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Songs of the Underground Railroad have meanings far beyond their spiritual usage

November 20, 2010

under ground railroad tenor spiritual singerSongs of the Underground Railroad have meanings far beyond their spiritual usage. The slaves who were fleeing the United States to Canada before the abolition of slavery communicated amongst themselves by singing various spiritual songs, which unknown to the plantation master were codes to inform those ready to flee the plantation up north.

Michael Toby, tenor rendered some of the songs of the Underground Railroad at a performance at the St. Catharines Museum Lock #3 of the Welland Canal.

He sang the spirituals beautifully and educated the audience of the underlying codes of the songs.

In the song “Go Down Moses” the slaves were informed about the conductor of the Underground Railroad.

One of the conductors, Harriet Tubman went back and forth across the border and freed over 300 slaves.

"Wade in the water” communicated in codes to wade in the river to avoid the tracking of a guard dog since their scent would be lost if they wade through the river.

Special guest, soprano Gail Malcolm, rendered one of the popular spirituals “Swing Low Swing Chariot”.

It was a song that connoted the spiritual uplift to heaven but also informed the fleeing slaves of the arrival of the underground train that will carry them up north to Canada, which was their land of freedom.

Michael Toby was born in Toronto and grew up in Trinidad before returning later to Canada.

He told Mosaic Edition in an interview that Southern Ontario should develop the full potentials of the story of the Underground Railroad for the world to see. He did not only sing the spirituals of the Underground Railroad he performed other classical songs in French, German and Italian.

He chose “Go down Moses” as his favorite delivery of the concert because the song ends in a high note. He said he loved the song also because he was performing the song in St. Catharines, the last stop of the Underground Railroad and home to late Harriet Tubman.

“One of those things I find rewarding is that people tell me they do not know there were such meanings behind the songs because a lot of us sing them when we go to church but do not know they have such applications.”

Christopher Hunt accompanied Michael Toby on piano.

Two sisters and residents of St. Catharines Marjorie Dawson (90) and Jean Thomalson (89) were glad to hear Michael Toby's rendition of the spirituals of the Underground Railroad.residents descendants

tenor performs spirituals

Gail Malcolmsoprano malsolm

Story and Photo by Edward Akinwunmi

Bollywood in Niagara

puja There are no cultural boundaries to Bollywood. The audience at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, St Catharines had a tatse of Bollywood music and dance in a thrilling performance by Sanskriti Arts Ensemble.

The audience clapped, danced and sang along to familiar Bollywood tunes during the “Bollywood in Niagara” presentation of the Niagara Hindu Samaj. Puja Amin,who formed the Sanskriti Dance and Yoga Centre shortly on arrival from Mumbai India in 2003 choreographed the show to the delight of the mixed audience.

She told Mosaic Edition in a backstage interview that the stakes in Bollywood music and dance had been raised since the screening of the “Slumdog Millionaire.” Bollywood in Niagara featured various routines including Mehfil, Bollywood Mesala, Golden Girls, Bhangra Blast and a fashion show.

Vikas Khana appeared as a guest artist performing Love in Bollywood. Vikas Khana who came to Canada 8 years ago advised anyone interested in experiencing Bollywood to first visit an Indian restaurant to enjoy the food and probably watch a Bollywood act on their television screen.

Puja’s choreography has won many awards, including a gold championship from the international dances challenge in Toronto, where she received the ‘Inside Out’ prize.

Puja is currently working on an upcoming venture to help promote South Asian culture in Canada on a mainstream platform. Bollywood in Niagara was staged in partnership with the Centre for the Arts, Brock University with the support of the city of St. Catharines.

The president of Niagara Hindu Samaj Kamlesh Sharma expressed her thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors.

(Story and photo by Edward Akinwunmi)

Harriet Tubman gets Sculpture

HarrietTGetting an inscription for the Harriet Tubman sculpture recently unveiled at the British Methodist Episcopal Church, Salem Chapel in St. Catharines has not been easy.

Almost all quotes attributable to the respectable “conductor” of the Underground Railroad have been used in literatures and in many other ways. The historian of the BME Salem Chapel Trustee, Rochelle Bush however persisted in her search and she eventually came up with a unique quote for the sculpture.

“I would not trust Uncle Sam with my people no more……” Shortly before the sculpture was unveiled, a benediction was held inside the historic Salem Chapel.

Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in Maryland, to freedom in 1849. She brought more than 300 blacks from slavery to the Northland Canada, despite a price of $40,000 on her head. In 1851 she brought eleven freedom seekers to St. Catharines. They joined the A.M.E. Church in St. Catharines now known as the B.M.E. Church.

The Historic sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the B.M.E. Church in St. Catharines a National Historic Site in 2000.

Mental Wellness and the Adaptation of Immigrants

“Do not roll your eyes”. “Do not overdress”. “Do not raise your voice”. “Do not say ‘I understand’ because you don’t”. These were some of the recommendations workers from the Canadian Mental Health Association presented to participants at a workshop on mental health for those working with immigrants and refugees.

The one-day workshop, Mental Wellness & the Adaptation of Immigrants was held by The Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association. The workshop complements the one held last year which focused on the technical feature of immigration.

The workshop is to offer information to community agencies and service providers. “This year we dealt with the psychological aspect,” said Jasmine Pujante, settlement worker at the council.

In 2008, the total number of local refugees was a notable 1,820 where the majority derived from troubled countries.

“It is imperative to consider trauma among refugees, threats, physical or sexual assaults, rape, and the loss of beloved ones or livelihood, as ordeals that should not be cast out when dealing with refugees,” noted Hiba Khatkhat, counsellor from the mental health resource center.

Angelica Reyes, the volunteer coordinator from the Niagara branch addressed the issues that will reinforce the chances of an effective bond with the client : “practising names in its native manner and conducting research about the clients country of origin beforehand; accents may be hard to understand, nonetheless remain calm.”

Khatkhat explained that Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) among newcomers who derive from a troubled trail, is common disorder. For some individuals recovery takes a few months, while for others it might become a lifelong process.

According to Khatkhat “it is not the event per se that determines whether an experience is traumatic but the subjective experience of that person.”

“Children, youth, women, elderly and tortured survivors are among the most vulnerable,” said Khatkhat.

“To rebuild their lives in a constructive manner, consequently become productive members of the society, the imprint of trauma should be faded to the least possible shade.”

Anne Marie Majtenyi, program manager, settlement services noted that the workshop attracted 80 participants.

(Yasmin Mousa, Mosaic Edition)

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