August 17th 2004
Band Aid for the tear in the CanAfricans soul!
A short succinct synopsis of the show Umoja currently showing here in Toronto after its London run.
Those of you who know me are aware of my passion for music so it was probably not rocket science to realise that I would be attending the show at some stage.
Having run a successful competition in the local newsletter here in Ontario I received word back from the winners that the show was “awesome” and “excellent” and well worth attending if only to shed a quiet tear and then dance your spirits back into the stratosphere.
By the way for those of you who would like to run a competition for anything that involves having people identifying a picture it makes sense NOT to save the picture with a filename that states exactly what the answer is! Unless you intended it as so.
I must confess however that I didn't intend to have the answer so readily and easily found and was rather annoyed with myself when one of the first answers I received to the question: “what tribe is doing the Snake Dance in picture?” was a simple …. “The Venda Tribe..as in your .jpg file name!”.
Too late she cried! Ah well at least I had a good response.
So it was with some anticipation that I went off to opening night.
First of all let me say that I doubt I have heard so many kugels in one spot since I was last in Houghton!
I fully appreciate that this would have many South Africans in the audience but even I was astounded at just how many of my fellow ex pats there were!
I gave up trying to listen for Seffricans after a while and concentrated on who WASN'T a Seffrican instead. Which seemed few and far between I might add. And that included those Seffricans who feel that assimilating into the local community involves a false Canadian accent. Ja is Ja no matter how much of a twang you give it!
It was like a gathering of the masses I hadn't experienced anywhere before here in Canada. All races colours and creeds and thousands of them as well. Well hundreds at least.
Enough to give rousing applause at each and every appropriate moment. Mind you I suspect that in the boxes and front seats that was more akin to Lennon's “jewellery rattling” than any great ululation.
I must however make a note that in true “African Time” the show started later than usual. Such is the power of tradition I suppose.
The story of Umoja is fairly simple.
As the advertising puts it: Umoja is “the spirit of togetherness”.
It involves the life of a Zulu from youth to old age and how music has been involved all along the travels he has undertaken. The people and places that have shaped his memories and the way it has helped to keep the people together and provide a focus to their existence.
It is in effect the music that all South Africans have listened to, consciously or subconsciously, for all their life.
It is musical recognition of our past and hope for our future.
It is stirring and quite emotional and I am sure that everyone with even a drop of African blood will be roused by the show.
So on to a few other observations.
I am not sure whether the narrators close resemblance of Madiba is intentional but it certainly drew recognition from the audience and judging by the accent and later rendition of the famous Mandela Shuffle I strongly suspect that it was.
As a drummer I know that I am going to be caught up in the rhythm and beat and the traditional drummers were, to put it mildly, awesome! In fact throughout the show I can't remember one missed beat in the slightest. It was a steady beat that provided the pulse of the show and kept the whole together. To watch the drummers pounding the skins and sides of the drums was enough to make the sedentary break out in a sweat at the energy. And this lasted for a good few hours.
Actually, for excessive energy, the spot where two members of the cast play the Marimba is something to watch. And magic to listen to!
I wondered why the Venda Snake Dance was so named, as watching the performance left me with the belief that they looked more like a Shongololo than a python (which is the other name for the dance) The lighting is superb on this one and the way the maidens move in unison with arms and legs as one is impressive to see in the half light that is used.
I will though, forever feel that I saw a shongololo that night.
Oddly enough I thought that the most recognised song of the night was “Tula Baba”. There appeared to be a sort of shiver that ran through the audience when it began. Almost as if everyone there had a memory of that song being sung to them and, possibly, singing it to someone else.
With all the potential for political rant the program was remarkably free from any recriminations and what there was, was relevant and quite muted.
The essence of the show was music and how it uplifts people and it certainly did that to me!
I will leave you with the most pertinent observation of the evening. One that comes from the notes in the program:
“The drums of Africa, they speak to your blood, your heart and your soul”
They spoke to mine.
And my blood, soul and heart answered.
August 4th 2004
Another public holiday on Monday.
Canadians seem to have been quite thoughtful in providing the odd day off over the summer months.
Almost as if they have bad winters here or something? Mind you, considering the winters, I am surprised that there are fewer holidays in the winter months than during summer.
Much as I applaud the need to frolic in the sun tra la, the need to have a bit of time off to regroup during the long dark days of winter is probably more important than lying in the sun, with a cold beer in one hand and a boerie roll in the other.
OK. That was a stupid comment.
Anyway this Monday we have a civic holiday. While it is acknowledged across Ontario as a holiday it is in fact a Municipal Holiday and isn't designated by Provincial legislation as a statutory holiday. No doubt why all the retail stores stay open and all the Government departments close!
So officially it is known as the August Civic Holiday and is always the first Monday of the month.
I am not quite sure whether it is unofficially known as Simcoe day or not throughout the Province but I do know that it is designated Simcoe Day in Toronto. There has also been a concerted effort to get the whole Province to recognize the Holiday as Simcoe Day but unfortunately as a Municipal Holiday that would mean having to go against the wishes of a few local Municipalities. Including Ottawa incidentally who quite recently have seen fit to make this holiday into Colonel By Day. And I do mean recently. This was passed only in 1996. Which, considering that Lieutenant Colonel John By was the person who designed the Rideau Canal and had the town of Bytown named after him seems rather a long time to take notice of his actions.
Bytown by the way being the original name of Ottawa!!
There is a joke in there somewhere but I will keep it until the memories of the last election have softened.
Of course since Toronto first mooted the idea of a public holiday way back in 1869 the fact that it took Ottawa a further hundred years to make a decision as well is merely indicative of the way the Canadian Beaurocracy works. Mind you Toronto did designate it as a “day of recreation” which may explain Ottawa's hesitation in acting on anything that smacks of pleasure!
Oddly enough in 1871 when a Bank Holiday was established in Britain Sir John Lubbock stated “Toronto in Canada had found an august holiday advisable and satisfactory”
Which then led to Toronto in 1875 setting the first Monday in August as a civic holiday.
Talk about going around in self-congratulatory circles.
This seemed to keep everyone happy for the next century or so. Until 1968 when the Toronto City Council officially called the Holiday “Simcoe Day”
Which led to a spate of local municipalities naming local dignitaries to the honour.
In 1980 Burlington called it Joseph Brant Day. Brant was a Mohawk Chief who was involved in treaty negotiations with the British. He was also known for his loyalty to Britain as well mind you. For those of you who live in the Burlington /Hamilton region this may clear up the belief that this day is named after a hospital!
In 1982 Brantford acted in true Canadian fashion and voted to name the holiday “Founders Day”. Then they named a “Heritage Committee” and every year the “Heritage Committee” submits a report to the city council with a name or an organization that will be recognised on the day.
Not to be outdone in 1983 Oshawa decided to recognize the holiday as McLaughlin Day. Yet another Colonel oddly enough but this ones claim to fame was that he had bought General Motors to Oshawa and thereby provided massive employment for the locals. Still does actually.
You will notice that most of these sudden decisions to name the holiday after someone only appear to have sprung to life lately. 1998 Sarnia named it after Alexander MacKenzie the second Canadian Prime Minister and the year after that Cobourg proclaimed the day as “James Cockburn Day. Cockburn being the Father of Confederation and the local representative in the Canadian Legislative assembly way back in the 1860's.
It is worth noting that neither of them was a Colonel. As far as I can see anyway.
Anyway there have been some strong attempts to get the provincial authorities to make it Simcoe Day across the province.
So who was John Graves Simcoe?
Lord Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada being appointed to that position on September 12th 1791.
Mind you he did only arrive in Kingston in 1792. Which may explain why the first Government of Upper Canada only met on September 1792. An attitude that apparently lasts to this day!
More importantly he established the town of York later making it the capital of the Province.
The town of York, which later became Toronto.
What I found quite interesting was that Simcoe was responsible for the construction of Yonge Street, Kingston Road and Dundas Street. Yonge Street for those of you that don't know is reputedly the longest street in the world. Not that either of the others is short by any stretch of the imagination.
Simcoe resigned as Lieutenant Governor in 1798 after returning to Britain. Given the short period in office he seems to have achieved quite a lot. There is a report that he was responsible for the abolition of Slavery as well. Actually it did state “the limitation and eventual abolition of slavery by 1810” so I am presuming that he merely set the wheels in motion.
Bu the most fascinating information I came across was the snippet that reported that while fighting in the American Revolution Simcoe very nearly changed the course of North American history.
During the battle of Brandywine when the Americans were fleeing Simcoe gave an order to his men not to shoot the Americans in the back. One of those fleeing Americans was George Washington, who, we all know, later became the first President of the Untied States.
So he now gets a Holiday, a Lake and a County named after him. And every year at this time copious quantities of beer are drunk all over Ontario and most of the people have no idea who they are drinking too. Or why!
That includes the other Provinces who also have a holiday thanks to Toronto's original decision. Which may explain why Quebec and Newfoundland don't have a holiday but seems puzzling as to why the Yukon doesn't.
Ah well. I will be out on Lake Ontario manning a Rescue Boat for the Coast guard. Which is one of the better ways to enjoy a day off from the retail drudgery that even Colonel Simcoe probably didn't imagine when he decide to start on Dundas Street.
The same Dundas Street that my Big Box Wally Market is situated along.
Way out in Burlington.