Because this is Montreal, where festivals are so popular that a whole section of downtown is dedicated to them, it may come as no surprise that Montreal’s Black History Month has a festival spirit to it. Throughout February, Montreal puts black artists in the spotlight, with all kinds of music, theatre, fashion, food and more…
But what sets Black History Month apart from any festival is its social and political message of change: as this year’s spokesperson Montreal-born, L.A.-based actor Benz Antoine points out, “There’s so much to be done it can’t all be done in February – this is a boost for rest of the year.”
Now in its 21st year in Canada, Black History Month balances fun times with social awareness in a focused and conscious celebration of black culture today, throughout history, and – hit home in this year’s theme, Imagine a New World – for the future. Antoine and co-spokesperson Montreal comedian Dorothy Rhau, stress that all of this month’s events, from blues nights to art shows, are reflective of Montreal’s year-round diverse culture.
“Black History Month is not only about the entertainment world,” says Antoine. “It’s about healthy role models. It’s all about education. When the kids see someone cool doing something it attracts them to those things more. When you start identifying yourself and saying this is not only black history, this is Canadian history – and it’s really important to reiterate this – you see that Black History Month is not just for black people – we’re all here, this is what happened, these are the historical facts.”
History, culture, art and entertainment intertwine during Black History Month just as they do throughout the year. Music rules throughout the month, with black musicians on stage each night at Club Balattou, Charles Biddle Jr. & Makaya Jazz at Cabaret du Mile End on February 11, Vox Sambou, a member of the popular hip-hop Nomadic Massive collective, plays with multi-instrumentalist Wesli, at Cabaret du Mile End on February 18, and the soulful world beat of Senaya takes over Cabaret du Lion d’Or on February 23, and much more. Music and social activism meet at each “Frobruary” show at L’Escalier, February 9–16, and on February 25, the Black History Month Gospel music night shakes up the MCI (5685 Chauveau).
For film fans, the National Film Board (1564 St-Denis) screens documentaries and feature films on black history and culture daily and Massimadi, the festival of Afro-Caribbean LGBT films, continues at various venues to February 12. Dancer and choreographer Rhodnie Désir, of Haitian descent, unveils an interdisciplinary piece as part of the series Ascen/danses at the MAI, February 9–12. Central African dancer and choreographer Ghislaine Doté’s Merry Age is at Agora de la Danse, February 15–18, and Love/Dark Swan/Yadoo is at Monument National, February 23 and 26, as part of the same series.
Fashion and beauty make appearances too: on February 11, The Miss Africa Gala beauty pageant takes place at Place des Arts, and on February 24, leading black designers show their stuff at the Black Expo Design, at the Loft Hotel. Football, I mean soccer, even makes a play at Black History Month: the Legends of African Football exhibit is up until February 29 at the Maison de l’Afrique (6256 Henri-Julien). Learn about African inventors at an exhibition at Concordia University’s Loyola library starting February 14. And the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opens its Sacred Africa show, while Montreal City Hall hosts photo exhibition Spirits of the Mask-Dancers from February 7–22.
Workshops and talks make an even more direct link to Montreal’s black community. Discuss everything from hair (February 9) to karaoke (Feburary 11) to cooking (February 11 and February 25). Montreal keeps on keeping Haiti in its heart with a February 9–10 colloquium at the Université de Montréal and a conference on Haitian painting on February 11 at the Musée des maîtres et artisans.
Antoine says he’ll be going to shows around town, but what excites him the most is being a part of the bigger Montreal picture. “Music, food, clothing and so on is accepted as culturally different, but when you actually say it’s not just what we’re taught in history there’s more to the story, that’s when it gets interesting,” he says. “Black History Month is a touchstone for more conversation.”
Black History Month, February 1-29, 2012