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New Winter Festival Kicks-Off in Steinbach

A first-of-its-kind festival took place in rural Manitoba. IRAL Winter Fest, a celebration of the heat of the islands and the cold of the Canadian winter, invited Manitobans for music, camaraderie, and delicious Caribbean food.

The festival is a creation of Neville Hamilton, founder of the International Reggae Afro Latin Music & Arts Festival and owner of the Di Reggae Grill, combining these two ideas into a new annual festival for the Steinbach community. Although there is some nervousness due to COVID-19 hesitancy, Hamilton was thrilled nonetheless.

“We believe no matter what happens for the weekend or who shows up, we’ve started something new. They’ll be talking about us next year, or we’ll be on their minds in one way or another.”

Following current provincial health regulations and staggering performances throughout the days, the event was specifically designed to ensure safety and everyone a chance to participate, as a celebration of spring and an opportunity for individuals to unite as a community again. Past hand-crafted snow sculptures of the IRAL lion, the event was situated in a warming tent outside the Di Reggae Grill, both as a place to warm from the winter and hosing for the vast roster of Manitoban musicians.

“If you check out our logo, there’s a lion inside,” said Hamilton, “It signifies strength, an overcomer, and of course the king. It’s part of our African and Caribbean culture. In Jamaica, they take on the lion as a symbol of the Rastafarian movements.”

Much like the diversity found in Jamaica, a melting pot of ideas and cultures, the performances encompassed an array of musical and performing talents, including JEDIMZ, Dr. Hotbottom, Trio Bembe, Yaadies, Kevan, Natalya, Punjabi Folk Dancers, Skye, JAYD, Lyberal, and an after-party with DJ 1NDAMIIXC and DJ Kohnekt.

Binyamin Ezekwem, by his stage name JEDIMZ, is a singer-songwriter of Afro gospel. A resident of Steinbach, JEDIMZ, was ecstatic to take part in Winter Fest and as an opportunity to represent his community.

“We are celebrating life. Moving away from some of the restrictions, I was super excited to be a part of this.”

The International Reggae Afro Latin Music & Arts Festival holds festivals year-round. It persists as an option for underrepresented talents while providing them with a professional platform no matter their skill level.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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