Meet the Founder

Muhtadi Thomas

The Founder

Photo Credit: Andrea Lemieux

Muhtadi Thomas immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in 1974. As one of Canada’s premier percussionists, Muhtadi plays djembe, bongos, congas, timbales, steel pan, and a wide assortment of other percussion instruments. He has performed extensively, both nationally and internationally. However, much of his career has been devoted to teaching the art of drumming in community arts programs, schools, and community centres.

When he arrived in Toronto, Muhtadi began teaching percussion with the Black Education Project, and Harriet Tubman Centre and Black Theatre Canada. He taught drumming to at-risk children and in June 2004, received commendations from the 12th Division Community Police Liaison Committee for his work with young people from Ontario’s York region. Muhtadi’s young students have had opportunities to travel and perform in places they’ve never seen before. As Muhtadi says, drumming teaches team-building, cooperation, and discipline.

Muhtadi has also received awards from Music Africa and the Town of Markham for his contribution to the artistic music community. In March 2011 he won the prestigious Black Business and Professional Association (BPPA) Harry Jerome Award in the entertainment category for his work with at-risk youth in the black community. The annual Harry Jerome Award celebrates the world-class excellence achieved by outstanding African-Canadians, not only for their talents and achievements, but also for their community-minded spirit.

In 2015 Muhtadi received three awards of recognition: Abedorc Productions Canada: Award of Excellence: African art traditions with youth; Legends of Rhythms 2015: Tribute, Rhythmfest, Barrie, Ontario; Planet Africa Marcus Garvey Memorial Award

Muhtadi has also been a music judge for Caribana and other events. In addition, he has the distinguished honour of being the only artist to work with Art Starts Neighbourhood Cultural Centre from their inception in 1992. Muhtadi’s performances have included the Queen’s Jubilee, the Lion Dance Festival, Winterfest, the Yonge Street Festival, and numerous jazz festivals, and at the Sony Centre in Toronto with a group of musicians visiting from China to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Muhtadi is well-known as the founder and artistic director of the highly successful three-day annual Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, which celebrates the drum, its universality as an art form, and its presence in all cultures. The festival features drumming groups of all ages and skills that display the diverse cultural traditions and drumming styles from all over the world.

Website www.muhtadidrumfest.com facebook; youtube: Muhtadi International Drumming Festival



  • 2000-15 Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, Toronto
    Guest performer, Bobby McFerrin Concert, Roy Thompson Hall, Toronto (May)
  • 2005-09 Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, Tobago, WI, Rhythm River, w. David Rudder, Hummingbird Centre, Toronto
  • 1989–2010 Desperatos Steel Orchestra, Trinidad &Tobago Carnival
  • 1998 Bahai Race Relations Awards; Evolution of Jazz group
  • 1997 Havana International Jazz Festival, Cuba. Guest Performer, St. Kitts International Music Festival, WI.; Indiana Lotus International Music Festival, USA; Jazzance (Pan)
  • 1995 Native Healing Ceremony, Toronto Islands; Omir Brazilian Band and Tio Tapas; Guest Performer, Black Psychologists of America Conference, USA
  • 1993-4 Beaches International Jazz Festival, Toronto; DuMaurier Jazz Festival, Toronto; Multiple Sclerosis Society; La Petit Musical, Toronto; Panatics Steelband Network
  • 1989-93 Performances w. known artists - Barry White, Bros Johnson, Billy Paul, Ralph McDonald
  • 1993 9th Annual Music Festival, Santiago, Cuba, represented Canada; Evolution of Jazz & “Ear to the Ground” CBC Radio; Mayworks; Harbourfront Centre; Tribute to Lord Kitchener, Metro Convention Centre; DuMaurier Jazz Festival; Beaches Jazz Festival; Caribana


  • 2000–15 Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, Toronto. Founder and Artistic Director
    Muhtadi International Drumming Festival Benefit, Toronto
  • 2005-09 Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, Tobago, WI
  • 1994-95 Muhtadi & Friends: Manager & Musical Director


  • 2000-15 Artist, Mariposa In The Schools; Arts for Children, Toronto (youth & youth-at-risk)
    ArtStarts Neighbourhood Cultural Centre; Toronto District School Board (since 1993)
    Toronto Catholic District School Board (since 1996); York Region District School Board; Halton District School Board
  • 1995-2015 Ongoing community-based workshops and circles, i.e. Scadding Court Community Centre, York Square Community Drummers (youth and youth-at-risk), St. Clair Services for Seniors, ArtStarts
  • 1994-95 Oxfam & ArtStarts (Televised: Rogers); Harbourfront, Water’s Edge Café, “The Agony of Africa – Sharing with Somalia”, South African Centre; Harbourfront Children’s Classes


  • 2009: Residency; Drum workshops, Baro, Guineau
  • 1996: National Ballet of Senegal; lived and worked with elders of Senegal and Guinea.
  • 1960: Orisa religious community, Trinidad & Tobago; studied/participated in African drumming