Meet some of the local talent at this year's National Black Canadians Summit

Afua Cooper hopes people will be inspired by the performers at the National Black Canadians Summit in Halfax from July 29-31. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)
Afua Cooper hopes people will be inspired by the performers at the National Black Canadians Summit in Halfax from July 29-31. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)

Black community members and allies from across Canada will gather in Halifax from July 29-31 for the National Black Canadians Summit and several local performers have been asked to represent the diverse talent pool in the Halifax area.

Afua Cooper, who is an educator, artist, historian and poet, is one of those people.

"I hope people will be inspired," said Cooper. "I hope people can use what I have to say to take back to their own lives and to apply to their own lives in terms of getting the courage to write their own histories, to tell their own stories, to delve more into what's out there."

Cooper, born in Jamaica, was instrumental in establishing Black and African diaspora studies at Dalhousie University.

Her written work has been published in various journals and anthologies around the world with her first book, Breaking Chains, published in 1983. Other books include Utterances and Incantations: Women, Poetry, and Dub,  and The Hanging of Angélique, The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal.

Cooper says The Hanging of Angélique, the story of a woman kept as a slave in 18th-century Montreal, has been one of her greatest accomplishments. Marie-Joseph Angélique was hanged in 1734 after being found guilty of setting a fire that destroyed 46 buildings in Montreal.

"Her body was burned, and the ashes cast to the four winds, so it's, it's a tragic and gruesome story but, you know, there it is, we celebrate Angélique as a hero ... as someone who resisted enslavement and white supremacy. But it also highlights this issue of enslavement of Black people in Canada, so I'm very proud of that."

'I'm very excited'

At this year's summit, Cooper will be performing some of her poetry and will also be part of Black history storytelling panel. She has previously performed nationally as part of Canada's poetry and spoken-word movement and with Gayap Riddim Drummers.

She says both poetry and history are dear to her heart, so she's happy to have the opportunity to showcase both for such a large audience.

"I'm very excited. There's over 1,000 people who have registered, Whoa, all these people descending on Halifax," said Cooper.

She hopes all attendees will learn more about the long history of Black people in Nova Scotia, and in Canada as a whole, to better understand their struggles and demands for inclusion, diversity and equity.

"We are human beings, and we should have those rights," said Cooper. "Our historical experiences here go long and deep and just for people to know, yeah, there's a lot here, and we want to celebrate that."

Cooper is scheduled to perform on July 30 between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Nova Scotia Mass Choir also performing

The Nova Scotia Mass Choir, two-time East Coast Music Association Award winners, will perform two songs.

The community choir founded in 1992 is a predominantly Black choral ensemble based in Halifax. There are currently 30 members, but it's had as many as 50 voices over the years.

Eddie Jones, the choir's president, says the choir is glad to be part of such an important event.

"Lots of Black folks [coming to town], you know, there's expecting about 1,000 Black people in this summit, right. So it's a big deal," said Jones.

Dylan Jones/CBC
Dylan Jones/CBC

Jones has been with the choir for about six years and has a lifelong love of music.

"I've always been singing since I was a little boy, singing is a passion so when I heard of the choir, saw what they do, I decided to join along."

The choir has collaborated with numerous musical performers such as Gary Beals, Reeny and Mahalia Smith and has even recorded a Christmas album.

They've also performed for municipal events such as Emancipation day and Martin Luther King Day, as well as putting on yearly benefit concerts to assist charitable organizations.

Dylan Jones/CBC
Dylan Jones/CBC

Carolann Wright has been singing with the choir for 10 years.

"There's a lot of variety in terms of what we sing, how we sing, and where we sing, and it's just a wonderful opportunity for camaraderie."

She says she's excited to be part of the summit and happy to see the choir get back into the public eye.

"This is a national forum and a national space so having the choir there to perform is really, really important and an honour so [we] really appreciate that."

Jones says it means a lot to the choir to be able to perform at such a prestigious event.

"We feel like the music that we do, and our mandate is regarding racial harmony and justice and peace," said Jones. "It's a good stage for us."

Jones says he hopes the group can inspire listeners.

"Some of the songs that we're singing are songs of inspiration, songs that bring life, songs that talk about love, we can't overcome the things that we're going through without love."

Lisa Macintosh
Lisa Macintosh

The choir will perform July 31 between 10:30 a.m. and noon.

Other local artists appearing at the summit include Jah'Mila, a Jamaican-born Canadian reggae musician, Zoe Tolliver, a young singer and jazz performer, and Measha Brueggergosman, a New Brunswick-born singer and stage actress.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.