Global movement for gender-balanced music fests hits Ottawa

A world movement geared toward getting extra feminine performers on pageant levels has come to Canada, and it’s beginning to take root in Ottawa.

Although it wasn’t evident on this yr’s Bluesfest most important stage, which had precisely zero feminine headliners, government director Mark Monahan says gender equality is essential to the pageant relating to programming. In current years, the pageant has introduced headlining exhibits by P!nk (2017), Lady Gaga (2014), Dixie Chicks and Bjork (each in 2013). 

He stated the pageant is wanting into signing on with Keychange, the worldwide movement that calls on conferences, festivals and different music-related occasions to realize gender-balanced packages by 2022.

“I think it is important, and the (festival’s) board (of directors) is committed to being proactive in terms of gender equality,” Monahan stated. “It’s definitely a top priority to figure out what we can commit to and when we can get there.” 

So far, greater than 100 occasions world wide have signed on to the 50:50 by 2022 pledge, which was launched final yr by the U.Ok.-based PRS Foundation, with help from the European Union’s Creative Europe program, to empower girls within the music .

About a dozen Canadian occasions have joined the movement, together with conferences like Canadian Music Week and NXNE, in addition to a raft of festivals, reminiscent of Sudbury’s Northern Lights Festival Boréal, B.C.’s Rock The Shores, Ontario’s Riverfest Elora and Montreal’s MUTEK, a pageant of digital music and digital arts.

Research exhibits that ladies make up a minimum of half of pageant audiences however are traditionally underrepresented on stage. PRS cites a U.Ok. research in 2017 that discovered girls comprised a mean of 26 per cent of the lineup in a pattern of huge music festivals, whereas a U.S. survey revealed that ladies occupied fewer than 10 per cent of pageant headlining slots. 


In Canada, related statistics have been crowd-sourced by a music-industry advocacy group after final yr’s pageant season. Canadian Women Working in Music assigned a grade to every pageant lineup that was submitted. Among the Ottawa-area festivals, the Ottawa Grassroots Festival and Ottawa Explosion each earned As for equal or greater illustration of girls. CityFolk obtained a B for its 42 per cent illustration, Bluesfest acquired a C for 28 per cent and Montebello’s Rockfest, with simply two per cent of its lineup recognized as feminine, was given an F.

One Ottawa promoter already dedicated to gender parity is Heather Gibson, producer of the National Arts Centre’s NAC Presents singer-songwriter sequence. Slightly greater than half of the roughly 140 live shows in final yr’s season featured girls, and he or she’s on observe to keep up that tempo with the 2018-19 season.

“For me, it’s a responsibility,” she says. “We’re Canada’s National Arts Centre and part of my responsibility is to reflect the population as best I can. And if I can’t, then we do development.”

In different phrases, if promoters can’t discover feminine artists who’re headliner materials, extra must be completed to develop their careers and assist them transfer up the ladder. Gibson says she prefers to guide a feminine artist in a smaller room just like the Fourth Stage, relatively than stand by and watch.

Heather Gibson, government producer of the NAC Presents live performance sequence.

Ashley Fraser /

Ottawa Citizen Style

“I don’t want to be part of the ecology where I’m waiting for an artist to be ready to play the theatre,” she says.

“That’s what I see as part of the problem at major festivals. They can’t sell 5,000 tickets so they want to wait. If we all wait, nothing happens. Why are we waiting? We didn’t with that four-person guy band. We got them to open, we gave them opportunities.”

Gibson additionally factors out pageant’s crop of headliners doesn’t inform the entire story. Female performers at Bluesfest could not have been closing out the night time on the principle stage this yr, however they have been well-represented all through the pageant, with standout exhibits by Australia’s Courtney Barnett, American blues-belter Beth Hart and Canada’s feisty pop darling Jessie Reyez, to call a number of.

“To simply give a grade for the 10 headlining acts, that’s too easy,” Gibson says. “There’s a lot going on at these festivals. In a year or two, we’re hopefully going to see some of those women on a main stage in a headlining way because they’re great. They need that opportunity to perform. You can’t expect somebody to go from Level 1 to 5 overnight. We have to invest.”

On the flip facet of the story instructed by headliners, Ottawa musician and PhD scholar Laurel Ralston, a trumpet participant, did a deep dive into the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival’s current program earlier than deciding to purchase a ticket.

Although there have been a number of feminine headliners on the principle stage, together with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chaka Khan and Alison Krauss, she discovered that fewer than 10 per cent of the general performers have been girls, and most of them have been vocalists. Fewer than two per cent have been instrumentalists, who’re usually essentially the most revered within the jazz style. 

“I wanted to see what was in this festival based on the numbers because I felt that would tell something that impressions don’t,” she says. “The funny thing was that some of my friends said they didn’t notice. Of course they didn’t notice because it’s so normal. We don’t think of what’s missing if we’re so used to it being missing.”

She says it’s essential for festivals to program extra girls, partly to encourage younger girls who need to play music.

“If girls in high school go to a concert and never see themselves on stage, that’s tough for them. I think there’s a responsibility on the part of presenters to get women out there where they can be seen,” she says.

“I don’t think this (underrepresentation) is malicious but we’re so ingrained in our habits and expectations that we don’t necessarily challenge them. We need to rethink who belongs up on that stage, and who we can see behind a trumpet or a saxophone or a drum kit.”

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