Orchestrating an African cultural tour

ISSAMBA, a 90-minute show filled with African music and dance, will be touring Vancouver and Vancouver Island Feb. 14–23.

Produced by the Victoria African and Caribbean Cultural Society (VACCS), ISSAMBA functions as a way for some to celebrate their own heritage and for others to experience African and Caribbean culture in a fun and educational atmosphere.

A sense of community

Pulchérie Mboussi, founder and executive director of VACCS.| Photo courtesy of Victoria African and Caribbean Cultural Society.

Pulchérie Mboussi is the founder and executive director of VACCS, an all-volunteer run organization that began in 2012. Mboussi moved to Victoria in 2010 after living in Quebec City for almost two decades, and when she arrived on the island she didn’t feel the same sort of connection between her new city and her original home’s culture that she had in Quebec.

“When I founded [VACCS] in 2012,” says Mboussi, “it was mostly because we didn’t have enough organizations in Victoria that promote African culture.”

Mboussi moved to Canada from Cameroon with her husband 28 years ago and, since she lives across the globe from the place she grew up, a sense of community and togetherness with regards to her heritage has always been essential for her.

“When I immigrated here I was an adult,” she says, “so I already had my heritage, my culture – I had it in me. When I came to Quebec City it was okay because we had different organizations and could feel our culture and background. When I moved to Victoria I didn’t feel that. I couldn’t find a real community, a sense of belonging-ness, so a few friends and I decided to create a group so we could have that.”

That group has grown over the last seven years. The VACCS has been able to host plenty of events over that time, including an annual African Cultural Week in Victoria at the end of May. While the VACCS began as a community for people of African heritage, it has grown into an organization that looks to share that culture and heritage with everyone in the city.

“When we started moving our group from inside the house to outside,” says Mboussi, “I found that people were not really aware where Cameroon is, or where Congo is; they were just African. I said I have a job to do: to bring awareness of all the different cultures of Africa.”

A variety of culture

ISSAMBA is an annual event produced by the VACCS, with the 2019 edition its fourth year. The show will embark on a mini-tour beginning Feb. 14 in Victoria before returning to the city on Feb. 23 with shows at Faris Theatre here in Vancouver Feb 15 and 16. Mboussi hopes the shows will offer a glimpse into the wide variety of culture that the continent of Africa offers.

“People never ask me if I’m Cameroonian,” she says. “They ask me if I’m African, but Africa is 54 countries with thousands of ethnic groups. I said I’m going to try and bring in artists from different parts of the continent, to raise awareness of our rhythms.”

Fulfilling Mboussi’s idea, ISSAMBA will have six artists on stage representing different countries and cultures through their particular instruments and musical styles. It might not be possible to individually represent every group on the continent, but Mboussi is still proud of what the show will bring to the stage.

“It would be very difficult to represent 3,000 groups in one night,” she says, “but what we do is create an orchestra – it’s something new, it’s something unique.”

Mboussi says it’s also something for everyone, with that precise message embedded into the event’s title: issamba means ‘come together’ in Cameroon. Mboussi makes sure to emphasize that this show is meant for anyone who’s interested in a fun night of music.

“People of any culture, when they attend the show, we want them to feel the show. It’s a good experience; it’s to share our heritage; and we want people to remember it.”

For more information, please visit www.africafest.ca.