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It may be February, but you can get a taste of warmer climes

A daylong celebration of the music, dance and art of Africa will be in full swing this Sunday at the city hall in Kitchener. [Submitted]

It may be a cold, dreary and just plain miserable outside at this time of the year, but those hoping for a bit of light and some heat this family day weekend are sure to find it at the Bring On the Sunshine festival. Running all day long this Sunday (February 17) at the Kitchener City Hall, the festival will be celebrating the sights, sounds and immense variety of cultures of a continent, right within the heart of the city.

It’s a perfect remedy for the February winter blues, says event co-organizer Jacqui Terry-Carroll, when the shortest month of the year can sometimes feel like the longest.

“February’s tough, right? It’s a long month. So we decided to put on this event and we called it Bring On The Sunshine,” said Terry-Carroll. A native of Zimbabwe herself, the Elmira resident wanted to share in the best and the brightest of her home to Canada.

“There’s a music stage all day, there’s dance workshops, we have a gumboot dance workshop by a group that’s coming out, there’s belly dancing,” she says. “There’s a couple of local bands that are performing – there’s a local band called eKhaya that’ll be on stage. There’s lots of activity for kids and art and games and vendors and food and all the things that you would expect at a festival. And yeah, that’s all happening this Sunday, so we’re nearly there.”

A fashion show is also planned to run at the event, which give attendees an opportunity to walk the cat walk in African garb. Several spoken word artists will be performing as well, as well as drumming circles, youth workshops and more.

“A huge part of why we do this is just the sense of community and people coming together to celebrate in a really dark time of the year when people usually just stay at home in their basements,” says Terry-Carroll.

The event is run entirely by volunteers, she notes, with a lot of support coming from the festival’s youth leadership group which helps organize the event.

This will be the eighth festival to light up the region, with contributions of dozens of artists and vendors spanning a continent that is often incorrectly grouped into a single entity: Africa.

“We kind of get lumped together under one umbrella, but Africans are very diverse,” says Terry-Carroll.

The festival initially grew out of a shared desire between Terry-Carroll and fellow immigrants from Zimbabwe to invite African youth and youth of colour living in Canada to learn about their roots, she explains.

“Initially, we actually got together because we noticed that kids in our community were just struggling to settle in and struggling to kind of earn their heritage,” she says of the genesis of the festival.

“There’s a lot of bad representation about Africa, and the kids didn’t want to be from there because they didn’t know anything good about where they were from. And those of us who’d grown up there obviously had some stories to tell and some cultural things to share.”

So the group created Africa Camp, which runs each year in the month of August.

“We got together and we did games and music and storytelling and art workshops and all kinds of things with the kids that was about sharing culture,” says Terry-Carroll. “We had so much fun doing that that the we decided that we were going to put on a party, because Africans are good at throwing parties.”

So they put on a festival, which immediately became a smash hit. In the first year of the festival alone, the event drew about 750 people – well above the 100 or so guests they were expecting, and the event continues to draw on the popular support of people across the region, including right within the townships.

“I’ve been a couple of times. There’s something for everybody,” said Elmira resident and township councillor Scott McMillan. “The food is great, the music is really entertaining, the dancing, the art, the crafts, the stuff for kids. It’s a fun time. It’s not just something that you go to, it’s not just a charity event. It’s a fun event. Whatever you’re into, you can find something there that interests you.”

The Bring On the Sunshine festival will be held at the Kitchener City Hall, 200 King St. W., on Sunday. Doors open at 10 a.m. while the stage runs from noon to 5 p.m. Entry to the event is by donation, and free parking is available at the underground lot below.

“Come out for a multi-cultural experience,” says Alice Penny, festival director and resident of Elmira. “Great food, workshops, music. Anything that authentically reminds us of home. A sense of community.”

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