The month to honor Black history is fast approaching which means that artists and art communities are all eager to give thanks and unveil their creations.

Black Artists’ Network in Dialogue (BAND) teams up with TD Canada to present the Then & Now series, which is an annual showcase that celebrates Black history and culture through theatre, concerts, exhibitions and live performances, among other platforms. The series, which is in its seventh year, will take place in other major cities across the country including Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax. With more than 300 Black History Month featured events under its belt, the Then & Now series has successfully made known the artistic and cultural contributions of Black artists in Canada.

This year, through theatre projects like The Nightmare Dream Series: Because I Love You, a visual nightmare dream experience of an African immigrant haunted by his disconnection to his traditional culture and films like Aneemah’s Spot, a story of two friends coming together to mourn the death of a friend and share their histories through dialogue, rhyme and spoken word, audiences can clearly see BAND’s vision of enlightening and educating communities about Black culture through the arts.

“It’s about educating the broader public. So, you want white people to leave their house and go take this in. You want it to not just be us going. You want to be in an audience with a mix because this country is a mix, all the major cities where the program is happening has a mix.” – Karen Carter

During BAND’s media launch at the TD Tower last week, host and CBC news anchor Dwight Drummond eases the crowd of artists and event organizers with a few jokes.

Soon after, soul vocalist Saidah Baba Talibah beautifully sings a blues cover of Bessie Smith to end off the short launch. Talibah will be involved in the Heritage panel and will be discussing the history of Black music in Canada and how the landscape of music has changed over the years.

“I don’t think a lot of people know the history of music in Toronto, especially black music. We’re in the Drake era [which is the] very current era of music. People don’t know how far our history goes back and who the people were that built up this music scene,” says Talibah

Karen Carter, who is the executive director of Heritage Toronto and co-founder of BAND, says she hopes that people will connect with history that they did not know before, especially the youth. “You want the young people to feel like they have learned something.”

A recurring theme throughout the media launch is this year’s emphasis on educating people. “It’s about educating the broader public. So, you want white people to leave their house and go take this in. You want it to not just be us going. You want to be in an audience with a mix because this country is a mix, all the major cities where the program is happening has a mix. You don’t want it to just be us because then what’s the point?” Carter says.

Words By. Faduma Mohamed + Photos By. Iris Gill