To celebrate Black History Month, SOCAN asked several of its Black members to write a story about a subject of their choice. Here’s one written by Joseph Sarenhes, a Québec artist of Guinean and Indigenous descent (from the Huron-Wendat Nation). He was one of the winners of the 2024 edition of Black History Month in Montréal, as well as having been selected among the 2023–2024 Révélations Radio-Canada.

Black History Month is such a brief moment where the population is asked to pay attention to the origin of the world. This month must, above all, celebrate Africa. And by Africa, I don’t mean its folklore, which is so poorly represented in the Western world, where it’s reduced to a mere safari. I mean an Africa with rich and deep roots.

But what treasure do the deepest reaches of Africa hold? Have we forgotten? Should we not ask ourselves that primordial question, and grab this opportunity to re-affirm our wisdom of our identity, before promoting the exquisite cultures of this vast continent? Many are those who have forgotten it. Many have traded in old legends handed down by oral tradition for a corrupt culture that proposes an altered model of the “African,” alienating them through a self-proclaimed progressive discourse about the African-American.

I’m saddened to see that young Afro-descendants of my own generation seem devoid of interest for their not-so-distant origins. Granted, who wouldn’t happily trade old, dried-out roots for a shiny coat of arms and a few heady promises? Let us, therefore, ask ourselves the following question: what makes us Afro-descendants? Is it our lineage? Is it the colour of our skin? Is it our geographical origin? All those answers are plausible, yet we can roll all of them into a single one. We’re Afro-descendants because we’re African. And as much as it may seem obvious, even simplistic, it’s only so when it comes to the words used to say it.

The very concept of the term “African-American” forces us to tuck away the Africa that lives in us, deep in some old drawer, to be forgotten forever. This relatively recent term suggests, mistakenly, that it represents an evolution of the African person. This idea is so deeply rooted in our societies that we sometimes notice, among many members of the Black community, some reluctance to accept the African identity – based on the notion that the new identity of the African in the Western World would be a worthier source of pride. But are we ready to have that conversation? This month must be a moment where we take time with our elders to ask ourselves these questions, and many more.

I had the honour of being the “2024 laureate of Black History Month” by the City of Montréal. And even though myself and my loved ones are very proud of this, the award also triggers deep reflection. Being given such a tribute so early in my career forces me to ponder and, dare I say, philosophize about, the responsibility that comes with it. We live in an artistic environment in which recognition is far from proportional to talent, and the impact that an artist can have on the community. The shining light falls on those of us who’ve been accepted by a Great Machine, acting in its own interest, and perhaps a little in ours. Too many Black artists fell into oblivion because they chose to evolve outside the mainstream popular music industry of Québec. Too many trailblazing African artists have paved the way for me in this city, but their names will likely never find their way into the visitor’s book at City Hall. Does it truly matter? No. They probably don’t even want to be in there, yet if we pretend to celebrate the Black people of our city, we have a duty to survey its Black communities, in order to reward those who’ve made the artists and social actors of tomorrow who they are.

What good is it to celebrate our origins if we don’t also celebrate our future ancestors? What’s the point of a whole month of celebrations if the people we’re celebrating aren’t even there? This celebration can only be authentically meaningful in its rediscovery of the depths of Africa. Black History Month means celebrating the Africa inside each and every one of us – uncompromisingly, unabashedly, and magnanimously.

Joseph Sarenhes opens for Valaire at Club Soda on March 7, 2024.