Episode 141 – Winter Is Cancelled With The Afro x Latin Fest

On this episode, our correspondent Oumar Salifou learns about the incredible Afro X Latin Festival presented by La Connexional.

The Afro X Latin Festival began in 2019 with its first #WinterIsCancelled night, and brings together a diverse representation of African, Caribbean and Latin cultures. Edmonton Community Foundation is proud to be a 2023 sponsor.

This year’s festival runs from Saturday, February 18th to Sunday, February 26th, and is packed with great events including dance parties and live music.

Get your ticket to The Afro X Latin Festival.
See their schedule of events.
Check out more great things from La Connexional.
Learn to dance with Ivan Touko:
Open Level Afro Dance Class at Home With Ivan Touko #1
See all 5 lesson on Mile 0’s YouTube page.

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The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation. And is a proud, affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Image for this episode was supplied by La Connexional.

Music for this episode was from the “2019 Afro x Latin Festival” video, and used with permission from La Connexional. You can see more videos from their great events on their website.

Transcripts by Karli Drew.


[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays]

Graeme Lummer [00:00:25] Hi everyone. Welcome to ECF’s Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Graeme Lummer—

Shereen Zink [00:00:28] And I’m Shereen...

Zink. This podcast is a proud affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Graeme [00:00:33] Edmonton is full of generous donors who have created endowment funds at Edmonton Community Foundation. These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.

Shereen [00:00:43] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed.

On this episode, we find out about the incredible Afro Latin Festival presented by La Connexional.

Graeme [00:00:54] The festival began back in 2019 with its first Winter Is Cancelled night, and brings together a diverse representation of African, Caribbean, and Latin cultures. ECF is proud to be a 2023 sponsor.

Shereen [00:01:05] Ivan Touko is the co-CEO and curator of La Connexional and of the Afro Latin Festival. For him, this festival is an opportunity to share culture, history, and community through dance. He works with intention to create safe and joyful spaces.

Graeme [00:01:18] Our correspondent, Oumar Salifou, speaks with Ivan Touko to find out more about the Afro Latin Festival. We begin with Ivan.

[sound clip of live music, crowd cheering plays]

Ivan Touko [00:01:25] I’m speaking from my personal experience. Uh, I think there are a lot of events that have happened before us that are happening. You know, we all know of Cariwest. Cariwest has been happening for so many years. There are big festivals that happen. I think what makes La Connexional unique and what makes us— has made us unique, we are really, really trying to bring all of these cultures all in the one place as much as we can without, um— How do I say that? [sighs] There’s so— there’s a lot of intersectionalities between African, Black, Caribbean, and Latin cultures. You know, whether it’s the energy that comes with it or the warmth, uh, the tropics, the fact that we get sun.

[00:02:11] And… me having the experience, I was born and raised in Cameroon. Coming here, I got exposed to many of these cultures. And in my journey as an artist, I got to learn, you know, dance hall, reggae, and even just music. Uh, so I’m a creative, so I love being inspired by, you know, like, things that passionate me. And so, uh, when it comes to La Connexional, bringing those cultures together was— there is a huge market to make these things happen. But we need to build it in a way that brings more of us together. So people that have similar backgrounds, uh, similar interests often, or that the cultures have so many intersectionalities. Because when you listen to Caribbean music, you find elements of African music into it. If you listen to Latin music, you find elements of African music. If you listen to Latin music, you find— there’s so many intersectionalities.

[00:03:02] And really creating that energy and creating in a way that brings an experience that is just more than, let’s say, one culture. And it’s— Again, even saying one culture, there’s not one African culture. There’s not one Afr— Caribbean culture. So we’re really trying here to— We know we cannot claim that we’ll always represent them perfectly, but… how deep can we go to explore those, uh, intersectionalities, but also bring something that brings community together? Because the goal of this event isn’t just to party or to have a festival, it’s to— how do we allow people to create relationships, to create support systems, and to meet people that they may have never otherwise met if they didn’t attend these events?

[00:03:43] Dance is… dance is, uh, one of the original ways of telling stories. Uh, you know, when you look at history and even some of the first paintings is paintings of humans dancing. Uh, that’s how we used to tell stories, celebrate and, uh, in many Indigenous cultures and in many African cultures in general, that, uh, movement and dance has been very central, especially paired with music. Uh, whether that’s drums, uh, ways of communicating and talking to each other without having to speak, uh, the same language. Uh, and so when… when I think about that, and when I think about how, um, we’ve had… we’ve had festivals where, you know, [inaudible], uh, creates, there’s literally like a live flash mob happening. You know, people are following one lead and people from— that may have never danced. You see everyone is moving together. You have a lot of energy circulating in the room and it’s good energy because the music is amazing, the environment is great, and the person leading you has so much energy and is sharing their culture and their passion.

[00:04:57] And I think that experience, um, people always leave that feeling so rejuvenated because it’s almost like you’ve connected and talked to, like, a hundred people, but with good vibes, without talking with them. Uh, and sometimes for people that don’t like to dance, there’s usually there’s, like, behind, like— uh, at the back of the room, some people are watching. And even just the effect of watching, which is people watching a performance live, also gives, like, “Wow, this is actually happening right in front of my eyes.” So I think that element of dance, uh, where, like, we really create, uh, almost like mini classes during events bringing together sometimes you have, like, we do one Caribbean move and then it goes to, like, an Afro move, and then it’s a Latin move.

[00:05:44] And so all of that, I think people get to experience those cultures and experiencing a culture through dance paired with the music is definitely— it becomes a cultural experience that stays with you, uh, most of the time. And I think, um… yeah, it’s something that is very, uh, spiritual I would say sometimes because I’m a dancer, that’s my main, uh— I’m gonna say that’s my main medium in terms of creativity. And… as a dancer, sometimes I cannot imagine not being able to dance. And that’s something I’m very grateful for. And so, having been able to hone in the ability to share that with other people and how dance has honestly helped me in so many different parts of my life. Especially during COVID, dancing was an escape from a lot of things.

[00:06:36] Because when you dance, you don’t need to speak, you don’t need to think a lot. You are moving your body and moving your body is connected to so many other, like, wellness benefits. You know, whether it’s the reason that dopamine’s in your brain or just smiling, you know, you know, sweating. All of those things are things that are core to the human experience or a part of the human experience and are things that you, uh— when you do them and you do them in a community setting, it gets amplified 10x. Uh, and I think that’s what, uh, some of the things that makes dance a special component to what we do.

Oumar Salifou [00:07:12] How are some of the ways that you’ve been able to make your event a safer space for… for people? ‘Cause I know that’s something that you mentioned before. Um, changing policies or… or teaching people, um, I guess maybe, like, consent and, like, the proper conduct for, um, showing up to a dance event.

Ivan [00:07:32] Mm-hmm. I think… I think for us, it all started with, uh, the way we promote our events. Uh, just from the start. I think it started with how we show up to the public. We do our best to promote our events in a way that doesn’t, um— that makes as many people as possible feel welcome. Um, you know, I think, uh, you know, when it comes to the entertainment industry or the cultural industry, it’s really super easy to promote events, uh, with imagery that, you know, may attract people that may come to those events for specific things. You know, and to be blunt, you know, a lot of times it’s, like, promoting events through the images of, like, sexualizing women. Uh, it’s hard for me to say we’ve never done that because it’s probably impossible. Uh, but we promote our events in a way that we are not asking people to come for a certain thing. We are asking people to come for the experience.

[00:08:25] So the pictures that we share, the videos that we do after, um— And again, like, it’s something that we, as a company that is majority led by men, we are always working towards. You know, like, I think it’s always that element of, like, we are striving towards it. We’ve received feedback from people that said, “Hey, you know, I came to one of our— your events and I didn’t feel as safe.” And we address that. You know, we don’t shy away from those things and we do our best to address it. We’ve also been really lucky to have some amazing, uh, women in our team that have helped us create this policy. So the Safer Space Policy that we currently have on our website, uh, Ray— Rayanna, uh, helped— created that. And so, we’ve had a lot of amazing people that have come through, uh, especially amazing women that have come and say, “Hey, these are some of the things that we can do better to, uh, make our events a safer space.”

[00:09:17] Obviously when it comes to La Connexional, uh, we are trying to create, like, inclusive and spaces where racism, bullying, and harassment are not tolerated. So we mention that clearly on our website and, you know, with the communities that— the communities that we are trying to empower and the cultures that we’re showcasing is important for these spaces to be as safe as possible, uh, and to always continue to work towards that. Uh, so we’ve had, like, policies online, uh, we’ve made public statements, uh, we’ve… um, we’ve… we’ve had, like, passwords with the venues that we work with where it’s like, “Hey, if someone comes and says this to you, it means that they may not feel safe. And how do we go from there?” Uh, and so always continue trying to think about, like, different ways where we can make— where we can do our best to make our space safer.

[00:10:08] And one of the things we’ve done a class, a dance class, that was a kizomba class with a focus on, like, consent. You know, like, we had, like, 20 to 30 people attend that. But again, the idea of just, like, putting that class out and making it public, like, these are the kinds of classes that we are hosting, so that’s the kind of environment that we are trying to promote, I think has helped us creating those safer spaces. Um, and so it’s a continuous, I think, like, continuous work, continuous learning, especially as the world evolves and as— ensuring that we… uh, we listen, we really listen because when we have 400, 500 people in here, we don’t have eyes everywhere, right? It’s… it’s also up to the community that we are working with to help us create a safe space. And so, by us putting ourselves in the position to say, “This is what we are looking for, this is what we are promoting,” uh, we hope that the community also contributes to creating and keeping those spaces as safe as possible.

Oumar [00:11:08] Mm-hmm. Yeah. You mentioned, um, having, like, hundreds of people at your event. Um, what are the feelings as an organizer when the day actually arrives and you have hundreds of people looking to have fun, party, um, get together. Um, for you, what does it feel like experiencing but also managing all of this?

Ivan [00:11:30] Uh, I’m a… I’m a very anxious person in general. [laughs] Um, I think, um— Or I guess stressed, maybe not anxious. I think I— we-we all get anxious here and there, but I think, uh, I— I’m a little bit of a perfectionist and maybe not a little bit. People will probably say that I’m a perfectionist. [laughs] Um, so I— When— It’s… it’s been a continuous journey, uh, where… when I think about the things that have happened to my— from my first event to… to this time, I know this edition, I’m going to be a lot less stressed because of the things that I’ve learned along the way. And, uh, how to just handle all the stress that comes with hosting that many people. It is a big responsibility. And to be frank, it’s not really a responsibility that— when we started this, I didn’t necessarily see myself owning that responsibility in terms of… I don’t really like to be a leader.

[00:12:27] And I think it’s, like, you know, like, when people— uh, when you’re in that position, uh, there’s a lot of— uh, people look at you and scrutinize you a lot and it’s usually a very… stressful space because also as people come to the event and they see me, they sometimes expect my full attention when there’s like 10… 10,000 other things going. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, I met you— I met you in an event, and, uh, you ignored me.” And I’m like, “I probably did not ignore you. There’s probably like 20,000 things happening in my head.” Uh, I also have ADHD so, like, I’m usually thinking about, like, so many things in my head. Especially if the event is happening, especially if we build up until here and I want people to have the absolute best time. I’m nitpicking everything that I feel like isn’t going right.

[00:13:16] So there’s usually a lot of stress, a lot of responsibilities to deal with. And over the years, it’s really just been learning how to handle that better. Knowing— I guess, like, being more aware of who I am and how I process information and how I interact. And so today, if someone would come to talk to me, probably gonna take— I’m probably gonna notice it and, like, be able to handle it better than when that person was like, “Hey, you ignored me.” It’s like, “No, I did not ignore you. I definitely did not, uh, or it wasn’t intentional ’cause maybe I really did.” And so it’s, um… it’s also a really great feeling, you know, like, being able to bring that many people together. Especially… again, 80% of people that come to events are of African, Black, Cuban, or Latin descent. Um, there’s not a lot of spaces or a lot of events or experiences like this where you can see that many people looking like that all in the same room.

[00:14:10] And so it’s pretty amazing to know that we have the community supporting us and that also the work that we are doing is allowing people to experience a feeling of home. Because sometimes, again, 80% of our community looks like that, but also 50%, or even 60% of them, they were either born here, uh, or they haven’t been home, quote unquote, in so long. Or they’ve just been looking or wanting to… experience, you know, an environment like the one we’ve created. So it’s… it’s a big responsibility. It… it feels good. Uh, and I think usually it feels good after the event [laughing] because, you know, during the event it’s always, like, all hands on deck and, uh—

But I think, like, one thing that I’ve learned, uh, is really learning how to appreciate it now in the moment. And I think that’s a promise I’ve done to myself, especially for this year. How do we build a better system and how do we build better coordination so that, like… we can ensure that everyone, from the volunteer up until me, is having a good time? And I-I also get to enjoy the experience because it is a little bit of a waste for me to build all of this over two, three months and on the day of being super stressed about it versus, like, you know, really indulging the experience myself and, uh, being proud and, like, experiencing, uh, what we’ve created as a team.

Oumar [00:15:30] Yeah. One thing that you’ve definitely talked about before was wanting to have a legacy and keeping the company going for as long as you can, basically. Why is that so important to you and what do you hope for the future, um, for events, but also for yourself personally in Edmonton?

Ivan [00:15:48] When I look at my journey, um… culture was really impactful in the way that I was able to navigate, uh, Alberta and I was able to… keep living here. And I’ll even say surviving here. So when I moved from Cameroon, uh, I-I felt really isolated. I— It was really hard to find friends or find people that I could connect to. And then, uh, I started training with Sangea. Sangea is a drumming group and it’s a dance— western African drumming dance group here. And I-I trained with Sangea for a year to— perhaps, like, three years, actually. And training with Sangea and learning how to dance and drum saved me from a lot of troubles or from doing a lot of things that would not have benefited me at all. And I know that because when I was training with Sangea, I know youth just my age that are not where I am today because of the other choices that they made.

[00:16:49] It’s not to say that, um… it’s not to say that making those choices— They couldn’t have done it any other way, but I sincerely believe that dance culture was a pivotal part of what has allowed me to, uh, greater self-awareness of myself, learn about myself, learn some certain discipline. Like, have an outlet for myself when I was going through really, really rough times. Uh, and so when I think about that, I think… about the other Ivan, you know, that could move from Cameroon. If I didn’t have what I had, I don’t know where I would be. So the legacy of— I want, we want La Connexional to be something that’s going to affect generations, not just ours, but the generations that are going to come after us.

[00:17:38] When we also consider the effects of COVID: isolation, people not going out, all these things. In person events like this where people can experience their culture, experience other cultures I think are even… even more important to even just stay sane. We are— Humans are social animals. And I think, like, something that COVID showed us is that— Yeah, I’m an introvert by nature. I usually don’t like interacting a lot, but having an event like this once every two, three months is such a boost for me and my energy and what allows me to stay sane and keep, you know, living and pushing. And so, uh, thinking about how that has affected me, I would not wish for someone not to have that. And so, we really want La Connexional to be something that’s go— Not “we want.” It is going to affect generations to come. Uh, that is, I think— For me in my head, that is a fact.

[00:18:32] Um, and so I think when it comes to Alberta, the prairies, um, you know, I was talking earlier about we… we had a documentary film sponsored by, uh, Edmonton Community Foundation called the “Rise of Afrobeats in the Prairies.” Again, capturing that history and capturing that legacy is to also… making sure that we can tell our own stories. Because events like this, again, we look at it, it’s fun, it’s all that, but this is also us telling our own stories, us showcasing our cultures. For us, by us in a way that… yes, there can be— always be improvement, but in a way that we feel is as authentic as we can potentially get with the resources that we have. And so, like, really having that generational impact. And I think La Connexional— Um, and Edmonton really grew on me and last year is the first year— or maybe two years ago is the first year where I felt at home in Edmonton. When I came from— I think I came from— maybe I was in Toronto or somewhere outside of Edmonton, I got to the airport and I was like, “Wow, I’m home.” And that was a nice feeling, and I’ve been here for… 10, 11 years, but that feeling is only possible, I think, in part because of La Connexional and because of the community that I’ve built.

[00:19:49] Uh, immigration is not going to stop, uh, people of African, Black, Caribbean, and BIPOC people are not gonna stop coming to Alberta. More and more will likely be moving here when you consider inflation and everything. And these spaces are important for the kids that are going to be growing up here so that they can… they can be part of their cultures. Because I think one thing that often that I-I do— I’ve learned to consider is a privilege is the pride that I had as a Cameroonian person, uh, an African person, and then a Black person. Because before coming here, Black was not really a designation that I ever associated myself with.

[00:20:30] I was Cameroonian. I was Cameroonian from Bafang, from Bamiléké, Bafang. Like, I know… I know my tribe, I know my village, I know where my ancestors are buried. I have all of that knowledge. A lot of people don’t have that. And I think it’s— That knowledge for me has been instrumental in the way I’ve dealt with racism, in the way I’ve dealt with microaggressions, in the way I’ve dealt with certain rejections that felt like they were rejections because of the way I looked. But because I was proud of myself, because I knew I have all this knowledge and it wasn’t always easy, but I look back at it, I’m like, “This is a big part of where I am today and the way that I move in the world and the way that I carry myself.”

[00:21:16] Over the years, we’ve sort of, like, been balancing the festival and that’s also why we added a few more days because then when we have a few more days, we can focus on specific things, right? So this year we— we added, like, a… just a Latin night. It’s gonna be a Latin party, uh, with a bachata social. So if you come to that Latin… Latin party, you know… you know what to expect. You know, you’re gonna be— there’s gonna be free dance classes, you can get that. And the Saturday is more of, like, an overall night. And we have, like, a piano night, which is basically a Southern African experience. So less is— the less is more when we had two, three days, it worked that way, and this year we are sort of, like, taking another approach and seeing how that works.

And next year if we get feedback and that doesn’t work, then we keep innovating. It is always— This is the vision that we have and the vision that we have, we believe in it. Um, it’s not that we don’t wanna compromise on it, but it’s always better to do and then get the feedback and then reevaluate, “Okay, this is how it went, how do we make this better? And, uh, how do we move forward, listen to the community, but also listening to ourselves.”

[00:22:25] Because ultimately what we are doing, no one— not maybe no one, but the skills that we’ve been able to do what we’re doing now, I don’t know anyone. And that could have happened in history before and I’m not aware of that history. Would love for someone to, like, enlighten me or maybe even me, myself to do some more research. But what we’re doing right now hasn’t been done. So we are actually, like— We think about it, we are really the only people that we should technically listen to. And so, always take things, again, not personally and, like, how do we keep innovating?

[00:22:58] The last thing will be, um… oof! Uh. It’s, um… I think it’s— Oh, what’s the— Think. Let’s think, what have we learned? Um… I think people— We know there’s a need. Um, I think what we’ve learned is that we know there’s a need because even the second festival when we did it, the day before the festival we had, like, a hundred tickets sold. The day of the festival, like 200 people showed up [laughs] at the door, which is very stressful as a… as a planner— as an event planner. However, I think it just speaks to… people want these things and it’s, um… it’s that continuous, uh, search of “How do we reach out to people earlier? How do we encourage people to plan ahead so that we can even plan better?” Uh, and even though we don’t have— And that’s the thing, we have the qualitative data because people are giving us reviews. But I think, like, something that’s usually, like, we don’t maybe necessarily have the quantitative data saying “80% of people are saying that they want these events” and kind of running that survey and, uh, really having in stone, “Yes, people want this.” But we know. I want this.

[00:24:23] I know a lot of people that are looking forward to it. I know people that are resharing the event without even us asking about doing it because they… they want this. Uh, and so I think that’s something that we’re really sure of. And it doesn’t really matter how this experience turns out, the turn out. I think we’ll always keep trying to innovate so that we can keep the experience alive. And if we need to reevaluate how many days or how many artists that we book, we’ll always keep doing that because the production of these events is actually very expensive, especially for a small organization like us. We pay many of the artists that we work with at a very— at their rates, you know, and, uh, it’s— Uh, yes.

[music plays in background]

So it’s always reevaluating things and, um, the more… the more support we get, the more we can keep innovating. The less support we get, the more we still keep innovating. But that will just mean that things might just look a little different every year after year, uh, as we grow as a company, as we grow, as, you know, people. And, uh, yeah, keep looking for feedback.

Graeme [00:25:28] Thank you to Oumar Salifou for bringing us this story. And thank you to Ivan Touko, co-CEO and curator of La Connexional, for sharing his time with us.

Shereen [00:25:41] The Afro Latin Festival runs from Saturday, February 18th to Sunday, February 26th, and it’s packed with a ton of great events, including dance parties and live music, which sounds like so much fun.

Graeme [00:25:52] I personally can’t wait. You can get your own festival tickets at afrolatinfestyeg.com or head on over to our show notes for the link. And for some links to dancing lessons from Ivan himself.

Shereen [00:26:01] And we’ll have a link so that you can find out more about La Connexional and their other great events and initiatives. They do tons of stuff all year round.

Graeme [00:26:09] Be sure to visit our site for more stories about ECF and Edmonton’s charitable sector on our blog and the Well Endowed Web Show.

Shereen [00:26:14] As always, we’ll also have links to our upcoming granting deadlines and funding opportunities.

[The Well Endowed Podcast music plays in background of outro]

Graeme [00:26:20] Well, and that brings us to the end of the show. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Shereen [00:26:23] Yeah, thanks! If you enjoyed it, please share it with everyone you know.

Graeme [00:26:26] And if you have time, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s a great way to support the show and help new listeners find us.

Shereen [00:26:33] And come say hi to us on Facebook. You can share your thoughts and see some pictures from the show.

Graeme [00:26:37] Thanks again for tuning in. We’ve been your hosts, Graeme Lummer—

Shereen [00:26:40] And Shereen Zink.

Graeme and Shereen [00:26:41] Until next time!

Andrew Paul [00:26:44] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—

Lisa Pruden [00:26:48] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Andrew [00:26:51] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.

Lisa [00:26:53] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com.

Andrew [00:26:56] Subscribe to us on iTunes—

Lisa [00:26:58] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.

Andrew [00:27:01] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.

Lisa [00:27:03] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.

[theme music continues playing for a few seconds after dialogue ends]

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