If you have spent any time at Alberta Avenue festivals, you have probably been mesmerized by Sangea, a high energy, colourful, and talented African drum and dance troupe.
I bumped into them at the Carrot during Black History Month. Their commitment to their craft, vision and values triggered my interest in culturally diverse communities. I jumped at the opportunity to interview founders Reckie Llyod and Erini Perez Amezcua about immigration, music, and artist lifestyle.
Lloyd explained that the troupe name was inspired by Sangay, a common name given to Liberian girls meaning “female leader”.
“We like this name because we believe an African proverb that says ‘You educate a man, you educate one person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a village,’ ” said Lloyd.
Lloyd emigrated from Liberia via Ghana 10 years ago. Lloyd and his family moved to Edmonton after living a year in Ontario.
“Fortunately I knew English when I arrived, so I could continue with my high school education. I then attended Grant MacEwan to pursue music.”
Amezcua and her family come from Mexico.
“My mother and sister and I moved from Acapulco about nine years ago when the drug cartels moved in. I had to begin working immediately and found a job in construction. It was hard work and very cold. I knew very little English, so had to re-do high school.”
Working full time at Sangea has its ups and downs. “Our families encouraged us to get regular jobs. We have all come from difficult backgrounds and to get a stable income and lifestyle was considered the priority. But we have a vision to do something of broader significance that influences our community, city and country.”
Their vision is to make a difference and to stay true to their culture, which is part of a person’s identity.
“We are aware of how easy it is to lose one’s culture when you arrive here. And without one’s culture, one also loses one’s way in life and one’s soul. When we first started our music, we were working with youth who were lost, getting into trouble, had no community. We were trying to pull them back into their community before they made bad choices.”
Music, dance, and even the instruments they use are significant. The drum they play is called djembe and means “bringing people together in peace.”
“We believe we are working for peace. Culture is the core for peace. Music and drumming in particular brings people together. That is why drumming is done in a circle. And we also include poetry in performances as a means of informing what is going on in other parts of the world. Drumming, dance, and music provide a platform for educating and sharing how they feel about war and fighting.”
Lloyd explained that Canada offers great opportunities for newcomers as well plenty to do. He said there is some prejudice, but prejudice also existed at home in Africa. He added, “but if one is strong in your own culture, then you should see other cultures as a complement rather than a threat. That is one of the things that I admire about Canada. There is actually an opportunity to practice one’s own traditions without being excluded from regular Canadian society.”