Canadian Contingency to Ghana - 2019 Panafest Festival
dance Immersion celebrated the 2019 Panafest Festival, Beyond 400 Years: Reaching Across Continents into the Future with bringing a Canadian Contingency of some of our favourite artists and trailblazers.
In addition to celebrating 25 years of producing, promoting, and supporting dances and dancers of the African Diaspora, we had the privilege of putting together a Canadian Contingency – an inter-generational group of passionate artists and advocates – to travel to Ghana to take part in the 2019 Panafest Festival. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, when the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America in 1619.
The Canadian Contingency experienced the importance of re-connecting with our homeland, sharing their artistry and connecting with other artists during a powerful festival that highlights the ideals of Pan Africanism. The Canadian Contingency included: The Honourable Jean Augustine, Ngoma Ensemble, Beyond Sound Empijah, and Esie Mensah Creations.
Throughout Panafest we celebrated, gave remembrance, and connected deeply with our work and personal journeys. Some events that took place during Panafest were the grand durbar of chiefs, the slave march re-enactment, a candlelight vigil and prayers at Cape Coast castle, the Emancipation Day Celebration in Assin Manso, and the closing ceremony in the National Theater in Accra. Such an opportunity would not be possible without the funders who supported us in making this journey happen.
Thank you to the High Commissioner of Canada to Ghana, the Ontario Arts Council, and The Canada Council for the Arts for not only believing in the importance of the festival, but allowing a Canadian Contingency to experience it as well.
Thank you The Honourable Jean Augustine, Ngoma Ensemble, Beyond Sound Empijah, and Esie Mensah Creations for being a part of the journey and sharing your artistry and knowledge.
We’re looking forward to seeing how this special journey influences the work of our
Canadian Contingency Biographies
Jean Augustine PC CM CBE is a Grenadian-Canadian educational administrator, advocate for social justice, and politician. She was one of the first two Black Canadian women elected to the House of Commons. Jean’s story is a testament to the power of hard work and devotion in pursuit of social justice. Jean immigrated to Canada through the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Program. With focus, she attended Toronto Teachers College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto. Jean earned her Master’s in Education degree while working as an elementary school teacher with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto. She would later become principal/supervisory officer while remaining deeply involved in grassroots efforts in the community. In 1993, Jean Augustine made history. She became the first African Canadian woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons. She served as the Member of Parliament for the Toronto-area riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, winning four consecutive elections until her retirement from politics in 2006. Jean’s work as a parliamentarian included service as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister and Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee and Chair of the National Women’s Caucus. In her final year, Jean was elected Deputy Speaker by her peers. Jean used skilful negotiation to garner unanimous support to pass a historic motion designating February as Black History Month in Canada. Jean also championed legislation to erect the Famous Five statue, the only statue featuring women on Parliament Hill. In 2007, the Government of Ontario asked Jean to lead the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade. Later that year, she was appointed the first Fairness Commissioner for the Province of Ontario. Jean served as Fairness Commissioner until her retirement in 2015. In 2009, Jean was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her extensive contribution to Canadian society as a politician, educator and advocate for social justice. She received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and in 2014 was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to education and politics. Today, Jean remains involved with community activities including the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment. She also supports several scholarships at various post-secondary institutions to help provide a better future for young women.
NGOMA Ensemble is an ensemble of performers who capture the essence of their cultural heritage through drum with a distinctive new vibe. Ngoma is committed to honoring their ancestry through the dynamic presentation of drum pieces that educates, empowers and embraces the majesty of African Heritage. Formed in 1995 this is the second generation of this ensemble who have been provided with opportunities to perform compositions arranged by alumni members of the ensemble alongside international drum masters. Members range in ages from 7 to adults with a mandate to further develop the education of their art, heritage and global leadership. Ngoma has performed for many diverse organizations, schools, events and festivals throughout Canada. Ngoma Ensemble made their first international performance debut in Ghana in 2006. They are thrilled to come back home to celebrate the legacy of our people.
Beyond Sound Empijah is a collective of young musicians who have had the wonderful fortune of growing up in some of the most vibrant, innovative, pioneering arts organizations throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Their youthful enthusiasm and endless talent has made them an ensemble dedicated to merging traditional West African drum with their contemporary genres including, Hip Hop, House, Rap, South African, Caribbean and any culture that they have had the opportunity to be exposed to. Collectively their training and performance experience has enabled them to travel throughout the GTA, Ontario, the United States, and various Caribbean islands. Beyond Sound Empijah is comprised of youthful experienced drummers, dancers, and vocalists. Each member of the ensemble has been nurtured, trained and shaped under the tutelage of masters from the African diaspora, in the art of djembe and doundoun playing and in contemporary and traditional movement. Beyond Sound is an active and thriving collective who continue to create learning opportunities for children and youth, while gaining the support of multigenerational audiences through their innovative performances.
They have been invited to perform at numerous diverse public and private events throughout Canada and on the international stage. Some of the events and organizations which Beyond Sound Empijah have shared their boundless talent are: The Muthadi International Drumming Festival, Afrofest, International Associations of Blacks in Dance(IABD) Conference & Festival, The Royal Ontario Museum, dance Immersion Showcase Presentation, United Way – Peel Region Black Community Advisory Council, The Consular Ball, Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Imani Awards, Majanga Festival, Africentric School Gala, Rhythm Fest Barrie, Nia Centre for the Arts - Afro Diasporic Art: Recognition Justice Develop launch at Toronto City Hall, the TCTHC Youth Summit, the African Cultural & Development Association’s 2011 African Emancipation Festival in Georgetown, Guyana.
Esie Mensah Creations is a dancer/choreographer/teacher/model who was born and raised in Canada. Esie's own unique style of Afrofusion includes movements from Traditional and Contemporary African, Commercial, Urban and Contemporary styles. Expanding her abilities, Esie has produced several art pieces; Shades of Blackness, Zayo and the an original play called Akoma which is a dance/theatre production. Her dance journey began with a community dance group called the Ewe Canadian Organization of Ontario, made up of extended family members and elders who’s goal was to celebrate African culture within the community. Every Sunday they would gather to learn the traditional dances of the Ewe tribe from Ghana and Togo; these beginnings impacted her life significantly as she began to developed her own style of dance over a decade later. The Black Stars is a coalition of afro-influenced dancers committed to AfroFusion Dance. The group came to life in 2012 under the visionary direction of Esie Mensah. Black Stars pallet of skills combines more than 7 African dance styles including Azonto, Kuduro and Ndombolo that they talently showcase as one flawless artistic expression. They have appeared alongside renowned artists such as Janelle Monae, Nelly Furtado, Flo Rida, Jully Black and appearances in popular shows like So You Think You Can Dance Canada. The Black Stars sincerely believes how important it is to learn from each other in order to be a better person and dancer.