Toronto is one of the most important centres of African music outside of Africa itself, according to cultural heritage organization Music Africa. Besides pointing out that Toronto has more African music on the radio than any other North American city and hosts the largest annual music festival of its kind (Afrofest), the site also has these flattering words to say:
Probably the most remarkable development over these last few years is how groups have combined musicians and styles from across Africa in a way that would not even be possible in Africa itself. Toronto has developed a sound of its own, one that includes and combines all the unique talents available. This represents what is the City’s greatest strength – the ability to see our differences, not as barriers, but as great opportunities to share and grow in a way that enriches everyone.
With February being Black History Month, there’s going to be larger than usual cross-section of African music spilling out of clubs and concert halls. The Gladstone is hosting a free concert series on Fridays called Singers, Players, Griots of Toronto, where you’ll be able to see and hear the exotic kalimba (a wooden board with metal keys plucked with the thumbs), krar (an lute-like stringed instrument, and baliphon (a melodic percussion instrument struck with mallets).
The three-day Kuumba festival is running Feb. 9-11 at Harbourfront with a packed schedule of cultural events – some free, some not. Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, the son of Grammy winner Ali Farka Touré, will be making his North American debut on Feb. 10 in the Brigantine Room (10pm; $15). Studio Theatre is playing “Griots t’ Garage: A Musical history of the African Diaspora,” a performance that mixes live music with projections of live and archival footage that traces the developments of 16th century West African music to blues and jazz, funk and hip-hop. Runs Sat. Feb 10 and Sun. Feb 11 at 7pm; Tues. Feb 13 and Wed. Feb 14 at 8pm. $25 admission.
Photo of kalimba player Njacko Backo (who plays The Gladstone on Feb. 23) courtesy of mgam.com.