Arts·FreeUp!

FreeUp!: Join Black artists across Canada to celebrate Emancipation Day 2021

Watch a CBC Arts special on Canada’s first officially recognized Emancipation Day.

Watch a CBC Arts special on Canada’s first officially recognized Emancipation Day

Earlier this year, the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate Aug.1 as Emancipation Day across Canada — a day to celebrate, educate, and reflect on what freedom means. The date commemorates the anniversary of when Britain's Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1834.

From Toronto's Little Jamaica to Africville, Nova Scotia and the fields of Saskatoon, FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021 will stream on Sunday, August 1st at 1pm ET on CBC Gem and YouTube. Canadians are invited to join in on the coast-to-coast festivity filled with music and performances from artists expressing how they celebrate this day and the journey it took to get there.

Hosted by award-winning stage actor, writer, director and producer Ngozi Paul, FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021 is a performance-driven and youth-led celebration of spoken word, dance, theatre and music. 

This year's lineup includes some of Canada's most exciting and innovative performers including Haviah Mighty, Silla & Rise, Aquakultre, Anyika Mark & Nathan Baya, Peace Akintade, and d'bi.young anitafrika, who will also be presented with this year's Rosemary Sadlier Freedom Fighter Award.

Learn more about some of the performers:

Ngozi Paul (host)

(Ngozi Paul, photo by Marc Lostracco)

Ngozi Paul is an award-winning stage and screen actress, writer, director, and producer. Born and raised in Toronto to pan-African parents from the Caribbean islands, her upbringing created the foundation for her work as a social and cultural innovator. With academic roots in the prestigious Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, Ngozi began her acting career on stage at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Following the groundbreaking and successful run of the theatre production 'da Kink in My Hair, Ngozi co-created, executive produced, and starred in the television series of the same name. Most recently, she wrote and starred in the play The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely, which was nominated for six Dora Awards and won Outstanding New Play, and appeared in the Netflix miniseries Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. (Read Ngozi Paul's full bio here.)

Aquakultre

(Aquakultre)

Aquakultre, a.k.a. Lance Sampson, is an Canadian soul and R&B musician from Halifax. Sampson's journey is an interesting one. His ancestors are from Africville and he grew up in a public housing residential neighborhood in north central Halifax. In 2015 at the age of 19, he was convicted and sentenced to five years for drug trafficking but served only 19 months due to good behaviour. While there, he learned how to play the guitar with the help of fellow inmates, and wrote the song "Sure," which led to his victory in the 2018 CBC Music Searchlight competition.

Bukola

(Bukola, photo by Rachel Pick)

Recently hailed by CBC as one of the top 10 soulful female artists in the 2020 CBC Searchlight competition, Bukola is a 19-year-old musician who blends the sounds of contemporary R&B and jazz music to create her own sound. She's been pursuing her dreams of becoming a professional musician since she was 9 years old and has only been building momentum ever since. The grand prize winner of the Nimbus School of Recording Arts x Juno Host Committee provincial Battle of the Bands competition, Bukola has since performed at the JUNO pre-show Let's Hear it! Live, was interviewed by CBC and Metro Vancouver, and has become a very much sought-after young artist by music professionals and fans alike. Metro News describes her as "the confident, upbeat, young woman [who] plays guitar and sings with a simultaneous mastery and innocence." Bukola has recently been working with Grammy Award-winning producer Chin Injeti and Juno award-winning producer Ben Kaplan on her debut EP, which is set for release in early 2021. (Read Bukola's full bio here.)

Peace Akintade

(Peace Akintade)

Peace Akintade is an African-Canadian poet, public speaker, thespian and Saskatchewan's Youth Poet Laureate for 2020-21, residing in Saskatoon. She is a board member of the Tonight It's Poetry community and the co-ordinator of Write Out Loud, a Saskatoon-based youth poetry community. She was Saskatoon's Youth Slam Champion in 2017-19. Her poems touch on growing up in Kuwait, Nigeria and Canada, the impact of slavery in the village in which she lived in Africa, colourism, and relearning her culture in the face of colonization.

Tawiah M'Carthy

(Tawiah M'Carthy)

Tawiah M'Carthy is a Toronto-based theatre artist, notable as a Dora Mavor Moore nominated actor and playwright. He is the creator/playwright/performer of the critically acclaimed, 2013 multi-Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning play Obaaberima, developed and produced in residency at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. As a creator/performer, Tawiah uses both African and Western theatre traditions, combining dance, movement, music, storytelling and poetry together with theatrical structure and design. His professional creator credits include Ato inBody 13 (MT Space) and Nana in The Kente Cloth (SummerWorks Festival 2008). (Read Tawiah M'Carthy's full bio here.)

Silla & Rise

(Silla & Rise)

Silla & Rise are a musical group consisting of members from the Inuit throat singing group Silla performing alongside global-grooves producer/percussionist Rise Ashen. Silla's members Charlotte Qamaniq, Cynthia Pitsiulak, and Charlotte Carleton, who all hail from Nunavut, have worked to place traditional throat singing into a modern context and keep it thriving in spite of the historical and modern threats posed by colonialism. Rise's musical vision was forged at the crossroads of underground dance music and world music: he brings together a broad spectrum of musical ideas from different cultures, the common thread of these genres being a driving beat to match the rhythmic nature of katajjaq. (Read Silla & Rise's full bio here.)

Luke Reece

(Luke Reece)

Luke is one of Toronto's most decorated slam poets. He became the Toronto Poetry Slam (TPS) Grand Champion in 2017, winning the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word as the captain of the TPS team and then again in 2018 as the team coach. In 2018 he placed 2nd in Canada individually, which earned him a spot representing the country at the 2019 World Cup of Poetry Slam in Paris France where he placed 4th. He continues to give back to the Toronto spoken word scene as a board member for the Toronto Poetry Project. Most recently Luke has been featured performing for Toronto Raptor and NBA Champion Serge Ibaka on his Instagram Talent Show. (Read Luke Reece's full bio here.)

Shah Frank

(Shah Frank)

Shah Frank is growing new life into the Montreal music scene. The R&B singer-songwriter's voice see-saws between raw tones and fluttering falsettos. With a creative boldness reminiscent of Aaliyah and the spunk of a young TLC, SHAH FRANK is more than music — she's a new frequency. After completing her studies in law, FRANK chose to focus on music. Since then, she's shared the stage with internationally established artists like French rapper Niska, Jamaican dancehall singer Demarco and Quebec's hip hop heavyweight Imposs. Her debut EP Stellaria Story, self-produced by the young artist, is available on all platforms. (Read Shah Frank's full bio here.)

Randell Adjei

(Randell Adjei, photo by Anthony Gebrehiwot)

Randell Adjei is an author, inspirational speaker, arts educator and community leader who uses the spoken word to empower and transform through Edutainment. He is the founder of one of Toronto's largest and longest-running youth-led initiatives, Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (R.I.S.E Edutainment). The beat of his art was found after years of being lost. He found himself by turning his struggles around to inspire others. His story is one of an alchemist who truly transformed his life from rock to gold, inspiring everyone he comes into contact to strive to unearth the pure potential within them. (Read Randell Adjei's full bio here.)

Wayne Tennant

(Wayne Tennant)

Montreal-based singer/songwriter and producer Wayne Tennant has spent the last few years building his catalogue of songs which are fused in soul/R&B, pop and electronica. In 2015, he debuted on the local scene with his debut self-produced album Life in a Minor Key, which spawned the buzzworthy song "Crash." Following the release, he was nominated for Anglophone Artist of the Year in 2017 at the first Gala Dynasty Awards. He's since released several one-off singles and he will be readying himself to release an inspirational single called "Fireflies."

Michie Mee

(Michie Mee)

Michie Mee is known within the music industry for her unique rap style of combining reggae and dancehall with hip hop. Many successful artists have followed in Michie's footsteps using this gifted technique. With over two decades in the entertainment industry, the Juno-nominated rapper and actress is not only an inspiration for female musicians, but also all artists nationwide.

Haviah Mighty

(Haviah Mighty)

Haviah Mighty didn't need to change her birth name when she decided to dedicate her career to music. Mighty could not better describe Haviah's craft of provocative challenges and uncompromising truths. Based out of Toronto, Haviah has spent a lifetime developing her skills as a songwriter, vocalist, producer, and performer culminating in a style of profound introspection and incisive socio-political critique. Her dynamic combinations of rap, song, and instrumental transition seamlessly from hip hop to soul to afrobeats with a meticulous flow and cadence that transcends any traditional expectation of genre. (Read Haviah Mighty's full bio here.)

Hollywood Jade

(Hollywood Jade)

Hollywood Jade is a dancer-turned-choreographer who has transitioned into producing live shows and now directing theatre productions and videos. He has been working in the entertainment industry for 10 years and has been featured on the large and small screen in a variety of roles including dancer, actor, TV personality/host and judge. His dancing has been featured in films like Save The Last Dance 2 & Hairspray and music videos for artists like Jully Black, Hillary Duff, and Kelis, while artists like Snoop Dogg, The Dream, Divine Brown and the band Protest The Hero have all requested his skills as a diverse choreographer.

Anyika Mark

(Anyika Mark)

Anyika recently completed Nightwood Theatre's Write From the Hip emerging playwrights program and is in her 5th year at the University of Toronto St. George, studying Political Science and Caribbean Studies. Being a creator has always been a large part of Anyika's lifek from writing to acting and then behind-the-scene work. She primarily acts and works for student productions, which then led to the desire to pursue the makings of her own show.

Aria Evans

(Aria Evans)

Aria Evans is a queer, Toronto-based, award-winning interdisciplinary artist whose practice spans dance, creation, performance and film. Aria draws on their experiences with Afro-Indigenous and settler heritage as well as their BFA (2012) to capture meaningful social and cultural themes through their interactive art. With a large-scale vision, collaboration is the departure point to the work that Aria creates under their company POLITICAL MOVEMENT. Advocating for inclusion and the representation of diversity, Aria uses their artistic practice to question the ways we can coexist together.

RVZON

(Rvzon)

Rvzon is an emerging rapper, singer and songwriter from Toronto. Born into a music-oriented household to a mother who is a DJ/sound designer, he was exposed to multitude of musical genres at a young age, which distinctly influenced his hip hop/R&B sound. Rvzon's energy on-stage is much like his personality off-stage: he brings a warm, inclusive and youthful vibe to the audience.

d'bi.young anitafrika

(d’bi.young anitafrika , photo by Wade Hudson)

d'bi.young anitafrika is an African-Jamaican-Tkarontonian, London-based dub poet, theatre interventionist and decolonial scholar committed to embodying art that ritualizes acts of transformation from violence inflicted upon the people and the planet. Shx is a multi-award-winning Canadian Poet of Honour, author of twelve plays, seven albums and four collections of poetry and was recently recognized as a Global Leader in Theatre and Performance by Arts Council England. In addition to being the Pedagogy Curriculum Designer and faculty at the new Soulpepper Theatre Academy in Canada, d'bi.young works at the UN's Global Initiatives Fellowship as Theatre Interventionist and lectures at London South Bank University. Shx continues to share hxr liberatory framework — the Anitafrika Method — with practitioners worldwide through hxr ongoing online residencies. You can find hxr latest theatrical work in She Mama Wata — the audio version which she wrote, directed and performed — featured in Soulpepper Theatre's Around the World in 80 Plays. (Read d'bi.young anitafrika's full bio here.)

FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021 is a youth-led celebration of spoken word, dance, theatre and music, as we gather together to celebrate freedom. Join CBC Arts on Sunday, August 1st at 1pm ET on CBC Gem and YouTube.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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