For eighteen years the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival has been the place where an eclectic, mix of drummers and drum enthusiasts from many cultures meet for their annual joint celebration of the Drum.With the slogan Our Drumbeats Connect Heartbeats, this festival has created a unique drumming community from several Nations in Canada. The Festival has spawned numerous unlikely long-lasting friendships, and even an interracial marriage conducted at the festival. Two people who met at the festival came back to get married at the festival. The Festival mirrors the temperament and personality of its founder Muhtadi Thomas. The atmosphere is always warm, inviting and all-inclusive.
Many of the groups that perform at the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival regard this event as an annual opportunity to showcase this important part of their culture outside of their native communities.
Born in Trinidad & Tobago, Muhtadi, an accomplished and well-travelled percussionist, years ago noticed the commonality and importance of the drum in almost all cultures throughout the world. He also felt that the drum was not getting the respect it deserved.
He saw Canada, and particularly, Toronto, as fertile ground to plant this international drumming festival. Over the years Muhtadi has curated a selection of groups and performers that range from the Richmond Hill United Church Drummers (mainly made up of Seniors) to the Northern China Waist Drum and Dance Group, to Guinean Master Drummer Amara Kante.
The first festival was held at Queen’s Park in Toronto in the year 2000. Over the years attendance grew from 8000 to as high as 20,000 with fluctuations between. Despite many funding challenges, Muhtadi and his dedicated band of volunteers and performers have maintained an unbroken, eighteen year string of FREE annual festivals.
In a much-understated way, this festival has provided a unique platform for mutual respect, unity and a joyful multicultural celebration of life in Canada. For the last seventeen of Canada’s 150 years, audiences and performers at the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival have experienced an organic mix of music, mutual admiration of customs and traditions, and love for each other as Canadians.
Muhtadi is fond of saying that we all have hearts, so we are all drummers. His Muhtadi World Drummers group is a virtual United Nations of people who enjoy drumming and each other's company. Every week this ethnically diverse group of individuals, at different stages and ages of life, get together at the Toronto Regent Park Community Centre. Their weekly practice sessions start with impromptu hugs and warm greetings and then settle into high energy, stress relieving drumming.
Dr. Abheha Satkunaratnam, a longtime member of this group, credits Muhtadi and these weekly “drum therapy” sessions and interactions with group members, as instrumental (pun intended) in helping him manage the challenges of his highly stressful job.
Muhtadi was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012. He is the third member of his family to be afflicted by this slowly debilitating ailment. Since that time there has been a wonderful outpouring of support for Muhtadi, his family, and the continuation of this festival.