Omiala: A Festival of New Black Culture in Toronto

Toronto, Canada – Harbourfront Centre presents the first Omiala: A Festival of New Black Culture from July 23 to 25, highlighting all disciplines of creative expression from music to dance, spoken word, storytelling, film and theatre. Omiala (pronounced O-me-ah-la) is a West African word meaning covering of the oceans: healing vibrations. This new festival recognizes and illuminates Black Culture’s continuing influence on modern society through this year’s theme of Home. All events are free admission. Event highlights and complete event listings below.Festival Highlights:

Omiala presents the Toronto debut of Chicago soul folk jazz legend Terry Callier on the CIBC Stage. Known for capturing an audience with music that transcends genre, timeless melodies and signature lyrical delivery, Callier has collaborated with Beth Orton, 4hero’s Marc Mac and Koop. Seasoned Haitian vocalist Emeline Michel opens the evening concert. Florida’s finest African-American Sacred Steel artists, The Lee Boys also make their Toronto debut this weekend bringing their high-energy Gospel-based music filled with shades of R&B, Blues, Jazz and Hip-Hop to the stage. Detroit sacred steel guest guitarist Calvin Cooke joins in as a special guest. Toronto’s own Melanie Durrant, signed to Motown Records, tears up the stage injecting soul, r&b and jazz into her own signature performance style in her Harbourfront Centre debut.

Film Critic Cameron Bailey curates Home/Movie, a film series that includes a sneak preview and exclusive Canadian premiere of Spike Lee’s latest film
She Hate Me as well as a full program of film screenings from local and international Black filmmakers. The one-woman show The Mammy Project gets its Canadian theatrical debut at Harbourfront Centre after a well-received New York run. A host of spoken word artists from all points of the country converge for Home/Word, rattling out a storm of verbal influence. Bad Brains: Afro-Alternative Music Summit, curated by Dalton Higgins, takes a look at Black culture’s influence on the world of rock and roll.

Friday evening brings in the Canadian debut of New York Afro-Punk singer Tamar Kali. Heavy guitars, strong political message and raging vocals combine to rock Late Night Now presented by Blue Light in the Brigantine Room.

On Saturday, strong-voiced soulful house vocalist Sacha appears on the CIBC Stage. Well-known to the Toronto house music scene, Sacha brings originals and classics to her afternoon set.

Toronto-based Motown Records diva Melanie Durrant turns up the funk with a full band performance of R&B on the CIBC Stage.

Riding on the release of her debut album Where I’m Going, the Canadian songstress pushes her songs through layers of Minnie Ripperton-inspired soul, Aerosmith rock and the melodies of Marvin Gaye. Syreeta Neal, daughter of legendary Bluesman Kenny Neal, performs on the Toronto Star Stage.

Also on Saturday afternoon, the Brigantine Room will be the setting of Bad Brains:Afro-Alternative Music Summit. The brainchild of Dalton Higgins, the discussions center around some of the new music forms from Orchestral Pop-Noir, Romantique, Afro-Kraut and Afro-Clash to Afro-Punk and the role that Black musicians have played in the creation of these genres. Within the Sistah’s Who Rock panel discussion, Graph Nobel, Kim Bingham (David Usher), Michie Mee (Day After), Tuku (Blaxam), Syreeta Neal and others will tackle the culture and gender question. The women are joined by Alt-Afro luminaries James Spooner (Director of the acclaimed film Afro Punk which features Friday night’s Late Night Now performer Tamar Kali), Murray Lightburn (The Dears), EMI recording artist k-os, Shawn Hewitt, Adrian Miller (20th Century Rebels) and Don Cash.

The afternoon sessions will include the launch of the Canadian Chapter of the NYC-based Black Rock Coalition. In conjunction with this announcement, Kandia Crazy Horse, author of Rip It Up: the Black Experience in Rock n Roll will have her Canadian book launch. Music Critic Laina Dawes moderates.

Emeline Michel, the versatile vocalist steeped in traditional Haitian soulfulness marries social commentary with her inspired musical style and opens the CIBC Stage Saturday evening concert line-up. Chicago’s Terry Callier makes his Toronto debut performance at Harbourfront Centre. Since recording his first album in 1963, Callier has demonstrated a mastery of soul, folk, R&B and jazz, and has achieved cult status around the world, especially when the reluctant singer retreated from the music industry for a 20 year break. He resurfaced in 1997 to work with Beth Orton and, since then has added three more albums to his oeuvre.

Late Night Now presented by Blue Light brings Hip Hop artists Reign, Kamau and L’Oqenz to the mic and the decks, laying it down live with passion and style in the Brigantine Room.

The weekend finishes on Sunday afternoon with a Toronto debut concert from Florida’s finest African-American Sacred Steel artists, The Lee Boys, with special guest performance by Detroit sacred steel guitarist Calvin Cooke. The sound developed its roots in the House of God Church in Jacksonville, Florida, focuses on the soulful sounds of the electric lap-steel guitar. All six members of The Lee Boys are the fourth generation of the Sacred Steel movement which has grown to include influences of almost every genre from world music, to R&B, jazz and country.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.