High school students tackle racial justice through song and dance

High school students from across Waterloo region gathered at Kitchener City Hall Monday to sing, dance and perform as part of the Gahu Project for racial justice.

350 students from 7 different high schools perform at Kitchener City Hall

The Gahu Project aims to bring students together and use music as a platform to start a conversation for youth around racial justice. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)

Drumbeats and singing echoed around downtown Kitchener Monday as hundreds of high school students performed at city hall as part of the Gahu Project for racial justice.

Close to 350 youth from seven different high schools across Waterloo Region participated in dance and watched performances from several artists, including Ghanaian drummer Kwasi Dunyo.

City hall's gathering, however, went beyond music and dance. The Gahu Project aims to tackle the issue of racial justice in schools. 

Gahu, which originates from Ghana, is a form of social dance and music that combines drumming, dancing and singing.

Latesha Thompson (left), Tawheed Musa (center) are students at Cameron Heights and part of the Gahu Research Project. Fanis Juma (right), also part of the Gahu Project, is a local activist, social worker, and community organizer of the African Community Wellness Initiative. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)

"I might describe it as a racial justice project that is using music as a vehicle to open up conversations for youth around racial justice, so concepts like anti-black racism, colonialism and white supremacy," Josh Hill, manger of the Gahu Project and head of music department at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute (CHCI), told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

Music programs key 

The importance of having African, Caribbean and black representation in schools and school programs is at the forefront for CHIC students Tawheed Musa and Latesha Thompson. 

"African, Caribbean, black identifying students aren't really represented in the music programs at school and it's kind of disappointing because there are so many music genres that are derived and influenced by black cultures that are not taught or even acknowledged in school," Thompson said.

Kwasi Dunyo is a master Ghanaian drummer from the Ewe village of Dagbamete. He led Monday's Gahu dance and drumming. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)

"Learning a different culture, the way they do things and their traditions ... that really opens up youth's point of view to learning other people's cultures," Musa said.

"Before the Gahu Project, I didn't know much about about music in different cultures, so through this experience I really believe that it really helped me be more open."

Multi-day project 

Events for the Gahu Project started this past weekend with a performance at the Kitchener Market by the Ottawa-based group Baobab Tree Drum Dance Community.

A panel discussion on racial justice and music education was held at Kitchener City Hall on Sunday.

Traditional drums used during Monday's Gahu Project gathering outside Kitchener City Hall. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)
Students not only sang and danced but also observed feature performances as part of the Gahu Project event. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)