Joy of the ethnic festival for Jahswill
JOLLOF rice stacked and served with a slice of wheat is the ultimate Afro-Irish fusion for Jahswill Emmanuel, for whom even family meals seem like a naturally inclusive event.
Nigerian-born organizer of Northern Ireland’s first multi-ethnic arts, culture and heritage exhibition is “really, really” delighted to bring the flavors, landscapes and colors of some 55 nationalities to Crumlin Road Gaol later this month.
And her favorite – the traditional jollof rice, a type of spicy tomato-based stew popular across West Africa – will certainly be on the menu, alongside rich international cuisine, art, dance. , costume and sport in one-day extravaganza starring hop artist Jordan Adetunji.
Former Belfast City Council Volunteer of the Year (2017), Jahswill is President of Multi-Ethnic Sports and Cultures NI and has been planning the show since 2016.
He worked quietly behind the scenes, inspiring and invigorating many volunteers as well as participating artists, including Chinese tambourine dancers, African drummer Wilson Magwere – who was forced to flee Zimbabwe 10 years ago because of his music – Mexican dancers, Eritrean instrumentalists and singer and rapper, David Brown (Nxgen Music).
“Our aim is to embrace and promote cultural diversity and to give everyone of all nationalities here the opportunity to learn, appreciate and enjoy other cultures as well as showcase their own heritage, their sport and their music “, shines the multi-award-winning community activist.
Jahswill’s “sense of belonging” at his beloved foster home in Northern Ireland, however, took a hit – with a few bruises and a broken jaw – when in 2012 he was assaulted while worked as a security guard in Belfast.
“It was a bit of a shock because I came to Northern Ireland at the invitation of a cousin in 2004 and found it to be a very welcoming and friendly place,” he recalls.
“I had lived in London before that, where life was difficult – and very expensive – so coming to Belfast was an exciting new adventure. Even though the soldiers and tanks were still in the streets then and there were checkpoints everywhere, I found a warmth in the people.
“They were saying ‘hello’ and wanted to talk to you – unlike when I was in London.”
Despite his experiences of racial discrimination, he says he likes to have a balanced point of view: “I realize that there are good and ignorant people everywhere – if you go to Africa they can assault you there too – low You can be racially attacked anywhere in the world.
“This is why a festival like this is necessary – we share our vision of inclusion with other people and show that we care about people, wherever they come from, and that we respect their individuality. , their heritage and their values. “
Life has changed dramatically since Jahswill arrived in Northern Ireland, including the shops.
“There weren’t a lot of crops in Northern Ireland in 2004 and there wasn’t even an African store – we had to go to the Asian store to buy our food,” he recalls.
“Now there are a lot of specialty grocery stores, restaurants and cafes… it all shows the growth of diversity here and it’s such a wonderful thing.
“There are over 55 different cultures in Northern Ireland today, so it’s time to celebrate.”
Married to Jennifer, a woman from Northern Ireland, he is keen for his four children, aged 13 to three, to know about his native culture and see the upcoming exhibit on ethnic arts, culture and heritage as the way ideal to bring a bit of Nigeria to their Belfast. front door.
“In Nigeria we did not have a good government and the situation was terrible and not improving; it was a tough life just to survive, “he says,” but I still have family there and in ‘normal’ times – without Covid – I would go back and visit.
“My kids haven’t had the chance to go to Africa yet, but now they can find out about food and clothes in the shops in Belfast.
“It makes you think this is your home. I would really like people who come to this event to feel like they are part of a large, colorful and united community in Northern Ireland.
“It’s good to let people know where we’re from and that we’re here, to live together as one.”
The Northern Ireland Multi-Ethnic Exhibition takes place at Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast on Saturday July 31. Tickets (www.eventbrite.co.uk) are free and the number is limited due to Covid regulations.