By Judith Charles
The Toronto Reference Library atrium in Yorkville was transformed into an oasis for world music.
As part of its ongoing support for community and diversity in culture, Toronto Public Library hosted the gala Black History Month kick-off party on Feb. 6, From Griot to Hip Hop: The Music IS the Story.
Librarian Vickery Bowles called it “a way to usher in a wonderful month for Black History Month.”
Roger Gibbs, a talented musician and arts producer who performs on the library circuit, assisted in delivering the program. Gibbs, known in the calypso world as Rajiman, introduced the impressive line-up of artists.
“I am very happy to be here; it is such a beautiful space and a beautiful audience. I’ve been performing at the libraries for about a decade now and it’s always a wonderful experience, a very educational experience. You never know who you’ll meet in the library.”
Gibbs continued, “It’s so wonderful to see a vibrant and strong city and I hope you agree that Toronto is one of the best cities to live in the world.”
The famed calypsonian took to his acoustic guitar and led the audience through one of his own compositions, Sam the Guitar Man, a song about a familiar character with a crude handmade guitar who combed the racetracks and beaches in his homeland, the island of Barbados. The audience obliged by chiming in on the catchy refrain, “Where is Sam the Guitar man?”
Among the other performers in the gala was Tichow Maredza, a recording artist from Zimbabwe who accompanied himself on his nylon string Godin guitar. Tich Maredza as he prefers to be known, delivered a stellar performance filled with intricate, contemporary rhythms fused with Afro jazz. His message spoke of inspiration, hope and love.
Amadou Kienou, multi- talented kora specialist, jokingly commented on how quiet everyone was.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Kienou, “it’s not a funeral. You have to be happy. I know it’s a library but I have to give energy; you are here, so we have to enjoy the evening … together.”
Kienou who originates from the Dafing region in Burkina Faso, West Africa, is one of seven sons and followed in the traditions of his father the late Baba Kienou, a praise singer (griot) and a musician by profession. Kienou engaged the audience with a chant, “Oh Mammy; Oh Mammy” as he skillfully played the kora, the djembe and talking drum accompanied by percussionist Derek Thorne.
The stacked program then turned to hip hop with Rasselas Asfaw, a young Ethiopian recording artist whose passion for the culture was evident as he sang and danced his way into the hearts of the audience, supported by members of his band Tis Abbay.
Finally, Gibbs introduced the last performer, Canadian jazz artist Tiki Mercury-Clarke, who captivated the audience with tales of growing up Black in Canada. She delivered a beautiful rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s Bless this House followed by a more up-tempo jazzy number, Rainy Days are Here. I was inspired by Mercury-Clarke’s moving performance and it’s safe to say the only thing lacking was that there was not enough time.
Black History Month activities continue throughout the city at various library venues until Saturday, Feb. 28. Authors, poets, writers, singers and musicians will be on hand to educate and entertain.
Check out the website at Toronto Public Library and, yes, Go Brave.