Two decades ago, African music was difficult to find in St. Albert. Slowly it filtered into the St. Albert Farmers’ Market when Caribbean steel pan drummers introduced their art.
A few years ago, the Africans & African Descendant Friendship Club of St. Albert decided to bring it front and centre with An Evening in the Park, an artistic showcase of music, dance, and food.
Last produced in 2019, the outdoor event is set to return Sunday, Aug. 28, at Lions Park.
“It’s a way to embrace other people’s culture in a fun way,” said organizer Helen Agbonison.
The one-day festival is relatively new, but already there is an appreciation for African music and culture. Each African nation has its own music and culture, and a variety of these styles will be displayed throughout the evening.
One of the more popular guest artists is Sangea (pronounced San-gay), an Edmonton-based drumming and dance group. It borrows inspiration from West Africa, showcasing energetic and lively rhythms and moves.
“Sangea plays music, dances, and offers traditional storytelling. They tell a story within the dances,” Agbonison said.
Another special guest is Ivan Touko, a cultural dance ambassador. Since arriving from his homeland in Cameroon at age 16, he has formed an Afro-Fusion dance group that supports Afro-Caribbean and Latin artists.
“He hosts Afro Groove With Ivan, a podcast that builds safe spaces where people feel empowered to connect with their mind and body,” said Agbonison.
One of the region’s few mbira players, musician Ronaldo Nyandoro, plays upbeat variations on Zimbabwe’s national instrument. The mbira is similar to a hand-held piano with hammered metal planks attached to a resonating wooden box or frame.
“There will be a young girl, Lesedi Mokoena, singing with him,” added Agbonison.
Cosmic General, lead singer of the Red Lion Pride Music Family, will introduce songs based on memories of his heritage. Using slow Caribbean beats and rolling rhythms, he will draw the listener into his world of both loneliness and joy.
“It’s happy reggae music. When I think of reggae music, I think of Bob Marley who sang about peace, love, and unity and people coming together,” Agbonison said.
Danielle George, a musical force driving Trincan Steel Orchestra, will also make a solo appearance with her heavy steel pans.
“When we started our first 2019 Taste of Africa, I met her then. Danielle is such a good steel pan drummer and is so passionate about playing. She also teaches the steel pan drums and is very generous in donating her time.”
When there’s a lag between performances, Big J the deejay will crank out popular electronic numbers.
The evening’s food choices are a surprise potluck. Although music and dance are provided free of charge, visitors are encouraged to bring and share food with others.
About 150 people attended the event in 2019, including children.
Organizers hope to increase the numbers this year.
An Evening in the Park kicks off at 4 p.m. on Aug. 28 with the club’s annual general meeting. Starting at 5 p.m., music, dancing, and feasting will commence.