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KUUMBA 2024 Makes a Joyful Noise

The longest running Black Futures Month festival in Canada is raising its voice and breaking new ground.

by Daniel McIntosh

Canada’s longest-running Black Futures Month festival is back with a new vision. All throughout February, Harbourfront Centre’s KUUMBA is showcasing integrated public programming and multidisciplinary workshops covering comedy, music, poetry and spoken word, dance, film and visual arts. The event is led by keynote speaker Angie Thomas, whose novel The Hate U Give was adapted into a major film in 2018.

Arinola Olowoporoku (pictured above), a producer and curator at KUUMBA, tells RANGE that a particular quote from Thomas’ book defined the direction of this year’s festival: “What is the point of having a voice? What’s the point of having the voice if you’re going to be silent in the moments that you shouldn’t be?” 

These questions served as a catalyst. The result is a month-long series of exhibitions and workshops expressing the festival’s 2024 theme: Raising the Voice, which speaks to the varying perspectives, challenges, complexities, and triumphs of Black life. The festival goes on after the month is over as well with KUUMBA 365.

RANGE sat down with Olowoporoku ahead of KUUMBA’s Black Futures Festival to discuss what viewers can expect from the programming, and what KUUMBA’s universe looks like in 2024. 


Hi Arinola. Can we start with you telling me a little bit about your role at KUUMBA and what viewers can expect this year?

Absolutely! I’m an associate producer for cultural engagements at Harbourfront Centre and the lead producer on the curator of KUUMBA 2024. We basically produce all the festivals and cultural engagements that happen. 

KUUMBA is our Black history and Black Futures Month festival. It’s the longest running one of its kind in Canada—this is our 29th anniversary. And next year, we’ll be having KUUMBA 30. 

We basically do integrated public programming and multidisciplinary engagements focusing on different areas of the creative arts, such as comedy, music, spoken-word poetry, visual arts, workshops and films as well. This is basically what we do every February.


The Hate U Give is screening Feb. 2 at Studio Theatre.


KUUMBA frames its February programming as Black Futures Month, as opposed to Black History Month. Can you tell me why KUUMBA frames its programming that way?

During KUUMBA 25, in 2020, the idea of Black Futures Month [came up]. We look forward through appreciation, learning about historical narratives, and essentially looking at what we have left, which is the present and the future, and seeing how we can help guide the course that the future takes us on. We look at the possibilities and the limitless potential of Black art. We wanted to be more forward thinking, future-focused, and just essentially progressive in every way you can think about it.


Juno award winner Jully Black (pictured) and Aqyila perform Feb. 17 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre.


How does this year’s theme, Raising the Voice, build on KUUMBA’s mission?

Raising the voice is inspired by raising the roof, which is this celebratory phrase. And it’s because the entire mood of KUUMBA this year is not just celebratory, but wholesome and inclusive, so we wanted to encourage positive emotions. We’re here to celebrate how we got where we are, and that cannot be said or understood or appreciated without acknowledging the things that happened in our past. So essentially, that’s where Raise the Voice comes from. 


The Evolution of Breaking is screening Feb. 3 at the Studio Theatre.


How does the new initiative, KUUMBA 365, play into the festival?

KUUMBA 365 is basically our initiative of answering the critique of why Black History Month or Black Futures Month is only in February, and why that can’t be a year-long initiative. KUUMBA 365 is basically our attempt to answer that question or to provide some sort of solution. KUUMBA 365 commissions artists to create pieces in their medium based on a central theme. This year’s theme being voice, three artists, Dwayne Morgan, Randell Adjei, and Paulina O’Kieffe-Anthony, will be reacting to an exhibition at The Power Plant. They’ve come up with a 45-minute spoken word response, which will be on show during KUUMBA 2024, and people will also have access to all KUUMBA 365 things online for now.


Why Black Women Whisper by Anne-Marie Woods | Feb. 4 (2pm and 8 pm) at Fleck Dance Theatre. (Photo: Linda Marie Stella)


Arinola, thanks for sharing KUUMBA’s exciting 2024 programming with us! Any information you want to leave us with?

There’s something for everybody in KUUMBA. Every demographic can find something to enjoy in pretty much every program. It’s going to be a completely mixed and diverse space. We will be speaking about things that affect other communities as well, of course, but the perspective is just through the creative endeavours of Black people or people of the Black diaspora.


KUUMBA events are on at Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) from February 1 to 29 | TICKETS & INFO