ORIGINS, EVOLUTION AND NEW INITIATIVES
Everything starts somewhere, often with a vision or a dream.
For Deborah Davis, there was never any doubt that she would bring her visions to reality!
Married to an amazing partner, and a mother of two young children, she changed her career path in the late 1980’s. From working with the federal government as an operational auditor and occasionally performing for adult audiences with various musicians, to becoming a popular children’s entertainer at local children’s festivals.
She adopted the name Choonga Changa for her group after one of her musicians with a Russian background told her about the imaginary island of Chunga Changa.
Deborah created the songs and characters that she would sing as vocalist. She began with two musicians; keyboardist and drummer, eventually adding more musicians as she performed shows at larger venues across Ontario and Quebec. She also produced two children’s music albums, selling them at performances along with Choonga Changa t-shirts and colouring books.
Choonga Changa highlighted hundreds of events from the CNE in Toronto to parties hosted by Governors General and Prime Ministers.
A particular Choonga Changa highlight included a performance in October 1991 as part of The Week of The Child with her song For All The Children at the Canadian Museum of Nature. The song was translated into ten languages and performed with ten children representing each of their respective cultures and nations alongside the flag representing their country. The song was also included in a TVO documentary on children’s festivals from around the world.
The live show Choonga Changa Celebrates Canada was based on the same title as Deborah’s second children’s album, which was funded with an award from the CJMJ (Majic 100) Radio Stars Program.
Among other performances, the show highlighted local Canada Day ceremonies and was performed thirty times at the CNE in Toronto.
As her own children grew up, Deborah’s shows became more sophisticated, appealing to older children and broader audiences. Since Choonga Changa was closely associated with performances for younger audiences, she adopted a new name for her initiatives; “Canadian Musical Odyssey\Odyssée Musicale Canadienne”.
This led Deborah to specialize in creating unique historical and musical productions with an emphasis on multicultural, educational experiences. She became more engaged as an event planner, entrepreneur, coordinator and performer . This new phase began with her critically acclaimed show What is This Thing Called Jazz?, headlining the Ottawa International Jazz Festival’s Family Day in 1994, with repeat appearances in 1995 and 1997.
In 2000, Deborah transitioned her history of Jazz show into a new production called Satin Dolls with her band Segue to Jazz, a show portraying the life and times of some of the greatest women of American jazz. The show played to sold-out audiences in Ottawa at the Canadian Tulip Festival, the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage and, in adapted formats, highlighted corporate and charitable events in Toronto as well as Ottawa. She later expanded on Satin Dolls and created The Gift Of Jazz: From Africa to New Orleans to the True North Strong and Free, a celebration of the profound impact of Black history and culture on music, performed annually at Algonquin College or the National Gallery of Canada during Black History Month.
Deborah’s broad experience creating and performing shows about Canada and about jazz started Deborah thinking about creating an ambitious new show about the history of music in Canada as one of Canada’s new millennium initiatives.
This project led to a career path in which she created, produced and performed in a show on the history of music in Canada. First presented in 2000, this fast paced, exciting and educational ninety-minute blockbuster, featured more than fifty performers from diverse backgrounds.
The show titled Canada Roars: A Musical Taste of our Canadian Heritage/Notre patrimoine canadien, une odyssée musicale, became the longest running bilingual concert show in Canada.
The initial funding for creation of the show was a 1999 grant of $9,900 from the Government of Canada’s Millennium Fund.
Canada Roars portrays the history of music in Canada and the history of Canada through music in an entertaining, unique and inclusive way that audiences find educational, appealing, moving, memorable and inspirational. The project grew into a fast paced, dynamic, and highly acclaimed, bilingual (and indeed multilingual), ninety-minute production featuring more than 100 pieces of music (mostly in overture, medley and excerpt style presentations), with almost as many costume changes for the vocalists, dancers, actors and musicians, and a 71-page teachers manual (available on-line in both English and French).
First performed in 2000, this artistically vibrant production celebrates and pays tribute to the history of music in Canada. It features more than fifty performers including musicians, lead and back-up singers, Indigenous performers, contemporary, step, tap and highland dancers and actors. From time to time it has also featured real Canadian war veterans and RCMP officers in various roles, bagpipes and pipe and drum police bands.
Canada Roars has been seen by tens of thousands of students who have attended shows in Ottawa and Gatineau, as well as the general public at venues such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum, The Canadian Aviation Museum, Art theatres, and as an evening presentation for more than 100,000 people on Parliament Hill for Canada Day.
Vignettes featuring historical figures have been created, originally as part of the larger Canada Roars presentations and later as stand-alone features to recognize and/or commemorate key events in Canada’s history. These vignettes have been presented to commemorate the War of 1812 and as part of tributes to World War One, including our presentations for Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National Gallery of Canada.
These vignettes were further developed as a new initiative titled Canada Speaks.
They have been featured as part of our interactive 1700’s fur trading post highlighting the important contributions of the Indigenous peoples and at the Federal government’s bicentennial commemoration of the birth of Sir John A Macdonald at Memorial Hall in Kingston. Canada Speaks also highlighted the City of Ottawa’s Canada 150 celebration and the City of Ottawa’s Canada Day tribute to Confederation as well as events during Black History Month.
Our Canada Speaks historical figures including living art figures participated in the National Gallery of Canada’s, celebratory opening of the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries. Through interpersonal engagements, Canada Speaks provides an opportunity to enhance learning and foster concrete ongoing opportunities to dialogue, address racism and discrimination, promote tolerance and encourage intercultural understanding. Canada Speaks is designed to enlighten participants and make Canadian and related history exciting and accessible by providing entertaining, educational face to face multicultural and multilingual encounters with impactful historical figures in authentic costumes and Regalia.
All of these events have enabled audiences to actively learn about and recognize Canada’s diverse and exceptional figures, places and accomplishments, have enhanced knowledge and understanding of our shared history and values, and have provided opportunities for Canadians to participate in commemorative activities and celebrations.
When the COVID 19 pandemic struck in 2020, this meant at least a temporary and indefinite postponement of live presentations. This, along with continuing requests for Choonga Changa albums, led Deborah to think about moving her work to new platforms, and to revisit her Choonga Changa roots and create a website for Choonga Changa and an animated children’s series. She is also working on creating a digital platform for Canada Speaks titled: Portraying a Heritage of Diversity: Canada Speaks/Les voix du patrimoine/Aki Animitagozig (from the Algonquin translation The Land Speaks). Deborah is now actively working with artists and consultants and looking for sponsors and funding for these projects.
In order to provide a broader base for funding a wide range of musical, educational and inclusive productions for students and the general public, Odyssey Showcase was created as a not for profit organization in 2004 and became a registered charity in 2007.
More information about our work including reviews and photo albums are available at www.odysseyshowcase.org and www.cmod.ca
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
July 2020: Odyssey Showcase nominated for a Global Pluralism Award.
Two awards from Mayor Jim Watson on behalf of Members of Ottawa City Council:
· 2015 “In recognition of the celebration of its 15th Anniversary producing CANADA ROARS: A Musical Taste of Our Canadian Heritage, a premiere presentation of the roots and development of Canada’s rich and diverse heritage on stage” going on to note that the annual production “ has distinguished itself as Canada’s longest-running, bilingual musical show, with an all-star Canadian cast, which celebrates key social and cultural transformations in history that have contributed to the building of contemporary Canada.”
· 2019 for distinguishing itself “As a charitable organization dedicated to advancing education, through the presentation of performing arts productions highlighting Canada’s rich and diverse history, culture and heritage…The team behind Odyssey Showcase also merits accolades for its contribution to instilling pride in Canada’s progress, values and achievements.”
Deborah’s community service efforts as an entertainer and producer have been recognized by awards from: the Rich Little Foundation, Variety Club, CHEO, The Our Kids Foundation, CJMJ (Majic100) Radio Stars Program Award, the City of Nepean ’s first Distinguished Service Award in Arts and Culture, and the City of Ottawa ’s Environmental Achievement Award. Choonga Changa was also honoured with a plaque at the unveiling of the Major Donors and Supporters Recognition Board for its volunteer work with CHEO.
Deborah has also performed and done volunteer work for: The United Way, Our Kids Foundation, Partnership Against Poverty, Ronald McDonald House, the Canadian Cancer Society, National Child Day and CFRA Christmas Cheer radio broadcasts. Television broadcasts included the CHEO, Heart Institute and Easter Seals telethons.
In addition, she sang O Canada for many occasions including Ottawa Rough Rider football games and served as a celebrity talent judge for the CNE and for National Indigenous Day celebrations.
Deborah appreciates that it takes a team of dedicated professionals to make these projects successful and is quick to acknowledge the immense contributions of her entire team, particularly Peter Beaudoin, Musical Director and drummer, who has supported her visions from day one.
The show, its offshoots and the manual are the culmination of many years of development and networking. The ongoing project has been supported over the years by the Federal Government, The University of Ottawa’s Institute of Canadian Studies, The Canadian Musical Heritage Society at Carleton University, The City of Ottawa, SOCAN, TD Bank, Scholastic Canada, Yamaha Music, The Hudson’s Bay Foundation, The Musicians Association of Ottawa Hull, Parker Prins Lebano, Drache Aptowitzer, The Ottawa Carleton District School Board, The Ottawa Catholic School Board, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, Enviro Copies, e-PALS, A.K.A. Artists Management Ltd., Turtle Island Tourism Company, CARFAC, Wall Sound, The Nepean Creative Arts Centre, Ottawa Arts Court and many other arts organizations and volunteers.