Black artist showcase at Commons Theatre was ‘one of the first’ of its kind

Ottawa Black Creatives Hub Performing Arts Showcase presented one of the first Black-artist exclusive shows in Ottawa
Photo: Siobhan Rollo
Musical artist Grey Brisson, playing his EP Nobody. He was accompanied by a band named The Lionyls.

In honour of Black History Month, the Algonquin College Student Association collaborated with Hors Pair Social, a Black-owned and focused event committee, to put on the Ottawa Black Creatives Hub Performing Arts Showcase.

The night was full of singing, dancing, music, poetry, storytelling and short films.

The event took place on Feb. 20, as Black artists from numerous different cultural backgrounds gathered to showcase their talents.

The Ottawa Black Creatives Hub Performing Arts Showcase is one of the first exclusive showcases dedicated to black artists in Ottawa.

The host of the night was Haitian-Canadian entertainer Sammy Blanco.

To begin the night, a panel of three black artists discussed the importance of what it means to be a black artist in Ottawa. The panel consisted of artists Rose-Ingrid, Patrick Cormack and Axandre Lemours. They discussed challenges, such as not having enough money in black communities, or not creating the space for artists, causing them to go to other cities.

They also discussed what it means to be a successful artist. The panellists concluded that success goes beyond monetary value. They determined that success is the amount of people who have shared the experience of whatever art an individual makes.

Sharlène Clarke stands in front of the audience in a golden dress, holding a microphone as she speaks
Sharlène Clarke, founder of the showcase and Hors Pair Social. Clarke discussed the behind-the-scenes of the event, as well as her experience as a black woman in Ottawa. Photo credit: Siobhan Rollo

Sharlène Clarke was the event’s founder, as well as the founder of Hors Pair Social. Hors Pair Social is a company dedicated to curating events dedicated to Black people in Ottawa. Hors Pair hosts social, entertainment and professional events across Ottawa.

Clarke said that the showcase was one of the first of its kind in Ottawa. Clarke continues to search for opportunities in the Ottawa community for Hors Pair Social events.

“I’m proud to be one of the first,” Clarke said. “Hopefully, this event inspires more.”

The opener of the night was Haitian-Canadian music artist Grey Brisson. Brisson’s influences range from folk, R&B, rock and pop music.

“I’d like to say I’m a rock artist,” said Brisson. “At first [I got into rock music] because people assume it’s all R&B and rap. No one ever thinks of rock as Black music, even though it has Black origins.”

On stage, Brisson performed his EP single Nobody.

Nobody is from my EP, it’s my mum’s favourite song,” Brisson said.

Another featured artist was Somali-Canadian rapper Mohamed Ali, or as he’s better known, Mxzy.

Mxzy notes his musical influences come from many aspects of Black culture. Many of his lyrics surround black issues, such as systemic racism.

“A lot of the shit I do is therapy rap,” said Mxzy. “A lot of it comes from stuff I want to get out.”

Mxzy notes that his Somali heritage is a big inspiration for the music that he creates.

“Stuff comes from my culture… A lot of my family is in Somalia,” said Mxzy. “People often don’t know this, but Somalia is known as a nation of poets.”

Artist Malaïka Urbani dressed in a floral dress as she sings
Artist Malaïka Urbani performed an original song she composed and wrote. Urbani performed a vocal performance comparable to opera. Photo credit: Siobhan Rollo

Students were also welcome to participate in the showcase, such as University of Ottawa student, Malaïka Urbani. Born in Montreal, Urbani is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music in classical voice and composition.

Urbani took the stage performing an original vocal performance, which she wrote and composed herself.

“I’m a poet, composer and singer,” Urbani said. “The essence of my art is storytelling. I want to bring it to life.”

Urbani’s background is Italian and Rwandan.

“I can only see art through my identity. My perspective is my own,” said Urbani. “My identity and art influence each other.”

One of the closing acts was internationally renowned dancer Chloë Bonnet. Bonnet has a Haitian background and also self-identifies as French-Canadian.

Bonnet has been dancing since she was three years old.

“Growing up in Ottawa, I was normally the only black girl in my dance classes,” said Bonnet. “The diversity is lacking, even still, unfortunately.”

The night wrapped up with a reception in the student lounge of the E-building.

Blanco’s closing statements recommended that the audience pursue other Black History Month events going on around Ottawa, directing them to the Black Ottawa Connect Instagram page.

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