Muhtadi International Drumming Festival – Oct. 17 at Wychwood Barns, Toronto
Rick Lazar & Samba Squad
At Toronto’s Wychwood Barns this last Sunday, bright sunshine and scores of percussion stars turned out to appreciate and show sincere admiration for the cultural contributions of drummer, teacher and activist Muhtadi Thomas. His annual Muhtadi International Drumming Festival is now in its 21st year, and a grand profusion of excellent sounds and dancing accompanied the 6-plus-hour event, which could be heard far and wide throughout the Hillcrest neighbourhood, just west of Casa Loma.
Despite many funding challenges, and this year’s epithet-laden conflict over a potential cancellation, Muhtadi and his dedicated band of volunteers and performers have maintained an unbroken, 21-year string of free annual festivals, providing a unique platform for mutual respect, unity and joyful multicultural celebration of life in Canada.
Muhtadi Thomas immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in 1974. His musical talents have allowed him to master the djembe, bongos, congas, timbales, steel pan, and a wide assortment of other percussion instruments. As many of you may already know, Muhtadi suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
Since he has so often freely given his time and talent to so many individuals and causes, his organization hopes to be able to retrofit his home and purchase mobility aids so that he can remain in the comfort of his own space. This event was also meant to raise awareness of Muhtadi’s Parkinson’s Home Care Fund.
Beginning with a drum circle, which focussed energies and summoned weekending families and friends to the already bustling community center, the day developed steadily through a program of ensembles and solo artists that led to a culminating roar of rhythm that set bodies in motion, drumsticks afire and a benevolent smile across Muhtadi’s countenance as he sat ringside and applauded with obvious enjoyment at every act, many of which have been encouraged and trained by him in his career as a music educator.
Band after band, along with some spectacular soloists, rolled through the afternoon, cresting in waves of rhythm that did not subside until the sun had set. As theday ended talk had already begun about holding next year’s event in the same welcoming venue.
Video below features part of the performance by Maracatu Mar Aberto.