African Connections celebrates the diversity of Black culture

Ora Sawyers
Nataniel Pedro José (DJ Nata) will DJ the African Connections Dance Social on Saturday Feb. 11, 9 p.m. at the German Hall, also known as the German Cultural Centre. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

Crimson Coast Dance’s fourth annual African Connections project celebrates Black History Month with a series of dance workshops, storytelling and community-building events throughout February.

Local artist and cultural knowledge keeper Tania Amaral curates the programming that spans ages, artistic disciplines and the way people engage with storytelling over food, dance classes, dance performances and social parties.  

“For me, the event is really about the sharing of the diversity — and opens windows and opens doors — to people interacting more with the Black community, and the different diversity in different cultures that exists under that umbrella that we call the Black community,” says Amaral.

Amaral, aka Pynksy Shell, is a dance artist and board member of Crimson Coast Dance. Originally from Mozambique, the educator, historian and activist founded Afro-fusion Sharqui dance, which she teaches locally. 

A photo of a Black man in a green suit smiling against an orange backdrop
The True Essence of Kizomba by Filmmaker, Rui Djassi Moracén will be screened at Crimson Coast Dance’s African Connections. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

To kick off the programming on Friday, Feb. 3 at 1 p.m., the community is invited to a mixed-ability dance jam at Vibrant Studios. 

On Saturday Feb. 4 at 11 a.m., children and youth of all ages are invited to a children’s story reading, Karingana Wa Karingana: Reading African Tales, at the Vancouver Island Regional Library Harbourfront location. 

“There is an expression in Ronga language from Mozambique called ‘Karingana Wa Karingana,’ which basically means, ‘We are about to hear a story.’ Oral tradition is very important for many African countries because it brings the community together to listen, and in this process, they (the participants) will also learn, especially the young ones…[this] is part of the cultural education that everyone living in Canada should have.”

Amaral’s storytelling aims to spark the imagination with vivid descriptions of the magnificent animals and kingdoms of Africa pulled from the folktales of different regions.

On Friday Feb. 10, community members are invited to a night of discourse and African food at the Vault Cafe, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., featuring all three Portuguese-speaking artists, Edson Monteiro (Eddy) from Guiné-Bissau, Nataniel Pedro José (DJ Nata) from Angola and curator Amaral from Mozambique.

A couple embrace for a dance around smiling onlookers
Edson Monteiro will host dance workshops at the German Cultural Centre, also known as German Hall, on 71 Caledonia Ave. for Crimson Coast Dance’s African Connections. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

On Saturday morning, Feb. 11, join Day of Dance: Kizomba, a style that’s popular in Nanaimo and originated in Angola. The Semba Dance Workshop will follow in the afternoon.

“Eddy [Edson Monteiro] will teach Semba which gatewayed or evolved into Kizomba. And in between there, he’s also going to talk about the history of the impact of slavery on dance,” explains multi-award winning artistic managing director and founder of Crimson Coast Dance, Holly Bright.

After the workshop, participants are invited to put what they learn into practice with a late night dance celebration.

“Nata is a DJ from Angola, who currently lives in Portland, he’s coming up to DJ a party that night, and bringing that traditional music for dances that Eddy will be teaching all day,” says Bright, adding the event will be alcohol-free. 

“So we are really looking forward to those conversations and those actual movement classes and just a fantastic party to close the night for everybody.”

Bright explains that the mandate of the local dance association, founded 27 years ago, is to collaborate with and focus on inclusiveness of diversity — an essential and core component of their dance performances, workshops and community events. 

“We also work very strongly to ensure that underrepresented voices in that programming happen throughout the year,” says Bright.

“It is safe to say that this philosophy, along with ‘Nothing about us without us,’ steers my own curatorial vision for Crimson Coast Dance’s programming.”

Artist Holly bright poses with a turnip on her head.
Crimson Coast Dance’s Holly Bright. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

After launching curator Amaral’s African Connections during pandemic restrictions and adapting the programming online, Bright explains visa delays and other factors have led them to reschedule this year’s workshop with Kenyan artist Fernando Anuang’a to a later date.

She says it can take more than seven months to arrange visas for guest performers and instructors with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Even with return airline tickets, required documents and all the pieces in place, the process right now, is inundated,” Bright adds.

Asked how Crimson Coast Dance thinks dance and cultural celebration like this can encourage audiences to take action during Black History Month, Bright refers to Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum with a quote made in 1968:  In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.

“I heard it in the context of environmental practices and it comes to mind often when I think about the purposes of experiential art that is shared within communities,” Bright says. 

“It describes the pathway to understanding that motivates action.  And so, Crimson Coast provides opportunities through dance events for our community to learn, understand, love, and protect what is at the heart of the subject matter.”

Bright adds that the entire community is responsible for breaking down systemic and societal barriers that lead to the oppression of Black peoples. 

“None of the work is possible without community.  My experience by this point is that our job, our place, is to listen.  Stop talking and listen,” she says. “Listen, act on what we have heard by reflecting on one’s own practices, beliefs, behaviours.”

In Canada, Black History Month was first celebrated nationally in 1995, much later compared to the first developments within the United States, which began in 1926.

Tania Amaral smiles waring red lipstick and a scarf, with her left profile in view.
“My parents always told me, we can not move forward without knowing very well our past,” says African Connections curator and programmer Tania Amaral. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

Honouring the history, culture and stories from Black History Month is crucial for dance artist Amaral, who shapes her performance experiences from her own roots and personal story. 

“As someone born and raised in an African country, I use those experiences to inspire others. I do that by trying to culture-educate people through my classes, workshops and performances. From using only materials that are made in African countries, to using music and dance movements that are only from dances of African countries,” she says.

As curator, Amaral has programmed a lecture on the influence of slavery in music and dance, Let’s Talk About It, where the community can learn important lessons from history and meet with members of the Black community.

Amaral, as the conversation facilitator, will invite a member of the diaspora to present a theme for discussion from a place of expertise or familiarity. Afterward there will be a question and answer period where the audience can participate with the goal of sharing, exploring and creating awareness.

“It’s important to mention… we are in the land of the Indigenous peoples in the name of people,” she adds.

The event closes with Sharing is Caring on Friday, Feb. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Vault Cafe, where the participants are invited to share expertise. 

Amaral reminds us that in Canada many people have never sat down and talked with someone from Africa.

“What they portray, or what they understand about the different cultures that exist, is as if all of us is just one culture, as if Africa [is] just one country… It’s a continent of 55. There’s so many different cultures, so many things [that] happen. And we have to try to bring people to the table and have this contact,” she says, as an opportunity to listen and ask questions.

“And then we’ll create more bridges. More understanding. Like, we came from different backgrounds, we have different cultures, but we have to understand each other and maybe the world will become a better place.”

African Connections at Crimson Coast Dance events list

February 1 to 28, The True Essence of Kizomba, a film by Rui Djassi Moracén. Available online

Friday, Feb. 3, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Mixed Ability Dance Jam. Zoom or in person at Vibrant Studios

Saturday, Feb. 4, 11 a.m. Karingana Wa Karingana: Reading African Tales at Vancouver Island Regional Library Harbourfront location.

Friday, Feb. 10, 6 to 8 p.m. Sharing is Caring: African people sharing their culture & Experiences at The Vault Cafe.

Saturday, Feb. 11, 9:30 a.m. Kizomba Dance Workshop at the German Cultural Centre.

Saturday Feb. 11, 12 p.m. Let’s talk about it: The Influence of slavery in Music & Dance lecture at the German Cultural Centre.

Saturday, Feb. 11, 3 p.m. Semba Dance Workshop at the German Cultural Centre.

Saturday Feb. 11, 9 p.m. African Dance Social at the German Cultural Centre.

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