Music has always been a powerful source of inspiration, strength, and perseverance. No doubt, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked tirelessly to secure equal rights for his people, he would have turned to music to boost his spirits and spur himself on. But what would have been his "jams"? What songs would have rallied him, and his followers, to take on ever-greater risks for the cause of freedom and justice?
To celebrate Culchahworks' 10th Anniversary, we remounted our 2016 production, "King's Playlist". This concert features stellar performances of classic songs from the era, performed by some of our finest artists, including Canada's Queen of Jazz and Blues, Jackie Richardson, and renowned composer/guitarist/singer Don Ross. Directed by Culchahworks' Founder and Artistic Director Andrew Craig, "King's Playlist" inspired the packed house with the passion and fervour felt by those who lived through the 1960s - those who struggled to create a fair and equitable society for all. Interspersed with these performances were highlights from Culchahworks's first decade of artfully telling stories from the Black experience. Our Media page will feature show highlights, coming soon.
Chloe Cooley was the enslaved Black woman at the centre of the drama that led to "An Act To Limit Slavery in Upper Canada", passed in 1793. This was the first anti-slavery legislation passed anywhere in the British Empire - and this occurred at what is now Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON! Originally part of the "Portraits, Patterns, Possibilities" presentation offered by Culchahworks in 2018, "Chloe=Catalyst" is a video version of the play written by Founder/Artistic Director Andrew Craig. Excerpts of the video were used in CTV National News' story in 2023, when Canada released a Chloe Cooley stamp. Culchahworks is exceedingly proud of its role in bringing awareness to Chloe's story and historical significance. Visit our Media Page to watch the video and excerpts.
In February 2020, Culchahworks presented the latest version of its production in development, Fish And Rum - a fictional retelling of the real-life history of illicit trade between the islands of Newfoundland and Jamaica during Prohibition. Presented as a radio play with images, or a live graphic novel, audiences in Toronto and St. John's, NF were treated to this evolving story, rich with themes of family, pride, justice, political corruption, and coming of age. Watch out for the next iteration in the coming years...
On March 2, 2019, Culchahworks made history, in the course of preserving it. The "Titans of Toronto Reggae" concert brought together 16 of Toronto's Reggae legends, including Leroy Sibbles, Stranger Cole, Nana McLean, and Jay Douglas, for a one-night-only concert. The Titans played to a capacity crowd at the Opera House. This coming-together was so momentous that the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory, declared March 2 "Titans of Toronto Reggae Day" in the city.
Visit our Media page to browse the photo gallery.
On February 16, 2019, Culchahworks presented a Workshop version of "Fish And Rum", a new hybrid theatrical work by Founder and Artistic Director Andrew Craig. Set in 1923, and based on actual historical events that took place in Newfoundland and Jamaica, Fish And Rum offers a multifaceted look at the people, politics and cultures of the two islands, at a time when they were engaged in the illicit exchange of salted cod for Jamaican rum.
Through a hybrid theatre/music/video presentation, Culchahworks paid tribute to three significant Canadians of African descent for whom 2018 was an anniversary year:
- 2018 marked 225 years since the abduction of Chloe Cooley. Her abduction set into motion the events that led to the passing of the Act To Limit Slavery in Upper Canada (1793), the first legislation of its kind anywhere in the British Empire
- 2018 marked the 125th anniversary of the death of Mary Ann Shadd, Abolitionist activist, and the first female newspaper publisher in North America, among her many other achievements
- 2018 marked the 60th anniversary of Wille O'Ree breaking the NHL colour barrier, as a member of the Boston Bruins
Each of these stories was told as part of a trilogy called "Portraits, Patterns, Possibilities". Each will be made into a standalone video presentation for educational purposes.
April 4, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Through words, music, live and video elements, Culchahworks paid tribute to one of the most enduring icons of the 20th century, whose calls for peace, equality and justice remain unanswered to this day, and yet whose influence continues to be felt throughout the globe.
In February 2017, Culchahworks paid tribute to one of the most influential artist-activitsts - "artivists" living: the great Harry Beafonte. Through a dazzling array of theatre, dance, and music, Culchahworks revisited key points in Belafonte's life, from his formative years in New York City and Jamaica, to his early stardom in the 1950s, his support of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, his film career, his rise to global prominence as a performer and social activist, right up to the present day as the face of Sankofa, and general eminence grise.
Also in February 2017, Culchahworks brought together some hundred participants for the first-ever "Djembe Playday" - a celebration of arguably Africa's most famous and least-understood musical export. Participants were treated to stellar performances by COBA Youth Dance Ensemble, Ijo Vudu Dance International, and Kobena Aquaa-Harrison. The event culminated in a mass drumming workshop led by Master Drummer Amadou Kienou.
In February 2016, Culchahworks Arts Collective presented "King's Playlist: Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, Then And Now". Developed from the idea that Dr. Martin Luther King drew inspiration from certain songs of his time (many of which became unofficial anthems of the Civil Rights movement), this concert presentation featured Juno-award winning Canadian jazz songstress Molly Johnson, Jackie Richardson, Canada's Queen of Jazz and Blues, and rising star Jordan John, among many others.
The first half of the programme featured faithful renditions of classics such as "Mississippi Goddam", "Times They Are A' Changin'", "I'll Take You There", "Strange Fruit", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "What's Goin On", and Oscar Peterson's "Hymn To Freedom".
The second half of the programme featured a remount of Andrew Craig's oratorio "We Still Dare To Dream," (see below).
Conceived, written and composed by former Culchahworks Co-Artistic Director Nicole Brooks, Obeah Opera is the story of the legendary Salem Witch Trials - told from the unique perspective of enslaved African women.
Every word of the story is sung. However, what makes this work unique and beyond the conceived definition of opera is that there are no musical instruments.
The opera, unbound by any particular genre, takes from an array of musical styles including spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, traditional African, Caribbean Folk, Calypso and R&B.
Culchahworks produced the World Premiere of the revamped Obeah Opera, in association with Nightwood Theatre, as part of Panamania, the cultural arm of the Toronto 2015 PanAm Games.
On February 6, 2015, Reggae icon Bob Marley would have turned 70 years young. Culchahworks Arts Collective produced “Global Marley” in celebration of Marley's life and global legacy.
Under the direction of Culchahworks Founder and Artistic Director, a staggering list of Canadian talents came together to showcase the planet-wide reach of Marley’s music.
Imagine “Concrete Jungle” as a power rock anthem, “No Woman No Cry” as a Blues-Gospel number, “Jammin’” as a jazz romp, “Roots Rock Reggae” performed by a samba bateria, “Waiting In Vain” infused with the ragas of Northern India, “Africa Unite” as a spirited chorus of African percussion.
“Global Marley” was an unforgettable night of celebration, during which tribute was paid to the man whose message of peace, equality and justice still resonates as much as ever.
On Martin Luther King Day in 2014, Culchahworks produced a concert presentation of "We Still Dare To Dream". This work, a one-hour oratorio (concert work for soloists, choir and orchestra) takes its inspiration from Dr. King's iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. The newly-written text imagines what Dr. King would say to us today, were he alive.
Written, composed and directed by Andrew Craig, it is his largest and most ambitious work to date.
The "Orator" and the "MC" deliver a powerful verbal one-two punch, occasionally punctuated by musical performances that highlight the themes of equality, justice, and freedom. The work moves seamlessly through neo-Classical, Gospel, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and rock genres, to name a few. The result is a multi-dimensional music-theatre hybrid that deeply impacts and uplifts its audience.
In the 2013-14 academic year, Culchahworks developed and ran a pilot project, in partnership with the Toronto District School Board, entitled the Warriors' Chorus.
Designed for boys aged 8 to 18, principally of African descent, who struggle with behavioural, social, and/or academic challenges, The Warriors' Chorus reconnects its participants with their heritage, affirms their value, rebuilds their self-worth, and provides coping and conflict-avoidance strategies, through structured programs, music, and dance.
Participants wrote and composed original music that described their challenges, andlearned new choreography and songs, as well as traditional Gumboot dancing.
The Warriors' Chorus made its public debut as part of "We Still Dare To Dream" in 2014.
The program is being revamped for for future re-introduction.
From 2016 to 2018, Culchahworks created and presented the Can You Read Festival, at Harbourfront Centre and Wychwood Barns, Toronto. The innovative Festival received donations of non-perishable food items, particularly proteins, and offered in exchange a selection of thousands of new books, carefully curated by Culchahworks and its presenting partners. The books were for infants to adults, and represented authors, subject matter and protagonists of colour, female protagonists, female protagonists of colour, Indigenous themes, and LGBTQ2+ themes. Proceeds from the Festival went to the Red Cross Mobile Food Bank, and to Ernestine's Women's Shelter. Surplus books went to the Children's Book Bank and to Links Beyond Borders, an organization that builds libraries in Ghana, Africa.