By Shiona Mackenzie, Special to the News
“Why not Hamilton?” says Filimone Mabjaia with a smile. “This is an amazing city with a lot going on, but people sometimes live in isolated pockets and don’t get the chance to get to know each other.
“I appreciate connecting with people from different backgrounds and walks of life. At the same time, it’s nice to re-connect with my own heritage. Personally, I don’t want to have to go to Toronto to enjoy these things. And I know I’m not alone feeling this way.”
Born in Mozambique, Mabjaia, along with a group of like-minded supporters, founded Matapa Music and Arts in 2010. It’s a non-profit organization celebrating cultural diversity through the presentation of world music and arts festivals and education.
“Matapa helps local artists connect with international artists by creating possibilities for exchange,” said Mabjaia. “This is a long-term project. If, five years from now, people are saying ‘Oh, did you hear the music from that country? I love it!’, then I’ll feel we achieved something.”
From July 11-13, Matapa will present The Hamilton World Music Festival, a free, family friendly, outdoor festival in Gage Park.
The Hamilton World Music Festival will feature international artists, such as Kongero (Sweden), Frank Yamma and David Bridie (Australia), Kakana (Mozambique) and the Jaime Rodriguez Band (Columbia/Netherlands). There will be a total of more than 20 acts, including First Nations performers Cheri Maracle and Shauit. Hamilton based musicians Scantily Plaid, a Celtic-Roots fusion band (Ruth Sutherland, Allan Eaton, Stephen Fuller and Doug Feaver,) and Riddim Riders, a reggae band (Mike Rajczak; Franklin Joseph; Kaz Egashira; Brian Griffiths) will also participate.
Mabjaia said his top criterion for inviting artists to perform in the festival is musical excellence, but he also looked at how they innovate based on traditional forms of music by blending in contemporary sound to make it modern.
“Another aspect I considered was that the performers should be professional, but I recognized that it can be hard to make a living as a musician,” he added. “We need to understand why that is and give homegrown talent a chance.”
Mabjaia understands that surviving in any challenging environment can be daunting, but connecting with others is a source of comfort.
“To be a newcomer with limited access to people from the same background or language can make a person feel left out. How can we help build trust and make our community the best place to be?
“Music can bring hope to those who are not yet connected,” added Mabjaia. “With music from many different cultures in one place, diverse people can gather and say, ‘Hello. How are you?’ A festival gives people something to strike up a conversation about. People can find others who understand their native language. People can take pride in their heritage.”
Sue Crowe Connolly, founder of Hamilton Sings! Community Choir, a mixed group that sings world music on Saturday mornings at St. Peter’s HARRRP, concurs: “Hamiltonians come from all over the world. Singing the songs we bring from our various heritages provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about and from each other, deepening our understanding of what is unique and what we have in common.”
As a boy, Mabjaia struggled to learn to sing and gave up.
“I don’t sing well or play an instrument, but listening to music makes me happy,” he says. “I believe music can inspire others to enjoy life just as much as I do today.”
For details about the Hamilton World Music Festival, see www.hamiltonworldmusicfest.com.