After much fanfare and anticipation, the Luminato arts festival kicks off later this week. It will run from June 11th to 20th at various locations in Toronto’s downtown core. During the last three years, Luminato has attracted 5.5 million festival-goers. This year, Luminato will present over 150 events over ten days. Among those selections, the festival has some truly amazing features through its African programming that are must-attends.
As Devyani Saltzman, curator of literary programming at Luminato and accomplished author herself, told AfroToronto.com, the festival is excited to feature some of the top new voices in African literature this year. Luminato is particularly proud to showcase Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri. On Monday, June 14th at the Al Green Theatre, the festival will present an evening with the remarkable winner of the prestigious 1991 Man Booker Prize for The Famished Road. Ben Okri will discuss his newest work, Tales of Freedom.
The African literary program also features Kenyan author and scholar Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who wrote Decolonizing the Mind and Petals of Blood , for the Canadian launch of his new memoir Dreams in a Time of War. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o passionately advocates for African authors writing in their native languages. The event, which takes place on June 12th at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St. W.), will be hosted by well-known local African-Canadian author Dionne Brand and will also feature emerging writers Brian Chikwava (a young Zimbabwean author from London who wrote Harare North) and Carole Enahoro (a Nigerian-Canadian novelist and author of Doing Dangerously Well).
The literary program explores how we write about Africa and tackles preconceptions about the continent. The events also take an inquisitive look at cross-generational writing and asks: What is Africa’s continuing literary legacy shaping out to be since the first publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart?
Exploring Africa and the West on stage
The pièce de résistance of the theatre program is The Africa Trilogy. Inspired by the 2005 Massey Lectures (specifically Race Against Time) by Stephen Lewis, The Africa Trilogy seeks explores the often complex relationship between Africa and the West with three playwrights and three directors from three continents, offering three different points of view. Produced by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre and commissioned especially for Luminato, the trilogy features three one-hour-long world premieres.
The directors Josette Bushell-Mingo (from the UK), Ross Manson (artistic director of Volcano Theatre) and Liesl Tommy (from South Africa), join forces with the playwrights Christina Anderson (from the US), Roland Schimmelpfennig (from Germany), and Binyavanga Wainaina (from Kenya) to examine this interesting concept.
AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak to The Africa Trilogy’s dramaturge, Toronto’s own Weyni Mengesha. She told us that the energy from all these voices rehearsing at the same time was not only a logistical challenge but most importantly represented a potent incubator of ideas and perspectives. As the Volcano Theatre company’s artistic director, Ross Manson says: “Here is a subject matter that is vast, inviting and invisible on the stages of our theatres.” He goes on to say that this international collaboration taken on by a small but respected company gives it the particularity that “it’s a young, fresh, an experimental take”. Echoing this sentiment, Mengesha told AfroToronto that she was excited by the concept of delving into a theatrical analysis of the relationship between Africa and the West. Too often, she says, Africa is seen as a single monolithic entity. But Africa is a continent comprising of 54 countries with many stories to tell. We are only scratching the surface.
As the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie rightly pointed out in her inspiration 2009 TED talk: “What’s dangerous is the single story, and the West has a single story about Africa.” Also pointing out this fact several years ago in an exclusive interview with AfroToronto.com back in 2006, Adichie said she was first stunned at how warped the image that the West had of Africa was when she first went to study in the United-States.
Hence the need to tackle many of these sometimes even well-meaning misconceptions.
In one of The African Trilogy’s plays, Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, Roland Schimmelpfennig follows two couples, one of which has recently come back from working as missionaries for six years in Africa. Interesting comparisons are made between the two couples to show how their decisions have affected their lives.
In Shine Your Eye, Kenyan journalist turned playwright based in New York Binyavanga Wainaina takes a look at African Internet scams. Set in a chaotic office environment in Lagos, Nigeria, the play examines the internal struggles of a young computer hacker as she comes to terms with her choices of living as an African or as a Westerner.
The third play, Glo, by African-American playwright Christina Anderson looks into the notions of globalization, diversity and identity through the eyes of an African writer invited to New York to be a keynote speaker at a diversity conference.
All three plays make notable forays into analyzing what Paul Gilroy called “the Black Atlantic”. In Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, he argues that modern black identity is very much a product of these balancing cultural poles between the West and Africa.
The trilogy is in previews from Thursday, June 10 - Sunday, June 13; Tuesday, June 15 (opening night) - Sunday, June 20 at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queen’s Quay W.). Tickets: $30 – 45
Sights and sounds of Africa at Luminato
In addition to the literary and theatrical programming, Luminato presents two free concerts in the park: Global Music: Rock the Casbah & An African Prom featuring Béla Fleck (USA), Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), Tony Allen (Nigeria) and Rachid Taha (Algeria) and the National Bank Festival: World Divas and Global Blues featuring Afro-beat singer Razia Said, Toronto’s own Katenen “Cheka” Dioubaté and international star Salif Keita from Mali. The first outdoor concert (Global Music) will take place in Queen’s Park on June 12th (1:00pm to 11:00pm) and is a free event. The second outdoor concert (World divas) will also take place at Queen’s Park on June 19th (1:00pm to 11:00pm) and is also a free event.
An exiting exhibit of contemporary African photography is currently ongoing until August 2nd on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.). The free exhibition, entitled Bamako in Toronto, coinciding with Volcano Theatre’s The Africa Trilogy, is a collection of photographs from a rising generation of photographers from across the African continent.
Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will also present a documentary film on Saturday, June 12th, at the NFB Mediatheque (150 John St) entitled Sembène: The Making of African Cinema. The 60-minute film richly documents the legendary late Senegalese filmmaker Sembène Ousmane. This is a free screening.