Battle of the Arts NB encourages Black young artists to take the stage

A group of youths perform on stage for the Battle of The Arts. (Submitted: Yona A Photography)

Battle of the Arts New Brunswick’s founder has a message to Black youth in the Maritimes: “Come tell your story through your art.”

Battle of the Arts (BOTA) is an organization that began in 2010. BOTA hosts events to showcase talented youth and give them an opportunity to perform. Their upcoming event “Igniting Black Youth Voice Through the Arts” features a lineup of Maritime artists, activists, dancers and singers.

The founder of BOTA Saa Andrew Gbongbor, a New Brunswicker and immigrant from Sierra Leone, sees his organization as his chance to give back.

“[These events are about] bringing young people together and giving them a stage and saying, ‘here you can do your thing, here you can share your voice, here you can share your talent with the rest of the world,” said Gbongbor.

BOTA has been a launchpad for many young people and propelled some onto larger stages like Dance Canada and La Voix, he said.

Abdul Sala Nyei, who is originally from Sierra Leonne, performs under his stage name Sinful Poet and is one of the musicians in the upcoming BOTA series.

“I decided to do Afro [music,] because as an African it is easier to tell my story through something I can relate to. That’s when I started doing Afro Music and now the stories that I bring to my art are what make it different,” said Nyei.

Nyei is an artist who understands and appreciates the impact that BOTA can have on the young people involved in their events.

“I remember when I started, Saa Andrew really took me under his wing … for the Black community and Black artists – BOTA’s events are so amazing because not a lot of people give us this opportunity,” he said.

A lot of Nyei’s songs are about where he comes from and where he grew up. He said it’s nice to see reactions from members of the Black community with similar stories.

BOTA’s upcoming series will be presented online due to COVID-19. Still, Gbongbor said the ongoing pandemic will not stop them from sharing important stories. He created an online platform for youth to use to continue expressing their experiences.

But Gbongbor wants to continue this work by building a permanent space for BOTA.

“A hub where youth can come in and creativity will never stop,” he said.

Right now the organization is moving from venue to venue in different cities across the province. He hopes that someone will be willing to give BOTA a space.

Gbongbor said that there are some big questions to be answered through storytelling.

“What are the challenges that Black youth are facing during this pandemic? How are they fighting against these challenges and what are their successes?”

He wants to continue giving them a space to answer these questions.