Lexxicon reminds the city why spaces for multicultural artists are needed
Five women approach the stage wearing red, yellow and green cloth wrapped around their waist. The room is awash with excitement and curiosity as the audience is encouraged to move back to create space for a dance floor.
Rocking the styles of Sumba, Funana, Maroon and other traditional African and Caribbean style dances is Icon, a dance group that promotes female empowerment.
The ladies’ group takes over the floor, dancing to a mix of African and Caribbean music. The multiracial group blends various elements of their cultures and backgrounds together, evident in their dynamic performance.
In Toronto’s culture lies the underground sounds of Reggae, Dancehall, Reggeaton, Afrobeats and more. The vibrant sounds of the islands have heads turning and spirits lifted as AfroWave, a monthly live music event, makes space for a fusion of music and dances that originate from the Caribbean, Africa and Panama.
At the end of each month, Afrowave celebrates diversity by creating a space for multilingual artistry that showcases emerging talent such as Shawn D Gedion, Borelson, TeeBee and many more.
Driven by the lack of showcases that reflect urban music outside of hip hop and R&B, Lexxicon, a Ryerson University criminology alumnus, decided to create a platform for these genres and artists in Toronto.
Dolo The Gifted, an artist who has previously performed on the AfroWave stage, says that he enjoys the multicultural atmosphere. The multilingual artist, who freely expresses his artistry through movement and poetry, praised Lexxicon for making spaces for artists like him.
“If you’re not singing or rapping in English or (creating traps and other popular genres that strive from rap), there’s not really a place we can showcase this other than AfroFest. Now thankfully we have AfroWave or Afro Haux.”
Afrobeats made its mark in Canada in 2016 after Drake released One Dance with one of the first international Nigerian artists, Wiz Kid. The song topped Neilson’s year-end review for streams in 2016. However, this wasn’t the first time that African music, Reggae, Dancehall, or Reggeaton was featured on mainstream music. Within the past few years, the attraction to these genres has become increasingly more popular, particularly in Western society.
In July of 2019, almost 128,000 people attended Toronto’s AfroFest weekend, according to Peter Toh, the executive director at Music Africa. He says there is a demand in Toronto for these events.
“Just look at the number of people who come to AfroFest last year. It shows that people are willing and have an interest to come to events that showcase a wide variety of cultural elements,” he said.
Toh said the success is due to the consistency of their programming.
Since 1990, AfroFest has been an annual celebration of African music, culture and heritage. It started in downtown Toronto and has since spread to other parts of GTA.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sliding. Toh says that AfroFest has experienced numerous difficulties throughout the years, which includes having trouble getting grants and trouble finding venues.
AfroFest is not the only organization experiencing these venue difficulties. Both AfroChic, an international arts festival that started in Toronto, and Afrowave are experiencing similar challenges.
AfroWave started in September of last year, and since then it has had four showcases at three different locations downtown Toronto.
“It’s hard to co-ordinate with venues and get availability and find space,” said Lexxcon. “We haven’t found anyone that we can partner with just yet.”
AfroChic, which aims to celebrate black women, black hair, and address topics such as health, politics and technology, can also relate.
“Every year we definitely go through the challenge of trying to get access to affordable and reasonable venues in the city. It is something we recognize we have to plan for months, even years, in advance,” said the founder of AfroChic, Amoye Henry.
“(These) challenges include all sorts of microaggressions, racism, bullying, discriminatory and judgmental venue owners, being overcharged and dealing with overpriced places,” she said
Last month, Toronto Music Advisory Committee unanimously voted to start the Do-It-Yourself pilot program. The program will allow not-for-profit organizations to use a city-owned property to host live music events in efforts to make the music industry more sustainable in the city.
Although it is not certain that this may be a solution to the problem, Henry is looking forward to getting involved.
“We come here from parts of Africa, North America and different parts of the world and we have unique identities, and the generations coming after us needs to understand their roots, needs to understand their cultural background, and if we don’t present cultural (events) then they will not have any idea of their own culture and heritage and where they’ve come from,” said Toh.
“So, it’s important for (Canadians born to immigrant parents) to see what we’re doing, to experience it, so that at the end of the day if we go back home (Canadians born to immigrant parents) are not lost,” he said.