York celebrates Black History Month with music and dance

York University will mark Black History Month with a celebration of Afro-Diasporic music, dance and culture. Performing Diaspora: An Evening of Caribbean and West African Dance and Music takes centrestage on Feb. 20 at the McLean Performance Studio, 244 Accolade East on York’s Keele campus. The event offers a celebration of Afro-diasporic expressive culture and features a triple bill showcase of faculty, students and alumni talent.

On stage for one night only, Performing Diaspora features an eclectic collection of Afro-diasporic music and dance. It includes a world premiere performance by the West African ensemble Nutifafa, led by York dance Professor Modesto Amegago; traditional song and dance by music Professor Michael Marcuzzi‘s Afro-Cuban Ensemble; and the remount of a riveting dance and drum piece by the Collective of Black Artists (COBA), whose co-founders include York graduate dance student Junia Mason and alumni BaKari Lindsay (MA ’04) and Charmaine Headley (MA ’07).

Performing Diaspora is curated by York dance Professor Danielle Robinson, whose research focuses on popular African Diasporic dance practices in the Americas. "The performing arts are an important means of understanding the experiences of black peoples around the world," said Robinson. "In many cases, the arts can tell us about people and their lives, when other evidence has not survived the passage of time.

Left: Danielle Robinson

"We hope to celebrate Black History Month every year with a performance event like this," added Robinson.

Modesto Amegago’s Nutifafa Afrikan Performance Ensemble, a multicultural ensemble of York students and community members, presents original interpretations of traditional dances with live drums. Originally from Ghana, Amegago is a dance ethnologist specializing in West African performance practices. He received a 2008 Black History Month Award from the Community Unity Alliance and the City of Toronto for his contributions to the African-Canadian community.

Right: Modesto Amegago

Michael Marcuzzi’s Afro-Cuban Ensemble performs sacred orisha music and dance from Cuba, whose origins can be traced to the Yoruba culture of southwest Nigeria and southeast Benin. Marcuzzi is an authority on Cuban popular music and its African-derived religious traditions. His ensemble includes York instructors and graduate students, percussionists/vocalists Paul Ormandy, Steve Mancuso and David Font Navarrete and dancer Melissa Noventa.

COBA reprises Orisha Suite, an excerpt from BaKari Lindsay’s Danse Belé, a critically acclaimed indigenous Caribbean folk dance for 15 performers. Hailed by the Toronto Star as "a vibrant piece, with athletically energetic performance that is part mystery, drama and sensuality", the work highlights the spiritual lives of slaves drawn from the Yoruba people.

Right: Michael Marcuzzi

Performing Diaspora is a collaborative presentation of the Faculty of Fine Arts, graduate programs in dance and music, and Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples at York University.

The Tubman Institute is named in honour of the legendary African-American abolitionist, feminist and humanitarian, Harriet Tubman. It is dedicated to the recovery, study and dissemination of the story of the migrations of African peoples around the world, from past centuries to the present day. The institute is connected to an international network of research centres committed to overcoming injustice and inequity as a result of slavery.

Performing Diaspora starts at 7pm and admission is free.