By RON FANFAIR
Two teenage South American visitors surrounded veteran African drummer Muhtadi Thomas last Sunday at Queen’s Park, anxious to learn a bit about the percussive instrument.
As usual, he willingly obliged just after performing with his World Drummers on the main stage at the 22nd annual cultural festival.
“This is one of my favourite summertime events,” said the founder of the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, held every June for the past decade. “It brings together people from all cultures and nationalities, like those two young visitors to Canada who were simply intrigued by their first exposure to the African drums, to share these moments. The drum also arouses curiosity.”
Muhtadi has been performing professionally for over three decades since migrating from Trinidad & Tobago in 1974. He said a deceased brother – Winston “Toby” Thomas – helped fuel his passion for the drums.
“He used benches and boxes as drums and I used to imitate him,” said Muhtadi. “It just grew to the point where I am doing what I love and thoroughly enjoying playing for audiences and teaching.”
For the past 16 years, he has conducted a free two-hour workshop every Saturday afternoon from noon to 2 p.m. at the Wellesley Community Centre on Sherbourne St.
“The World Drummers comprise up to 70 members all of whom walked off the street and learned to play the African drum at that centre,” Muhtadi said. “They come from all parts of the world, including Poland, Serbia, Pakistan, England and France.”
Muhtadi & the World Drummers will appear at Rhythms Fest in Barrie on August 4 and the T & T Independence celebrations at Queen’s Park at the end of August.
Afrofest, which has become North America’s largest annual festival of African music, featured an exhibit promoting Sudan’s Nubian civilization through art. It was jointly staged by the Sudanese Community of Ontario in collaboration with Nagim Studio and funded by the provincial Ministry of Culture.
“This exhibition is intended to contribute to the multicultural diversity of art in this city,” said curator Yassir Nagim. “It also contributes to the ministry’s program of fostering a prosperous and creative economy and sustaining liveable communities.”
The exhibition, among other things, traces the long relationship between Nubia and Egypt. For nearly 500 years, Egypt dominated, using its Nubian colony as a source of gold and other raw materials, and the gold that adorned Cleopatra – Egypt’s last ruler as an Egyptian pharaoh – came from the Nubian shafts.