Watch now: FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2020, a CBC special celebrating Black Canadian artists
Tune in on August 1 as CBC Arts presents a celebration of Emancipation Day
This Saturday, on stages across Ontario and Quebec, Black Canadian artists are expressing what freedom means to them through music, poetry, performance and dance.
FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2020 is a CBC Gem event hosted by award-winning stage actor, writer, director and producer Ngozi Paul. Since 2017, Paul and her production company Emancipation Arts have produced FreeUp! as an annual event to celebrate Emancipation Day, the day that slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire on August 1, 1834.
This year marks the first time that the event will be available to watch by audiences across Canada. "We are in the middle of a global pandemic — the world is spinning on a new axis," says Paul in the FreeUp! special. "Led by an awakening of the next generation, people from all walks of life are coming together to seek equity, justice and freedom for all — be that for Indigenous sovereignty, trans rights, climate change or Black liberation, which brings us right here to Emancipation Day."
The event's program includes performances by some of Canada's most exciting young artists, from experimental R&B artist Chivengi onstage at Montreal's Phi Centre to a powerful performance of Shakespeare by Amaka Umeh from Stratford Festival's Festival Theatre stage.
In addition to the performances, the special will include the presentation of the Rosemary Sadlier Award to honour the work of the Canadian icon Jully Black, with a special performance by Canada's queen of R&B/soul herself.
How to watch
Learn more about the performers:
Ngozi Paul (host)
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.)
Jully Black has been dubbed "Canada's Queen of R&B/Soul" by fans and industry leaders alike. As a platinum-selling recording artist, her music career has yielded multiple singles reaching the Top 10 pop, R&B and dance music charts. She has taken home Juno and Gemini Awards and has shared the stage with superstars such as The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Etta James and Jessie Reyez, to name a few. As a songwriter, Jully has created compositions for industry heavyweights such as Destiny's Child and Nas.
As a former host and correspondent for CTV's etalk, Jully interviewed global megastars. She has appeared on and co-hosted numerous national television programs and speaking platforms including CBC's Canada Reads 2018, TEDx Talks, the Global TV feature The First Time I Was Called A..., CTV's Canadian Idol and City TV's Breakfast Television. Jully created and hosted The Blackout with Jully Black, a weekly radio show on iHeartRadio's Newstalk1010. In 2018, she launched 100 Strong and Sexy ("100SAS"); Canada's largest female-founded, curated and led fitness challenge to date.
With various lead roles in theatre such as The Musical Stage Company's concert feature Uncovered and a starring role in the critically acclaimed Mirvish Production of 'da Kink in My Hair at the renowned Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto, Jully continues to magnify her expansive musical, theatre and television repertoire. (Read Jully Black's full bio here.)
Jay Rukas is an interdisciplinary recording artist specialized in songwriting, producing, engineering, photography and creative direction. He has released multiple pieces of work that can be listened to via Soundcloud and Bandcamp. We continue to see the progression in his content and the legacy he is creating.
Sarah Musa is a writer and artist. Born and raised in Ottawa, Sarah was a fixture in the spoken word community there, organizing the Urban Legends Poetry Slam and several independent showcases with the aim of highlighting underrepresented voices. Since moving to Toronto, Sarah is emerging from a process of personal growth and artistic reinvention beginning with a performance at last year's FreeUp!. She is currently working on a poetry collection, novel and screenplay.
Chivengi is a Montreal-based experimental R&B singer/songwriter and sound designer. Chivengi brings the audience to a place of self-examination using ambient experimental sounds and R&B melodies, tracing an intimate and vulnerable universe.
David Delisca is a writer, poet, actor and humorist. Born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, he currently resides in Scarborough. A versatile artist, he uses stories about the immigrant and diasporic experience, as well as other various human realities, to bridge realms of communication. As an arts educator and facilitator, he has led hundreds of sessions throughout Canada with various initiatives, using art to focus on such subjects as social justice, anti-bullying and hip hop.
Andrew Nathaniel Forde is a notable and award-winning Canadian engineer, entrepreneur, violinist, and philanthropist. Born in Toronto, Forde currently claims the title of President and CEO for OneOne Technologies Corporation, and previously served as the CTO of Automata, a technology company that built advanced computational engines for data acquisition and analysis. Forde played a founding role in creating ENGage, a summer engineering camp at the University of Toronto for marginalized youth through his foundation. Likewise, through his foundation, Forde has established a scholarship fund for engineering students who excel outside the classroom, as well as other international initiatives. Forde currently holds a Bachelor of Applied Science & Engineering from the University of Toronto, a Masters of Engineering in Innovation & Design from McMaster University and is presently completing his PhD in Industrial Engineering, with a focus on information science, real options, stochastic modelling and engineering ontologies, at the University of Toronto.
Zoë Edwards is a dancer and model based in Toronto. Modelling has given her the opportunity to work with brands such as Glossier, Allbirds and Comme des Garçons. Her dance training spans ballet, contemporary and other styles. She has trained with the OIP Dance Company, as well as the Dark Dance Company under the direction of Allison Bradley and Lineen Duong. Zoë's performance credits include AKOMA, a dance theatre production directed and choreographed by Esie Mensah; Fashion Art Toronto; T-Dot Fest; Raptors halftime shows; the DanceOntario Festival; "15 Minutes," a contemporary piece choreographed by Shawn Bracke for Signature Dance INC; and most recently "EARTH", an Afro-fusion dance production choreographed by Shameka Blake that premiered at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. She is a featured dancer in local music artist Taya Marquis's music video for the song "Strive."
Zoë is a member of Artists in Motion (AIM), a multidisciplinary dance company under the guidance of Shameka Blake, and a member of the burlesque-inspired company Urbanesque, under the direction of Hollywood Jade. Dance has always been Zoë's first love and she is continuously grateful for the opportunity to share and express herself through movement, for it is when she feels the freest.
Amina AbNa Alfred
Amina AbNa Alfred is a dynamic multidisciplined artist and founder of ARAMINTA 5 (formally Rahjudah Creative Services) and Lady Hummingbird Culinary Arts vegan food catering. In the realm of theatre, Alfred is recognized for her contribution as a drummer, percussionist, composer, vocalist, makeup artist and scenic painter. She is the original drummer of Toronto's smash theatre hit 'da Kink in My Hair, recipient of four NAACP Theatre awards and two television seasons on Global Television. She also participated in the U.K and U.S. premiere productions of 'da Kink in My Hair, serving as composer for the opening song "Tialo Tiah Leh (Beauty)" as well as a musician and makeup artist. Select theatre credits include blood.claat by d'bi.young anitafrika, Who Knew Granny by Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, Capturing Freedom by Mika Collins, Finding Luke by Claire Calnan, BUNA by Rehaset Yohannes, Obeah Opera by Nicole Brooks, and Aluna Theatre's 3 Dollars & 6 Dimes.
Mackenta embodies both sensitivity and sharp edges. With lyrical intricacies at the core of her songs, her music takes an honest, moody approach. Mackenta has received press attention from OVOSound Radio, The Source, Noisey, SoulBounce, HotNewHipHop and more. She's been featured on official Spotify playlists like "New Music Friday" and Stingray Music Channels like "Vibe." She first gained popularity with her debut single "Issues," the first single from her debut EP Over The Influence (2016), executive produced by Juno-winning Gavin Bradley. Mackenta's second EP, When the Poison Drained, exudes healing themes that represent who she is at her core. In her own words, "I'm always focused on my growth, and with personal healing, I can help heal others as well."
Amaka Umeh is a Toronto-based creative with homes and heart-parts in both Calgary, Alberta and Lagos, Nigeria. A graduate of the Musical Theatre Performance Program at the Randolph College for Performing Arts, Amaka has had the incredible fortune of receiving many wonderful opportunities to collaborate with diverse artists in the community. Their work has been generously recognized with a Dora Mavor Moore Award, a Toronto Theatre Critics' Association Award, and two MyEntertainmentWorld Critics' Pick Award nominations. Amaka also completed the Stratford Festival Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, Factory Theatre Mechanicals and Toronto Fringe T.E.N.T. Programs.
Janette King is a producer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and DJ based in Montreal. Janette's unique sound blends together soulful vocals, upbeat production style, and honest lyrics to create a truly captivating listening experience. EP 143 is her most engaging work yet. The collection takes you through the many different sides of love: the pain in losing it, the anxieties and uncertainty in having it, and the excitement in finding it. Told from King's own experiences, the personal nature of 143 can be heard in the emotive delivery of the tracks and felt within each penetrating beat.
Aba is an actress, writer, stand-up comedian and sketch performer. She began her professional acting career as a student at the University of Toronto, where she went on to co-write and produce the award-winning I Can't Trust Anyone, Everyone Hurts Me. It received the Staging Survivance Award presented by Jill Carter. Aba now performs with Canadian Comedy Award-winning Sketchersons every Sunday on Sunday Night live at Comedy Bar. You can catch her around the city doing a set at Bad Dog Comedy Theatre or The Social Capital for shows such as Black and Funny, Yas Kween, SHADE, and many more. Aba was also a featured comedian for Las Culturistas I Don't Think So Honey, hosted by Matt Rogers and Dave Mizzoni. She stars in Shopify's new sketch series Mind Your Business and Second City's FamCo show In The Game. She was recently a member of b current's Emerging Artists Training Ensemble where she workshopped her play Ghanada with author Catherine Hernandez.
Hassanlogic is a writer based in Toronto currently working on a novel and in the midst of publishing his soon-to-be-released book of poetry titled Sweet Talk. He is a podcaster as well as a university student. "Each verse is meant to make you feel something." Hassanlogic, or Logic for short, is a writer whose style is meant to touch the reader through mutual understanding.
Matthew "Snoopy" Cuff was introduced to vogue through YouTube and was amazed by the performance-driven dance style. Vogueing for over seven years, Snoopy was a part of Canada's first official ballroom house (House of Monroe). He helped introduce vogue internationally by being featured on So You Think You Can Dance Canada and CBC Arts. Honing his skills in New York City, Snoopy has also learned from and battled some of the greatest voguers. A graduate of School of Toronto Dance Theatre who holds numerous grand prizes, Snoopy continues to participate in Toronto's thriving ballroom scene. Through the art of Vogue, Snoopy hopes to inspire creativity while sharing his passion for dance.
Jendayi Dyer began her journey in the Toronto dance scene in 2006. Her training in street dance styles such as hip hop, popping, locking, house, breaking, waacking and dancehall has brought her to stages across Canada. In both 2012 and 2013 Jendayi was one of three dancers nominated at the Manifesto Floor Awards for "Upcoming All Styles Under 18" Dancer of the Year. A couple highlights of her career thus far include a principal role in the feature film Full Out directed by Sean Cisterna, dancing for U.K. artist Berlane Gavino, and most recently working as a principal dancer in the Disney film Zombies 2. Jendayi proudly represents Footnotes Elite, Twisted Ankles Dance Crew and has co-founded an all-female street dance crew by the name of House of Hunniez.
Beyond performing, she also enjoys giving back to her community through her role as an artist with Unity Charity. Jendayi has been fortunate enough to be able to train under some of the city's best, and continues to further pursue her passion with a crew of like-minded dancers who continue to inspire and motivate her.
Travis Knights's career started in 2000, when he was cast as a principal dancer in the motion picture biography Bojangles, choreographed by the legendary Henry LeTang. Some early career highlights include being the principal dancer in the video game adaptation of Warner Brother's Happy Feet, working as a tap dance consultant for Cirque du Soleil, performing in Tandem Act Productions' Diary of a Tap Dancer at the Apollo Theatre, touring in the show Wonderland: A Tap Tribute to Stevie Wonder, performing in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games opening ceremonies and touring with the Australian tap dance show Tap Dogs. Knights was a principal dancer with Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, Texas under the artistic direction of Acia Gray and was awarded Austin Critics Table Awards in 2011 and 2013. He then embarked on a self-produced world tour, filming his web series The Interviews.
Recently, he performed in Thomas Marek's show NOLA in Hamburg, Germany, joined as a performer with Soulpepper Theatre Company, was the artistic director for the Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival and finished a two-year residency at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. He currently lives in Brampton, Ontario and hosts The Tap Love Tour Podcast. (Read Travis Knights's full bio here.)
Jaz Fairy J
Jaz Fairy J is a multidisciplinary artist, performer, choreographer, intuitive healer, mentor and mother. She believes that art is a portal to the divine, and she is in a constant investigation around how her work can create more space for healing. Based in Toronto, Jaz Fairy J has created over a dozen original works presented around the world. Choreographic commissions include Cahoots Theatre, Toronto Dance Theatre, Soulpepper Theatre, The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, Cawthra Park Secondary School, Obsidian Theatre and Kaeja d'Dance, to name a few.
Jaz worked on Fox's Rocky Horror Picture Show under the direction of Kenny Ortega in 2016, and in 2017 was featured on CBC's HERstory in Black honouring 150 Black Canadian women making a significant contribution to Canadian culture. Her solo what do you see? was presented by Summerworks 2017, receiving an honourable mention for the Jon Kaplan Spotlight Award.
She changed her name from Jasmyn Fyffe to Jaz Fairy J because she is a fairy/light worker/healer and she created her wings through her life's lessons. Her mantra is "dream create manifest."
As a dancer, choreographer, movement director and speaker, Esie brings her mastery in storytelling to audiences as diverse as her experience, working with megastars including Rihanna, Drake, Arcade Fire, and Janelle Monáe and brands like Coca Cola, Luminato, TIFF, ROM, AGO, Shaw Festival, Soulpepper Theatre and Toronto Raptors. Esie has committed to using Afrofusion to explore more personal narratives of her Blackness, belonging and Ghanaian heritage. She has spent years developing her own style of dance, which fuses traditional and contemporary African styles with urban, Latin, Caribbean and modern styles of dance. Her company Esie Mensah Creations has created three original works: Akoma, ZAYO and Shades. Esie has also worked as a movement director for the past few years on productions including Shaw Festivals' Russian Play and Victory, Soulpepper's MaRainey's Black Bottom and Musical Stage Company's Caroline, or Change.
Esie performed at Panafest 2019, a Ghanaian festival that honours the mass tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade. She was a featured speaker at the TedXToronto talk in 2019 and spoke about her experience as a dark-skinned dancer and creating her Dora Award-nominated production Shades. Esie's capacity as an artist keeps growing and expanding as she touches more and more communities that surround her worldwide. (Read Esie Mensah's full bio here.)