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Storied past

Joe Sealy’s Africville Stories offers a new take on an award-winning jazz suite

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Africville Stories
  • Africville Stories

As a child in Montreal, musician and composer Joe Sealy was accustomed to hearing stories about the small Nova Scotian community of Africville from his father, who grew up there. In 1956, father and teenage son went on a road trip to visit the aunts, uncles and cousins Sealy had heard so much about.

"On the way, I said, 'Where are we going to stay?'" Sealy remembers. "And Dad said, 'That's going to be a problem, because everyone's going to want us to stay with them.'"

It's these kinds of warm memories--- of community and family---that Sealy hoped to highlight in his recording Africville Suite, which won a Juno for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1997, and again in Africville Stories, the live presentation that builds on his album.

"Every song on my CD has a story. This presentation is really to expand on that narrative, and try to give the audience a sense of at least my feeling towards the experiences I had, and my take on the positive aspects on Africville," he says. "The story is sad, but the citizens were so resilient."

Sealy is joined onstage by special guest vocalist Jackie Richardson, who he describes as "a dynamo...at our premiere performance, she had people on their feet from the first song."

Sealy's concert comes at an important time in Africville's history, following the mayor's formal apology for the evictions, and the restoration of the name Africville to Seaview Park by the city. One of the new pieces in Africville Stories is dedicated to the Seaview African United Baptist Church, which was rebuilt this past summer. Sealy is looking forward to seeing the replica during his Halifax stay, after being sent photos of the church under construction by Africville Genealogy Society president Irvine Carvery.

To this day, Sealy keeps a photo from that first trip to Africville in his home. In it, he stands with his Uncle Billy, holding up several fish caught on the same line from the Bedford Basin, no bait necessary. "The people I met were just family people, just nice kids," Sealy remembers, "and that was their place to be."

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