Inside a small community center in Gatineau, women in brightly embroidered dresses sing songs of the Amazighs, the indigenous people of North Africa.
The women are preparing for a performance this Saturday to celebrate Yennayer, New Years Day for Amazighs, also known as Berbers.
January 12 marks the start of 2969 for the old community, which follows a traditional agricultural calendar.
“We want to showcase our culture, our language, our clothes, our food,” said Saliha Sennad, who runs the Tilelli Choir, which started two years ago.
“We are trying to get Canadians and other cultures to come to the event and get to know us.”
The Amazigh community of Ottawa-Gatineau is growing, going from ten families twenty years ago to between 300 and 400 members today.
They prefer to be called Amazigh “because Berber has a negative connotation”, explained Oumhani Belhout, member of the choir. “It was a name given to us by the Romans, and it [meant] people who were different from them. “
Amazigh, on the other hand, means “free people” in the ancient Tamazight language.
Preserving tradition through music
On occasions such as this choral practice, community members take a break from their busy lives to come together and reconnect with their traditions.
Their stories and history are kept alive through song and poetry, Sennad said.
The music often tells stories of love, immigration and a passion for freedom, Sennad said, adding that it is only in recent decades that the Amazigh people have started to write their own history.
âIn the past, people [kept] poems and whatever else they have in their heads. They [didn’t] write them down.”
Belhout added that music is a tool her community uses to teach younger generations to speak their language.
“We are very attached to our language and we want our children to speak it,” she said. “An unspoken language is a language that will die, and we don’t want that.”
More than 300 people are expected at the event this weekend, which will include a traditional couscous dinner and performances by musicians and other members of the community.
The New Years concert will be held at the Glebe Community Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets can be purchased here.
If you go, be sure to say Aseggas Ameggaz – Happy New Year in Tamazight.