Afrifest displays culture, aims to show ‘Africa is not only what you see on the TV’

African Nova Scotians gather in Halifax to showcase African culture, music and cuisine.

Afrifest opened Friday at Sackville Landing and runs through Sunday. Its goal is to share the cultural richness of Africa with those who don’t know about it, organizers said.

“We have a lot of culture. We respect others,” said Helen Weidemicheli, one of the festival’s organizers. “The continent is really rich.”

Weidemicheli is passionate about the African culture. She immigrated to Canada in 2014 from Eritrea, but she grew up in Ethiopia.

“It’s good to share the culture,” she said.

The event will help in correcting stereotypes about Africa, Weidemicheli said.

“Africa is not only what you see on the TV,” she said “People think we don’t have food, we don’t have buildings, we don’t have cars. That’s actually way far from the truth.”

The main problem in African countries is the political regimes that are in power, she said. “The systems, the governments, the leaders are very bad.”

Drummers, dancers and bands from several African nations as well as Haiti will be on the stage Saturday and Sunday. Some members of the bands grew up here in Nova Scotia, said George Mbamalu, one of the organizers.

The festival is free, so people can come and enjoy the music and watch the African performances, he said.

“We are expecting 4,000 people this year,” Mbamalu said. “Last year the weather was bad, so we got about 3,000 visitors.”

The food in the festival represents the cuisines of west Africa, east Africa and the Caribbean region.

African Nova Scotians felt a need for an event to celebrate their identity with the rest of the society, he said. “When we came here, myself in particular in the early 1980s, we (didn’t) have an organization or a festival that celebrates African people.”

Mbamalu came to Canada as an international student in 1984 from Nigeria. He graduated with a PhD in electrical engineering and taught at Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities before he retired after 20 years.

During his time as a student, he was involved in groups that advocated for lower tuition fees for international students. “We were marching on the street every year,” he said.

He is still active in the community today, but his motivation is different. The festival goal is “to create an environment of inclusion,” he said.

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