Skills for Change to present New Pioneer awards


Immigrants have brought many talents to Canada, including music and culture, immigrants such as Waleed Abdulhamid who has shared his creativity with Canadians since arriving here in 1992.

Abdulhamid began performing in his native Sudan at age six, appearing on a weekly children’s television show and on radio. Leaving Africa’s largest country at age 18, he performed and recorded in several European countries before coming to Canada 19 years ago.

Abdulhamid and five other immigrants have been named winners of the 2011 New Pioneers award administered by Skills for Change, a Toronto-based non-profit agency that provides learning and training opportunities for immigrants and refugees to access and fully participate in the workplace and the wider society.

Like many immigrants, Abdulhamid started at the bottom. He delivered restaurant food by bicycle and busked on weekends at Harbourfront Centre in the summer and subway stations during winter.

The Parkdale resident received his first big break when the director of the Harbourfront World Music Festival asked him and other musicians he busked with to fill in for a band that didn’t show up for a gig.

The multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and producer plays a blend of Pan-African music that’s rooted in the sounds and chants of the nomads from North Africa through the Sahara right down to the Gobi and the Kalahari in southern Africa. He demonstrates his versatility on guitar, bass drums, flute, harmonica, kirin, darabhuka, marimba, balimbo, congas, bongos, djembe, dumbek and tama.

Hailed as one of the most talented and exciting musicians in the Greater Toronto Area, Abdulhamid’s music has been featured on CBC and the Discovery and History channels.

Two years ago, he became a resident artist at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, collaborating with 11 other artists from different arts disciplines to explore various musical fusions. He also sits on the Young Centre’s community outreach committee and is currently working on the creation of a non-auditioned, multi-ethnic community choir aimed at reaching those who do not always have access to this kind of artistic opportunity.

A total of 121 immigrants have been recognized with New Pioneer awards since 1993.

Previous winners include Ontario’s Minister of Government Services Harinder Takhar, Toronto Police Service Board chair Alok Mukherjee, artistic director and choreographer Patrick Parson, City of Toronto Diversity Management manager Ceta Ramkhalawansingh and educators Vernon Farrell and Dr. Carl James.

This year’s New Pioneer awards will be presented on March 3 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

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