Edmonton, touted as Canada’s festival city, hosts over 30 festivals throughout the year. Many options exist for food, arts and music lovers, but if the superhero phenomenon has taught us anything, it’s that with great power comes great responsibility. Music festivals in particular have a chance to showcase various cultures and variations in their genre, but its priority is debatable.
Part of the issue is that diversity means different things to different people. It can address genre, culture, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or something else entirely. Ideally, these aspects would all be addressed during the creation of a festival’s line-up in order to ensure that it reflects and caters to Edmonton’s diverse population. However, some maintain that appropriate diversity occurs by the mere fact that it exists in the community and that no outward discrimination or prejudice occurs.
“You don’t have to do anything. It’s what you don’t do, like put up barriers. It’s not part of the decision process, to exclude anyone. But it’s not a proactive thing either,” says Cam Hayden, the producer for the Edmonton Blues Festival. “I wouldn’t want to think that people are looking at anything other than the quality of music that they provide. To do otherwise wouldn’t be relevant or a positive depiction of what they’re trying to provide.”
Undoubtedly, music quality is essential for any music festival to survive and thrive year after year. However, we live in a time where people are more aware of imbalances and prejudices, whether they’re intentional or not. Both publicly and privately funded festivals should be conscientious in their projections and implications, as they reflect the community and are a great way to showcase new ideas and talents. To do its part, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival ensures that half its line-up is new performers to the festival, and next year we’ll see more Indigenous musicians on the stage.
“You have to be aware that you have subtle biases. [For example,] every year I start off, I have a lot more men than women on the list… If I’m aware early in the programming season, then I can address that and start to balance it up,” says Terry Wickham, the producer for the Folk Festival. “If you’re taking government funding, I think you have a responsibility to be aware and awake in the world.”
In terms of genre, many people would agree that opportunities do exist to see different types of music during the year, from blues to hip hop to folk to jazz music. However, a disconnect of information still occurs if the festival is not well known or advertised, which unfortunately is most common with more culturally and ethnically diverse festivals.
“With your line-up, it’s not just about entertainment; you’re doing much more. You’re actually a cultural ambassador… That’s the beautiful thing about music. It can break down barriers. It can be an introduction to knowledge,” says Cristian Munoz, the founder and president of Edmonton Culture. “I really think the problem here in Edmonton is the access to information about some of the events that’s going on. You don’t see the Edmonton Sun or the Journal getting behind them; they’re getting behind the Folk Fest, but you don’t see them promoting the Punjabi Festival out in Mill Woods.”
Does Edmonton have a diverse music scene? Can it do better? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.