I remember being lucky enough to be taken to a Harry Belafonte concert by my Mom and Dad when I was a kid. There is nothing like a concert with a full on orchestra. What a band and what a show.
The concert was spectacular and as a middle class white kid growing up in the prairies in Canada, was the first time I had ever really been exposed to someone in person discuss coming from a different culture, civil rights and politics in general.
Hard to believe now but that’s actually how isolated from multi-culturalism we were in parts of Canada back then. The exposure was still only onstage for me at that time just because of where we lived.
The concert left me gobsmacked and I had my mind opened to so many things, not to mention the music and perhaps for the first time ever, I truly became aware of what a big ol’ world we live in and how relatively small my world view was.
It was years later I learned Belafonte was one of the main players and financial backers of the Civil Rights movement.
My Dad was a great and caring man who mostly lived by a live-and-let-live creed but I remember him being furious at Belafontes comments between songs where he expressed his Culture, Civil Rights and his Political beliefs. My Dad believed entertainers were there to do one thing and that was to entertain.
I think that may have been partly a generational thing although Pete Seeger came from his generation and Woody Guthrie from the generation before.
And I sometimes hear people my age say the same thing now. They don’t want their music mixed with anything political.
Sometimes I like really good music that is all about the playing and the groove and I could care less about the lyrical content as long as it’s not hateful, so I don’t feel like I’m knocking their opinions.
Dad didn’t like the idea that performers would speak on stage about their beliefs. I’m not sure it even had anything to do with if he agreed with what Belafonte had to say. He simply didn’t want to be preached to after he spent his money on a ticket to a musical concert. He wanted to be entertained and that’s that. Fair enough.
But he loved All in the Family on TV. And Laugh In. And the Smothers Brothers. Very confusing.
Move forward at least 40 years and we have the stunning artist, Angelique Kidjo playing at Vancouver Island MusicFest.
After the show, I had an audience member come up to me and say he wished Angelique had kept her mouth shut and just sang. First of all, I’m not sure how she would do that !
Secondly, this is a woman who is know around the world as a voice of sanity for Womens Rights and African Culture. Not to mention, dude, you are at a ‘folk’ festival!
I have heard this statement numerous times from people in regards to artists representing many genres of music.
I believe part of the original intent of the folk festival was to have modern troubadours spread the word. To teach each other about different cultures and belief systems. That was their job. To share our ideas. This, of course, was long before the immediacy of the internet when Artists truly were ambassadors of news and opinions that may not have been stated by the media at large. It was so needed and was such a big part of their job.
Today, it seems as the music world has become more industrialized and the need for the role of the troubadour has changed somewhat due to our instant access to news from around the world. Maybe that role isn’t as needed as it used to be? The world is certainly a smaller place.
But maybe there is one kid or adult within a small community who has been questioning things who discovers he or she is in a community of like-minded people for the first time ever at a concert or Festival.
I dunno, what do you think?