Artists on their way up find mentorship and put on a good show at Aboriginal Music Week

While bringing music to the community, Aboriginal Music Week (AMW) hopes to also build community for the musicians. The week-long festival is a roving event, a result of partnerships between AMW and community organizations hosting block parties.

“Basically we want to take the music to the youth,” Alan Greyeyes explains. Greyeyes is the chairperson of Aboriginal Music Manitoba, the not-for-profit organization that produces AMW. They began running AMW alongside the Manito Ahbee festival in November, but didn’t find that they were reaching aboriginal youth and families.

“Most of the families in the North End or the West End, maybe they don’t have a minivan or maybe it’s really time consuming to get everyone on the bus or walk down there, and so there was definitely a gap that we noticed,” Greyeyes says. “That’s why we reached out to these partners and reorganized our whole program.”

It’s a winning combination: community partners host block parties and organize volunteers, and AMW brings concert production expertise and BBQs.

The capstone event is a partnership with Picnic in the Park at St John’s park in the North End on Aug 22. From Aug 19-21, they’ll be highlighting aboriginal musicians at the Spence Neighborhood block party, the Turtle Island block party and the Austin Street festival.

Ali Fontaine will be taking the stage at the Austin Street Festival, where she’s excited to meet fellow musicians Mariame and Black Rain, as well as to connect with the audience. “Bringing music to the community is very important because I believe it can be used as a tool to connect with people - of all ages and backgrounds,” Fontaine says.

At each of these neighbourhood parties and concerts, AMW is keeping music lovers fed with hot dogs and chips, as well as water and juice.

“Food is a big part of any community event,” Greyeyes says. They provide BBQ and snacks to 750-1000 people at the neighbourhood events, and up to 4000 at Picnic in the Park.

AMW is also reaching out to those who work and play downtown with daily lunch hour concerts from Aug 18-21 outside the Air Canada building, as well as a closing night party at the Good Will on Aug 22. This will be a more youth-focused event with hip-hop artists and DJS, like Tall Paul (from Minneapolis) and Mob Bounce (from B.C.), who will also have the chance to meet with local and international mentors to hone their craft.

“I spend a lot of time mentoring new acts,” Greyeyes explains. “We’re more of the emerging artists, when they take the next level, the next step in their career (in the aboriginal community at least) they often go to perform at the Aboriginal Peoples Music Awards and the Manito Ahbee festival.”

Artists like Fontaine, who was mentored by Errol Ranville of the C-Weed band, appreciate the focus on mentorship at AMW. “It's important we support each other and help each other grow stronger through our music,” Fontaine says.

AMW is known for being the first place to see acts that are to break onto the scene, like A Tribe Called Red, who played their first show west of Ontario with the festival in 2011.

Throughout the week, the musicians also have the opportunity to attend networking dinners and build connections with indigenous artists from New Zealand, where they’ll learn how to plan larger-scale tours and other collaborations.

“I am happy to say I am never afraid to seek help and advice from fellow artists,” Fontaine says. “When one of us makes it, we all make it. Together we are strong.”

Part of the series: The 7th Annual Summer Festival Guide

Published in Volume 69, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 3, 2015)

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