By: Ayesha Habib
Harambecouver is a multicultural celebration and parade taking place from August 25–27 in the Downtown Eastside. The event aims to focus on the diversity of people of African descent and Indigenous communities while promoting reconciliation and is open to everyone of all cultures and backgrounds. The Peak sat down with Kayode Fatoba, CEO of local digital management agency Skynation, who have had an important role in the development of the event. In the interview, Fatoba speaks more on Harambecouver, from the meaning of the word ‘harambe’ to the impact the event will have on communities both within and outside of the Downtown Eastside.
The Peak: What is Harambecouver?
Kayode Fatoba: Harambecouver is Vancouver’s multicultural parade with a unique focus on diversity and reconciliation.
P: Who’s going to be there?
KF: A great deal of people. The event started as the African carnival in 2016. The intention was to put a spotlight on Hogan’s Alley, a community that initially black settlers had occupied and started businesses in. Due to gentrification we [have seen] this community become marginalized. The organization behind this movement is African Great Lakes, founded by Kombii Nanjalah. She was approached by [a] member of the Indigenous community, Steven Lytton, and he wanted to see more allyship support this carnival. [They wanted] to conceive and draw a brand that is much more far-reaching and invites a lot of communities to participate.
This year we’re celebrating Canada’s 150, [and that] presents an opportunity for us to change the focus in terms of this history of colonialism, of gentrification, of us understanding we are seated on Coast Salish territories and Squamish territories. We started to look at how we can encapsulate something that was a lot bigger than an African parade or African festival.
‘Harambe’ is a word that means ‘working together’ and ‘unity’ in Swahili. The world knows that there’s this gorilla that’s named Harambe. That was the first opportunity for us to conceptualise and add meaning to something that is so powerful.
P: So is the reconciliation aspect through multiculturalism and education? Like educating people on what the word ‘harambe’ actually means, for example?
KF: Yeah, definitely. Steven Lytton and the two organizations that are behind this movement, African Great Lakes and Great Lakes Canada, really focus on building on the diversity of reconciliation [and] peace. There’s going to be focus on developing partnerships with Reconciliation Canada as well as the various tribes of whom are also advocating for recognition within mainstream culture. This event is that opportunity for us to promote cultural pride, and the . . . people [who] come out and celebrate with us . . . will make this as powerful as it can be.
P: Being one of the first multicultural parades to take place in the Downtown Eastside, what kind of impact do you see [this having]?
KF: This parade is gonna move around the Downtown Eastside. East Hastings . . . is this area that the government tries to sweep under the rug. We’re coupling that with the displacement of people with African descent or the Indigenous population within Strathcona and Hogan’s Alley. The current brand of this community is highly linked to low economic circumstantial . . . population. We can say there’s a correlation between low income and the colour of your skin if we’re trying to look at privilege within a colour spectrum. What we’re doing [is] beautifying and rejuvenating this community . . . by showcasing the ethnic pride associated with individuals that thrive in this neighbourhood, but were displaced for various developmental projects. This is also an international project. Projects like the World Cup and large scale events have this tourist impact, [and] government is forced to look at the developmental plan of this area and prioritize it. You don’t want your tourists coming to an area and seeing needles on the floor.
Harambecouver [will be able] to connect different cultures who didn’t know what the word meant before, but [who] are realizing that we have to work together [and] re-envision what Canada 150 looks like. The focus on priority communities that wouldn’t otherwise be presented on a mainstream stage is an opportunity for people to expose themselves to [different] cultures. Our goal this year is to create awareness for people to join this multicultural pride parade [and] to come in their cultural attire. It’s a statement that it’s just as welcome in social settings as the eurocentric style that we consume in our everyday interactions.
P: Is there anything else you want to add that people should know about the festival?
KF: Yeah. Day one is going to be the launch night. We’re looking to bring together the Indigenous community and afro-community while connecting them to researchers [because] often times [there] is a lack of representation at the table. Often marginalized communities receive top-down solutions. We have the collaboration of the graduate student union and researchers looking to develop tools to improve advocacy for this community. A number of speakers [will] come. [Day two is] the culture festival component where we’ll have a wide range of grassroots artists [and] other international artists come within a presentation of cultural art [and] food. The third day is the parade [where] we’ll be walking around the Downtown Eastside starting at Thornton Park at 2 p.m., then walking to Hastings, down to Main Street, then back down to the park. Our goal is [to] get as much people out, create as much awareness, and be able to mobilize the community in what we hope can become the start of cultural pride.
The organizers of Harambecouver will curate and create a discussion on the effects of the displacement of marginalized communities in the Downtown Eastside as well as providing a space for the celebration of community, culture, and art. More information about Harambecouver can be found on their website. You can also RSVP to their event page on Facebook.