300 guests enjoyed a mesmerizing parkour through the Berkeley Castle & Berkeley Theatre, and discovered a series of delightful performances for children of all ages.

Jamii's 2nd Annual Children's Festival

August 19 - 21, 2021 // The Esplanade
In partnership with Canadian Stage and Berkeley Theatre

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An artistic footprint for Esplanadian families to encounter 

Written by Sharon Zarita

22nd Aug, 2021

"Wayo, a children’s festival produced and presented by Jamii, was the ultimate compensation for all the live art children and young audiences have been deprived off lately. The three day festival gave attendees an intimate multi-arts experience through a journey of performances at Berkeley Castle and Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Theatre.


Curated to reflect its Swahili meaning of footprint, eight stages with different groups of artists awaited to gift the attending families a lasting creative mark for the summer. At each stage, the attendees had three minutes of a solo performance, and thereafter engaged by ring masters in an informative post-show analysis. Empty lawns, parking lots, staircases, building corners were all designed and utilised as COVID-safe outdoor stages.

Attendees were invited to the parkour by the bleating sounds of CORPUS “Les moutons” sheep. The children look on as a shepherd strolls by the shed to feed the sheep and are left to their own imagination in this display of real life characters in theatrical costumes. “I think that one is a person because he has a beard,” a 5 year old whispers to the dad who challenges her guess with a reminder that goats have beards too. 


Next they are ushered to a henna booth for a culturally inspired keepsake on their palms. Each child gets to pick a design and while it’s being drawn they are informed on the origin of henna. As the henna dries up, a soft violin tune begins to play in the background which they can’t resist but follow it. The violinist, Saraphina Violin, is joined by lollipop lyra performers Aelxandra Legendre and Eman Hillawi, whose snake-skin costumes in a calming blue hue make the children gasp. Here, they come in close proximity with artistic elements like sounds, movement, set up, wardrobe - and are able to internalize it all without distractions often found in crowds when this performance happens on large platforms. As it ends two sets of claps fill the empty lawn, and even though the artists are used to a more fulsome standing ovation the looks on their faces say this personal performance was just as delightful."

Photos: Jae Yang

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"If a dollar was donated for every time a child mentioned the next stage as their favourite Jamii would already be planning next year’s festival. They participate in a giraffe trivia show by Kristi Heath, then are tasked with a toss game to put a ring around the giraffe’s neck. It rebirths zoo experiences they love and have missed.

The next three performances happen in the Berkeley Theatre, starting with a powerful percussion and opera duet in the Baillie Theatre by Jonelle Sills, Sergio Xocolate and Suzanne Roberts Smith. At an outdoor corner naturally decorated with a wall plant, they engage with a flamenco dance by Carmen Romero, accompanied by cellist George Crotty. They are offered a toy bird needing a home to take care of. Afterwards, they get to dance and sing along to West African beats and chants of Lua Shayenne and Cécé Haba. As each family takes their turn to be front row guests to these performances, one cannot help but appreciate how the festival has introduced the community to artistic spaces within the neighbourhood that are inaccessible to some.


The festival wraps up with a ride on Kisanii Hub, Jamii’s mobile theatre. It cycles around the empty Canadian Stage parking lot, celebrating how this experience has enabled young audiences to experience and enjoy live arts within a COVID world. On their way out, they choose a book to take home from a collection of BIPOC authors. Tayaa, 10 years and Nazaree, 12 years both pick “Amina’s Voice” saying it feels like the girl with curly hair on the cover was calling to them. The two applaud the festival for combining different cultural genres and art forms making them feel like they were on an art tour around the world. Parents in attendance appreciated how this will have a positive effect in the creative development of the children.


For the second year, Jamii has successfully offered the arts in a palatable and personal way to young audiences at Wayo Festival. Huge appreciation to them for this much-needed artistic experience. If you missed it, follow @JamiiEsplanade on social media for snippets of the performances. Join the backbone of this festival whose support makes the festival free and open to all, donate at www.jamii.ca/donate."

Sharon Zarita is a Kenyan arts administrator at Lakeshore Arts and Editor-in-Chief of Sekoya Magazine, the premier East African crafts and culture publication.

FEATURED ARTISTS (in order of appearance):


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Photos: Jae Yang