Montréal celebrates Black History Month 2020
February 2020 marks the 29th anniversary of Black History Month in Montréal, and this year’s edition features a full slate of film screenings, art exhibitions, theatre, concerts and other special events. This year’s theme is “Here and Now” (Ici et Maintenant).
Here are some choice events during and beyond BHM 2020:
Honouring Black artists and trailblazers
There are two big awards galas in Montréal during BHM.
Canada’s oldest Black theatre company, Montréal’s Black Theatre Workshop, presents its 34th annual Vision Celebration Gala on February 1 at the downtown OMNI Hotel, honouring outstanding Black artists who have contributed to the development of the performing arts in Canada. This year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award recipient is bestselling author H. Nigel Thomas. Musical guest is the live jazz project Kalmunity. All proceeds from the gala go toward BTW’s 49th season.
In addition to the BTW gala, Québec’s Black community will be celebrated at the fourth annual Gala Dynastie at Théatre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts on March 1. Awards will be given in 20 categories, including in arts and entertainment.
The music of Mali
Nuits d’Afrique presents Emde (a.k.a. Mamoutou Dembélé) of Mali performing his Mandingo blues at Club Balattou on February 6, Grammy-nominated Malian superstar Fatoumata Diawara headlines Le National on February 23, and internationally-hailed singer Djely Tapa – descendant of a line of famous Malian griots – will raise the roof at Cabaret Lion d’Or on February 28.
Roots, rock, reggae!
JAMBANA’s annual Tribute to the Legends of Reggae tour headlines Le Belmont on February 9 with Judy Mowatt, a member of ‘I Three’ (the iconic backing vocalists for Bob Marley and The Wailers) and first female nominated for a Grammy reggae award. The international lineup also includes Jamaican toaster Professor Nuts, speed rapper General Trees, five-piece reggae-dancehall masters Warrior Love Band, JUNO Award-winning Exco Levi & High Priest and Toronto reggae-jazz fusionist Kaisha, with CKUT legend Pat-Dillon-Moore hosting.
Rhythm & blues
Montréal soul men Freddie James (February 1 and 29) and Danny Blanco (February 14 and 15), as well as La Voix quarter-finalist Shaharah (February 22) all perform at Le Balcon; over at the Cabaret Lion d'Or, Montréal’s Blues Guitar All-Stars pay tribute (February 18) to the legendary artists who headlined impresario Doudou Boicel’s legendary Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz and Blues Club; internationally-acclaimed Montréal blues queen Dawn Tyler Watson headlines Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill on February 19 and March 6; and Juno Award-winning diva Kim Richardson headlines her “Jam Vocal Jazz” nights at Diese Onze on February 2 and 9.
Black History Month school tours
Canada’s oldest Black theatre company, Montréal’s Black Theatre Workshop, presents Simone, Half and Half by playwright Christine Rodriguez. The play tells the story of a teen caught between cultures: Canadian, Québécois and Trinidadian. Simone is also torn between projects: the talent show and the Black History and Culture Committee. Will Simone’s friends accept her for who she really is? In addition to touring schools, Simone, Half and Half will be performed for the general public at the Black Community Resource Centre on February 22.
Also touring Montréal schools in February is the Overture with the Arts production Tracking Black Canada, which retells the histories of early Black communities across Canada using OWTA’s trademark “edu-tainment” style combining video, music, Slam Poetry, Hip Hop, stand-up comedy and audience participation / interaction.
The February 8 Caribbean Lunch hosted by CBC Montréal’s Catherine Verdon-Diamond includes an authentic Caribbean meal, a sneak peek of OWTA’s Tracking Black Canada show, plus guest of honour Zanana Akande – the first Black woman to be elected to Ontario's Legislative Assembly – will share her story with guests.
This year’s edition of the popular A Taste of Tea - Caribbean Tea Party will honour six Black female Montréal doctors with their Woman of Merit Award. The dress-up affair at the Côte Saint-Luc Aquatic and Community Centre on March 8 will feature scrumptious Caribbean teas and eats, as well as live performances by soul music legends Skipper Dean and Michelle Sweeney.
Desmond Cole book launch
Award-winning Canadian journalist, radio host and activist Desmond Cole discusses his provocative new book The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power at La Petite Drawn & Quarterly bookstore on February 12. In his book, Cole chronicles one year – 2017 – in the struggle against racism in Canada.
Reclaiming Montréal’s Anglo-Black history
Concordia University’s Webster Library presents the Living History: 100 Years of Black History, Culture and Heritage exhibition. Curated by the Black Community Resource Centre, this exhibition highlights many of the cultural, artistic and social contributions of Montréal’s English-speaking Black community via 15 memoryscapes of locations, events, organizations and people of significance to the Anglo-Black population. The exhibition runs at the Webster Library until February 29. Free admission.
Musical voyage celebrating Black women
The Edinburgh Fringe hit Century Song is a musical voyage celebrating the strength and resilience of Black women in the 20th century, starring Dora Award-winning Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth, at the Centaur Theatre from February 12 to 16.
CKUT Radio show Mind, Soul & Spirit’s February 8 gospel music concert at the Evangel Church (near Atwater Avenue) will feature local gospel favourites Audrey DuBois Harris, Jean Jean and The Fitz-Patrick Sisters, as well as NYC gospel choir Vincent Bohanan & The Sound Of Victory.
Photographer Schaël Marcéus
Photographer Schaël Marcéus’s Cream Filled Chocolate Candies photo series about growing up in Montréal as second-generation immigrants of the African and Caribbean diaspora continues at the avant-garde Never Apart arts centre until April 4.
Black women in the arts
Elles: leurs histoires photo exhibition showcases 20 Black female actors, directors, producers, screenwriters and authors who will also be present and participate in discussion panels about their experiences, hardships and successes at the Phi Centre on February 14 and 15.
Black drag performers star in the much-anticipated Afro Drag: Ancestors Past, Present & Future multi-media stage show at the Phi Centre on February 21.
Black LGBTQ film festival
Filmgoers enjoy the 12th annual edition of the LGBTQ Massimadi Montréal, which runs from February 20 to 29. This year’s theme is “AfroFuturisk.”
Tribute to Alan Prater
An all-star who's who of Montréal musicians, singers and DJs will pay tribute to Montreal soul icon and The Brooks frontman Alan Prater — who wowed Montréal at their 2018 Black History Month tribute concert to Prince — at Pandore on February 15. All proceeds will benefit Prater who has been diagnosed with cancer. Prater will be in attendance.
Fade to Black
The 9th annual Fade to Black Festival (Fondu au Noir) focuses on the place of Black communities in the arts, entrepreneurship and the professional world, with a program featuring cinema, comedy and panel discussions, February 21 to 23 at various venues.
Check out the complete schedule for Black History Month at www.moishistoiredesnoirs.com.
Richard Burnett, blogger
Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.