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Taste of Africa 2021 pops with colour during a grey season

Enjoy a cultural extravaganza of exotic food, music, dance, storytelling and fashion
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Helen Agbonison is the founder of Africans & African Descendants Friendship Club. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Boring black dresses are the last thing anyone will see at the second annual Taste of Africa. Instead, be prepared to sample exciting cuisine, diverse entertainment, mystical storytelling, vibrant fashion, and all things African and Caribbean. 

There are awesome African festivals growing around the world that allow participants to immerse themselves in exotic experiences. But there’s often government assistance and a big budget. 

St. Albert-based Africans & African Descendants Friendship Club, the festival’s promoters, have done an incredible job highlighting the broader region’s cultural contributions, and this year is no exception. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a crimp in every festival. However, Helen Agbonison, founder of Africans & African Descendants Friendship Club, and her team have worked to create a celebration of the richness and diversity of Africa’s culture and traditions. 

The 2021 Taste of Africa takes place Saturday, Feb. 27, and combines online performances and in-person food pickups.  

Despite the challenges and restrictions the pandemic presents, Agbonison was eager to maintain cultural continuity. 

“With the gloom, we wanted to add some excitement. Last year’s event was so well-received and this year, we’re thankful we had funding to create a safe environment,” said Agbonison. The City of St. Albert contributed a $5,000 grant. 

“It will be the same event as last year – a variety show, dance, storytelling and a drumming group, except it will be live-streamed.” 

The big difference is in food delivery. Organizers have planned a drive-through pickup for ticket holders. They are preparing pizza boxes filled with 16 samplers of African and Caribbean cuisine. 

Fulfilling Alberta Health Services safety rules, the delivery is contact-free.

As an example, there will be Koki Beans, a steamed delicacy from Cameroon cooked from black-eyed peas, hot peppers, spinach and onion as well as Ghana’s Kelewele, a popular dish made with fried plantains seasoned with spices. 

Nigeria introduces Egusi soup created from melon seeds and vegetables. It perfectly balances with Jamaican Jerk Beef, a crowd-pleasing spicy grilled meat.   

In addition, this year Agbonison has reached out to Edmonton restaurants serving different foods from various parts of the Caribbean, and most jumped at the chance to contribute.  

Food pickup location and a streaming link will be sent to ticket holders 24 hours prior to the event on Feb. 27. 

The variety show portion of the celebration salutes diverse cultural disciplines in a livestream from 4 to 6 p.m. 

Opening the ceremony is club member Owen Fregene. After Fregene warms up the audience, Masani leads a dance with three masked children. The much-appreciated Marilyn McGreer just released a compilation of Jamaican recipes and will discuss her culinary secrets. 

Tanzanian author, dramatist and storyteller Tololwa Mollel returns with an excerpt from “Lands of the Night.” The African tale tells of Samson, a baby boy who falls ill and only an appeal to the ancestors can save his life. 

Ethiopian/Caribbean poet Celine Caruso also returns and will read as yet an undisclosed new poem. The second-last item on the program is an energetic showcase of elegant and exotic tribal clothing that also holds symbolic meaning. 

Reflecting the continent’s amazing biodiversity and natural beauty, clothing is a powerful medium of identity and communication characterized by bold colours, elaborate designs and intricate patterns embedded in a variety of fibres. 

“It is a display of cultural clothing. It shows some of the same clothes people wear for different events.”  

Closing the event is thundering steel drumming display by yet-unnamed performers. 

For Agbonison, the celebration is a point of pride. 

“We’re trying to make sure the event is entertaining and keeps people connected. Even if you’re at home, we’re encouraging you to join in. Something like this adds a bit of happiness to our lives," she said.

In a broader context, she noted Taste of Africa is also a celebration for Black History Month.

"We encourage people to cultivate all cultures. When you learn about new cultures or visit them, you understand and embrace them better. This is a way of cultivating other cultures.” 

Tickets for the livestream variety show is $5. The food-tasting and livestream tickets are $10. Tickets are available through Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/taste-of-africacelebrating-black-history-in-st-a-tickets-136832257967.