Your 2019 guide to Black History Month arts and culture

A list of must-see events happening around the country.

A list of must-see events happening around the country

Members of the creative team behind Blackout stand on the grounds of Concordia University. The play revisits the protest the launched national soul searching about race 50 years ago. (Jaclyn Turner/Tableau D'Hôte Theatre)

For three years now, I've compiled a round-up of Black History Month events. And each time it's gone up on CBC Arts, these are the sort of comments that inevitably appear: "Who cares?" "When is white history month?"

I sigh every time I see comments like those, and a weariness falls over me. I've been hearing these lines since I was a teenager. In high school, I even heard them from a teacher. He claimed he was playing "devil's advocate" when he told me I was wasting my energy trying to organize the school's first Black History Month assembly. My answer to him? "There is no white history month because every month is white history month."

These days, my need to recognize Black History Month has evolved and become more nuanced. But at a time when hate crimes have reached an all-time high in Canada and politicians deny the realities of systemic racism, it feels more urgent than ever to make space for creative, incisive and critical reflections on what it means to be Black in Canada. Even though it occurs during the shortest and coldest month of the year, Black History Month is frequently an opportunity to do just that.

I will always keep publishing this guide. It's for the teenager out there who is forced to prove why an affirmation and recognition of their history and identity is important. This list is evidence that they are not alone and there are people across the country mobilizing with the same priorities.

Scene from The Bridge, a 2b theatre company and Neptune Theatre co-production in association with Obsidian Theatre. (Courtesy of Neptune Theatre)


The Bridge

Jan. 22-Feb. 10

Neptune Theatre

This play by Shauntay Grant is about the complicated relationship between two brothers in a rural Black Nova Scotian community.

2019 Black History Month Events Dinner

Feb. 9

Rosaria Hall

A celebration of the history and accomplishments of African Canadians with dinner and performances. Presented by the Africa Festival of Arts and Culture Society.

Amadou Kienou & The Djeli Sira

Feb. 9

Keshen Goodman Public Library

Music, stories and dance combine for this deep dive into the ancient traditions of the Malinke griot tradition.

African Heritage Month free concerts and workshops

Feb. 2-24

Various locations

The Halifax Jazz Festival presents this series of events featuring drumming workshops by Dr. Henry Bishop and musical performances by Chudi Harris and Jah'Mila. Open to all ages.

A Celebration in Song: Nova Scotia Mass Choir

Feb. 6

Central Library

This gospel choir has been performing for 27 years and will provide an evening of music inspired by their mission of promoting racial harmony and peace.

Lift Every Voice 4: African Heritage Month Musical Showcase

Feb. 13

Central Library

Presented by The African Nova Scotian Music Association, this annual event celebrates Black Nova Scotian musical talent.

Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra: Black is Beautiful

Feb. 17

Nelson Whynder Elementary School

Conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra showcase a journey through the history of Black music. Featuring numbers by Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Chevalier St. Georges, Jimi Hendrix and more.

Pier 21 Reads: Cecil Foster's They Call Me George

Feb. 26

Canadian Museum of Immigration

Critically acclaimed writer Cecil Foster will read excerpts from new book, They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada.



Jan. 26-Feb. 2

Opéra de Montreal

The show's tagline is: "jazz meets opera in the boxing ring." Champion tells the story of a welterweight fighter on his way to acclaim — until he accidentally kills his opponent in the ring. It's composed by Grammy-winning jazz musician Terence Blanchard.

Blackout: The Concordia Computer Riots

Jan. 30-Feb. 10

D.B. Clarke Theatre

This theatrical production reimagines the historic protest against racism at Concordia University. The 1969 incident resulted in a suspicious fire and more than 100 arrests.

Montreal Hip Hop Town Hall Conference

Feb. 1

Concordia University

This first annual event will feature panellists from Montreal's hip-hop scene. Yella, of the legendary group N.W.A., is the guest of honour.

Black Theatre Workshop's 2019 Vision Celebration Gala

Feb. 2

Hotel Omni Mont-Royal

This annual event honours and celebrates Black artists including filmmaker and actress Fabienne Colas and alternative arts educator Nancy Oliver-MacKenzie.

Writing Our Way to Freedom: The Commemoration of the Congress of Black Writers

Feb. 6

McGill Faculty Club

In 1968, the Congress of Black Writers brought together thinkers such as Walter Rodney and Rosie Douglas. This event celebrates that historic occasion and will explore the way Black people continue to use their words and writing in the fight for justice.

Soul Deep: Bob Marley Tribute

Feb. 9

Jamaica Association

The Jamaica Association of Montreal hosts this tribute night featuring performances by Dan Fiyah Beats, Jason Valentino, Juliet Nelson and Mysta.

Sekouba Bambino

Feb. 16

Le National

Mandinka singer, griot, guitarist, ngoni player and percussionist Sekouba Bambino will perform with his orchestra.

Afro LGBTQ Films and Arts Festival

Feb. 21-March 2

Various locations

Presented by the Massimadi Foundation, this annual festival features film screenings, open mics and cocktail receptions.

Black Conversations

Feb. 23

Phi Centre

A conference day devoted to the stories of inspiring Black women. Highlights include a talk from playwright Trey Anthony and a tribute to Aretha Franklin by Kim Richardson. The event will also host a marketplace featuring women-led companies.

In 'How Black Mothers Say I Love You', Trey Anthony reflects on the love lost and gained between black migrant moms and their daughters. (Richard Evans)

How Black Mothers Say I Love You

Feb. 27-March 16

Centaur Theatre

From playwright Trey Anthony, How Black Mothers Say I Love You is the story of Daphne, a woman who arrives to Canada from Jamaica. Dreaming of a better life, she is confronted by the harsh realities that come with separation and reconciliation.   


The Mountaintop

Jan. 22-Feb. 10

Great Canadian Theatre Company

A theatrical reimagining of the night before Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination finds the Civil Rights leader in his hotel room, exhausted and confronted by a maid with strong political perspectives. Written by Katori Hall.

North is Freedom, Yuri Dojc

Jan. 31-Feb. 15

Ottawa City Hall

This photo series by Yuri Dojc features the descendants of people who escaped slavery and arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Once: Africville Stories

Feb. 1

Canadian Museum of History

The City of Halifax destroyed the Black community of Africville in the '60s. This award-winning play, presented by Voices Black Theatre Ensemble, tells the stories of the people who were displaced.

Joujou Raconte Mandela / Mandela's Story

Feb. 2

National Arts Centre

Haitian-born storyteller Joujou Turenne tells the story of Nelson Mandela's activism, incarceration and journey to freedom. Presented in French, the show features music and song.

Kellylee Evans

Feb. 2

Christ Church Cathedral

Juno-winner Kellylee Evans has traversed the genres of jazz, R&B and pop, and she'll bring all of those influences into her performance.

Kellylee Evans arrives on the Juno Awards red carpet on March 24, 2018. (CARAS/iPhoto)

African Film Festival

Feb. 9-16

Ottawa Art Gallery

The Canadian Film Institute presents the fourth edition of this film festival with selections representing various regions of the continent. Highlights include I Am Not a Witch from Zambia and 76 from Nigeria.

African Cabaret

Feb. 9

L'École Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier

The 20th anniversary edition of this event will feature local African fashion, a performance by The Aces of Africa band, live painting and more.

The Gift of Jazz: From Africa to New Orleans to the True North Strong and Free

Feb. 14

National Gallery of Canada

A sonic deep dive into the sounds of Black music, from spirituals to contemporary jazz.

From the exhibition It's About Time: Dancing Black in Canada. (Courtesy of the Progress Festival)

Greater Toronto Area

It's About Time: Dancing Black in Canada 1900-1970

Jan. 30-Feb. 15

The Theatre Centre

An exhibition about Black representation in Canadian dance. Curated by Seika Boye and presented by the Progress Festival, the show puts the spotlight on Black performers such as Leonard Gibson, Ola Skanks and Ethel Bruneau.


Jan. 31-Feb. 2

The Theatre Centre

British performer Selina Thompson brings her critically acclaimed production to the Progress Festival. In the show, she invites audiences to join her on a diasporic journey inspired by her own travels across ancestral memories and the Atlantic Ocean.


Feb. 1-15

Harbourfront Centre

The Kuumba festival features an array of events including a conversation with actor Dominique Jackson, the Black Liberation Ball and an evening with playwright Trey Anthony.

Leiomy Maldonado at Black Liberation Ball 2018. (Photo: Brandon Hay)

A Love Ethic

Feb. 1-24

The Gladstone Hotel

Wedge Curatorial Projects presents a comprehensive exploration of Black love and the various ways it manifests in community, partnerships, blood and chosen family. Curated by Emilie Croning, this exhibition features work by Jah Grey, Jamila Nortiz Reyes, Jeremy Rodney-Hall and more.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: 60th Anniversary Tour

Feb. 1-2

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

The legendary dance company returns to Toronto with new and classic works choreographed by Talley Beatty, Robert Battle and Alvin Ailey and featuring the music of Earth, Wind and Fire, John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald.

Ashlee Blackwell and Tananarive Due on Horror Noire

Feb. 6

TIFF Bell Lightbox

A special screening of the new documentary Horror Noire is accompanied by an onstage conversation with the executive producers about the history of Blackness in horror films.

Scene from Night of the Living Dead. (FYE)

Black Future Month Launch featuring Maxine Bailey

Feb. 7

CSI Annex

To launch Black Future Month, b current performing arts presents an intimate conversation with Maxine Bailey, former Vice-President of Advancement at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Black and Indigenous Futures

Feb. 9

Small Arms Inspection Building (Mississauga, Ont.)

A conversation about the ways Black and Indigenous futurisms connect and diverge in the work of visual artists, writers and scholars.

Jazz Valentines for Austin Clarke

Feb. 11

Palmerston Library

This tribute to the late great writer Austin Clarke features poetry from George Elliott Clarke, Bänoo Zan and Zalika Reid-Benta. They'll be accompanied by jazz guitarist Leonard "Sugar Plum" Croxen.

In Conversation with Jessye Norman

Feb. 12

TIFF Bell Lightbox

Opera legend Jessye Norman is honoured as the 12th recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize. At this event, she'll sit down with Canadian Opera Company General Director Alexander Neef to discuss her career.

American opera singer Jessye Norman performs at the talk and game show "Wetten Dass . . . ?" April 1, 2006 in Halle, Germany. ( Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Raising Our Voices: Sharing Black Canadian Stories

Feb. 12

Koerner Hall

An evening of storytelling presented by Historica Canada and featuring novelist Esi Edugyan, theatre director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, spoken word artist MayaSpoken and more.

Before the 6ix: Classic 1999 Toronto Hip Hop Albums

Feb. 12

Toronto Reference Library

An in-depth discussion on a historic year in Toronto hip hop. Look forward to hearing music from the era. Del Cowie moderates a conversation with rappers Choclair, Saukrates, Mathematik and more.

Toronto Black Film Festival

Feb. 13-18

Various locations

The annual festival is back and includes a tribute and special conversation with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. Film programming highlights include Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story and Dead Women Walking.

Kiki Lounge Ball

Feb. 20

Art Gallery of Ontario

Join the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance as they celebrate the conclusion of their six-week vogue workshop with a ball.

Writers at The Rose: Angie Thomas at The Rose

Feb. 25

The Rose Brampton

Angie Thomas will be live onstage with me to discuss her highly anticipated new novel On The Come Up and will also be signing books.


Feb. 28

TIFF Bell Lightbox

The world tour of this film by Frances-Anne Solomon begins with a screening, talk-back and after-party. The movie depicts the life of Ulric Cross.


2019 Afro Prairie Film Festival

Feb. 21-24

Winnipeg Film Group

An annual celebration of Black film and Black filmmakers across North America. This year's edition features a keynote from Ella Cooper and films such as The Watermelon Woman and Brown Girl Begins.


Black Arts Matter

Feb. 8-18

Various locations

Presented by Chinook Series, this multidisciplinary arts festival creates space for Edmonton's Black artists to be put front and centre. Featuring theatre, poetry, music and more.

Adesewa Adeleye and Lebogang Disele in "What (Black) Life Requires." (Photo: Marc J. Chalifoux)

African Fashion Week Edmonton

Feb. 16

La Cité Francophone

An annual showcase of African and Caribbean-inspired fashion. Programming includes a mixer, the runway show and an after-party.

An Evening with Terry Crews

Feb. 20

Edmonton Convention Centre

Presented by the Alberta Council of Women Shelters, actor, activist and memoirist Terry Crews discusses his ideas on modern manhood.



Feb. 2

Martha Cohen Theatre

A collective of dancers, actors and choreographers from across Calgary come together to present a whirlwind tour of genres including Afro-Caribbean, capoeira, hip hop, jazz, samba, step and tap dance. 

A Chitenge Story

Feb. 5

Wright Theatre

Makambe K. Simamba is the writer and performer of this autobiographical tale. The play follows a young woman from Zambia. Abused as a child, she returns to her homeland seeking the justice she was denied as a girl.

Makambe K. Simamba in A Chitenge Story. (Photo: Citrus Photography)

We Gon Be Alright

Feb. 22-23

Arts Commons

A cabaret of resistance that puts the ideas, concerns, dreams, histories and hopes of Black women and queer Black people front and centre. Curated by Mel Vee.


VIFF Black History Month Series

Feb. 2-26


A film series that showcases contemporary and classic movies by and about Black people. This year's lineup includes the animated films Kirikou and the Sorceress, the Kenyan queer romance Rafiki and the concert documentary Jimi Hendrix-Electric Church.

Scene from Rafiki. (TIFF)

On Being Black in Vancouver 2: Ladies Night – Reading Women in the City

Feb. 13

Central Library

A night of storytelling that provides space for Black female writers. Featuring Chantal Gibson, Chelene Knight, Juliane Okot Bitek and Whitney French.

African Fashion and Arts Movement Vancouver

Feb. 16

Scottish Cultural Centre

A celebration of fashion and art that brings together African designers from across the country.

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Feb. 24

The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

A multimedia celebration of pioneering poet, educator and advocate Gwendolyn Brooks. Through puppetry, shadow play, video projection and a live band, her story will be brought to the stage by Chicago's Manual Cinema.

Zadie Smith in conversation with Jael Richardson

Feb. 28

Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Acclaimed best-selling author Zadie Smith joins Jael Richardson on stage to discuss her body of work, including her latest collection of essays, Feel Free


How She Read: Confronting the Romance of Empire

Jan. 13-Feb. 26

Open Space Gallery

Artist Chantal Gibson reworks historical texts with a sewing needle and Black thread to consider and question whose voices we get to read and how we read them. On February 19, Gibson will also launch her book of poetry at the gallery.

Body So Fluorescent

Feb. 8-9

Intrepid Theatre Club

Created by David di Giovanni and performer Amanda Cordner, this solo show explores themes of Blackness, oppression and what it means to be othered.


Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.