyone,” she says.

“BAF welcomes everyone to come see, consume and to understand African and Black diaspora stories and people and to revel in our artists in meaningfully authentic and direct ways, while having a lot of fun.”

Reilly echoes this, saying he appreciates events like this, because they highlight Winnipeg as a city of immigrants.

“Events like this speaks to the rich cultural milieu of Winnipeg,” he says.

“This city has so many different people from all around the world, and everyone gets together, creating the city how it is today. The reason why I like living here is because it is such a multicultural city, seen in its music, food and people all around.”

Reilly says in Winnipeg, only certain genres are widely supported, and events like BAF are important to broaden musical expressions and reception.

“There is a tendency in Winnipeg to support folk music, which is great, because the folk arts scene here is fantastic,” he says.

“However, there are a lot of people in Winnipeg playing other kinds of music, and it does not necessarily have the same sound that can be recognized by the Junos or radio shows. BAF highlights these other musicians in Winnipeg who are from around the globe, playing music influenced by different people.

“It is important for Winnipeggers to come out and experience this other side of their culture, because Winnipeg is a multi-ethnic city.”

The Black Arts Fest was originally scheduled to take place Nov. 29 but has since been postponed. Festival organizers plan for the rescheduled show to take place on Jan. 10 or Feb. 2. Keep an eye on the Black Arts Fest Facebook page or wecc.ca for updates.

Published in Volume 74, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 21, 2019)

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