Torontonians find joy and community in celebrating their diverse roots, sharing creative ideas and exploring contemporary concerns around race and culture. In anticipation of Black History Month, four plugged-in locals tell us where to go in Toronto to discover how Black Canadians are making their mark on the cultural scene.
Eden Swagos on Food and Drink
“There are so many restaurants I love in Toronto. Enat Buna does fusion twists on Ethiopian food, like injera or tortilla wraps with meat or vegetarian fillings spiced with Ethiopian red spices. I love their coffee ceremony, which involves rich coffee and popcorn. I go to Simones Caribbean Restaurant for Jamaican desserts like coconut gizzarda, ginger drops and black cake. And I order rum slushies and Haitian-style macaroni cheese, at Rhum Corner, a bar that artist Roland Jean co-owns with his restaurateur wife Jen Agg.
Events-wise, I recommend Injera and Chill—a day party with a DJ and African-inspired food. Sunday Lunch, organized by Restoration Farms, serves family-style farm-to-table Caribbean dishes and drinks, and they invite speakers to talk about things like diversity in the Ontario beer industry.
A tour that puts Toronto’s African and Caribbean food offerings into a global context is Chopsticks and Forks. You visit Kensington Market and sample everything from Korean noodles and Mexican street food to Trini doubles and Jamaican patties.”
Naila Keleta-Mae on Theatre and Film
“Toronto has a thriving Black Theatre scene. Obsidian Theatre produces great work that looks at Black lives in different ways. Look out for School Girls, or The African Mean Girls Play, by Jocelyn Bioh, this March. It’s a Freedom Thing (IFT) does experimental theatre, and one of their co-founders, Mumbi Tindyebwa, also sometimes directs at Soulpepper—a theatre that at times programs African-American plays. Also, Buddies in Bad Times is a foundational LGBTQ performance venue, where you can go see talented Black queer performance artists.
The Toronto International Film Festival’s Black Star series showcases Black excellence onscreen—I saw one of Ava du Vernay’s first films at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The Regent Park Film Festival is a free summer community festival with outdoors screenings, and it features culturally diverse film makers. And the Toronto Black Film Festival programs movies by black filmmakers and offers food cooked by local chefs of African and Caribbean heritage.”
Aaron Aquino-Annobil on Dance
“Dance is such a universal language, and it’s welcoming to all. I teach at The Underground Dance Centre, where they have drop-in classes in styles like Hip Hop, Dance Hall, Breakdancing, Urban, Popping and Locking. (They also do a Beyoncé beginner class and everything from contemporary to K-Pop.) I love Esie Mensah’s Afro class: She focuses on traditional African moves and makes it modern bringing in Soca, Hip Hop, House and Contemporary.
“I teach at Millennium Dance Complex too, where they run Master Classes with visiting choreographers. And I enjoy going to a class called ‘Always Good Vibes’ at Dance Teq. The instructor, Snapp, teaches both the technique and history of Dance Hall. If you just want to go to a club and dance, I love Apartment 200. The music runs from classic early 2000s Hip Hop through 1990s Reggae to modern Dance Hall.”
Nana Aba Duncan on Festivals
“Afrofest is an annual celebration of all things African. There’s dancing, food, a drumming circle, a kids section, and a stage where big-names artists from Africa perform. My friends in Toronto’s Ghanaian community gather at Afrofest every year, and we catch up with big hugs and kisses. My kids are mixed race, and it’s one of the ways I give them an understanding of their African heritage. There are dance parties at night too, with people of different cultural backgrounds dancing to Afrobeats. Everybody loves Afrofest—it’s a gathering of joy.
“Caribana has long been a big part of my life. There’s so much colour and excitement—there’s electricity . I actually ‘played mas’ a few times, which means you put on a costume for a band and parade with them, then party together at the end. You get up so early in the morning, and you do your best to look cute, but it’s not a time to wear heels: You wear runners to dance all day. Caribana has a kiddie carnival too and on the Sunday there are family activities, music and Caribbean food, at Chutney in de Park.“
And don’t miss these cultural events in 2019…
Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, an exhibition of bold portraits of Black women, by Mickalene Thomas, including singer Diana Ross and actress Diahann Carroll, at the Art Gallery of Ontario (until March 24)
African Fashion Week Toronto, a celebration of fashion, style and diversity, at the Globe and Mail Centre. (August – September)
b current performing arts is hosting Black Future Month workshops, discussions and performances throughout February, on everything from Afrofuturism Lego sculpting to writing healing haikus.