"I went to Canada's longest running Ska and Reggae music festival to speak with Yellowsky, Bousada, Illvis Freshly, and Sam Klassik about music and resistance."
Some view festivals as a means of escape from the minute of our daily lives; others view festivals as grounds for important discussions and the exchange of ideas and intention. Either way you view it, festivals are gatherings where people come together to bask in the creative glory of peers and allies.
We believe that everyone can bring the lessons they learn in festival life and apply them to their everyday existence: being stewards of the Earth and the self, practicing free and radical self-expression, going with the flow, living in the moment, taking care of the self and others, and embracing a mentality of continuous learning, to name a few.
Resistance and rebellion are threads that run deep in ska music and all associated genres including rocksteady, reggae, dancehall, dub, soul, funk, jazz, afrobeat, drum n’ bass, jungle, and punk rock. We went to North America’s longest running (nineteen year) Ska and Reggae Festival to speak with artists and attendees about how they see music festivals as a platform for messages of empowerment.
After an energized and jam-packed opening night in Victoria’s downtown inner-harbor, we migrated to Lucky bar to catch up with Victoria’s own Graeme Bousada before his headlining set; if you haven’t seen this dude play before, seriously check him out.
Zacc: “How do you, as an artist, feel that you can use music to send messages of empowerment?”
Bousada: “Music has a real power, being so event-based, to bring people together. By bringing people together and having a collective experience, that in-and-of-itself reflects the collective power of resistance movements. Music is naturally at the center of resistance movements; just the fact that you’re coming together and having this shared experience is fundamental.”
Zacc: “How would you like to see your friends and fans practice community and togetherness?”
Bousada: “Inclusivity is the main thing, making everyone feel welcome. But, at the same time, there is also this interesting balance of tolerance and education; it gets sticky.”
The following afternoon, we went to Vinyl Envy, Victoria’s hub for vinyl heads, to attend the first installment of Victoria Ska and Reggae Fest’s carefully curated and always engaging workshop series. The topic of Yellowsky’s workshop was music and resistance. Yellowsky’s workshop ran the gamut, speaking on powerful topics such as childhood trauma, economic hardship, the residential school system, indigenous rights, beauty and the power of music. Yellowsky spoke softly about hard topics; I left the workshop feeling melancholy, moved, and motivated. We sat down with Yellowsky after his workshop to dive deeper into the abyss of music and resistance.
Zacc: “Do you create music with the intent of inspiring others to be active?”
Yellowsky: “I would say that’s the whole point. A true leader will create leaders, not followers. I’m here to tell people that it’s time for them to come out of their shells, it’s time for you to wake up because there’s a storm coming.”
Kayla: “Now’s the time for all of us to work together and collaborate because the momentum of us amplifying each other’s skills is powerful. There may be one small fish in a big pond, but when all these fish are swimming upstream together, big things happen. What is your vision for the future?”
Yellowsky: “We didn’t come here to play no games. We are here to make something happen and leave the world a better place than it was. I just want people to start realizing that you can still be righteous and G at the same time.”
Zacc: “What are the most pertinent topics that you would suggest other people get more involved in, in the Canadian context?”
Yellowsky: “Get involved with special interest resistance groups in a positive way, not so in your face; whether they be social justice warriors or environmental advocacy groups. It all starts within ourselves, though. People need to focus on what we can do in our families and in our homes first and foremost, there’s a lot of suffering, so it starts there.”
Kayla: “What would you say to people who are on the front lines defending each other and the planet, in frontline action?”
Yellowsky: “I wish I could be there with you. Be strong, stand firm and think with love. Love is the only emotion that people should think with. If it’s organic then it will be right.”
As the weekend went on, we tried to squeeze every last drop that we possibly could. We caught heavy-hitting acts such as Ozomatli w/Chali 2na, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Illvis Freshly’s debut live-band set, SweetLeaf, Sam Klassik and Fortunate Youth, to name a few.
Between each act, we mingled with friends and watched live paint-ins, sat on the grass and basked in the sun, and of course, spoke to everyone we could about music and art as tools for societal betterment. We ran into Victoria’s up and coming hip-hop party rockers Illvis Freshly to speak about their views on music and résistance; later in the week, after the festivities wrapped up, we also had the chance to speak with the talented and conscientious Sam Klassik about life in the festival circuit.
Kayla: “Given the current social and political climate, how do you guys feel that music and art is a form of resistance? What is music and art doing to improve our collective situation?”
Danimal: “Music is always rooted in authenticity. When you look at hip-hop, for example, there is such a big element of making due with what you have, being creative, and having this sort of grassroots mentality like Ska Fest is doing here in Victoria. Hopefully, this music inspires people to have a good time in and of itself. We want to make sure that we are coming from an authentic place, and I hope with the music that we make that we can inspire people to live happy and positive lives while keeping it authentic.”
Phil: “That being said, music is supposed to be fun! Sometimes, not always, we want to be a fun group; we put on live shows to be really fun and happy. While there are a lot of bad things going on in the world right now, you work your 9-5 and on Saturday you can go out to a show and kind of unwind a little bit. In Canada we have it really good so we don’t have as much to rap about as far as struggle goes; we want to be able to show people that no matter how much bad there is there is also so much good. Music exposes a lot of people to that.”
Jesus: “I think that there is a lot of bad stuff happening in the world and life can be tough for a lot of people, but music bring people together. That’s the main things. The opportunity is here to gather as many people as possible, to connect, to relate; it’s amazing. And even if that’s all it is, bringing people together to celebrate life and existence, being humans, loving each other, I think that’s great. I think if we can do just that, bring people together and have a party.”
Danimal: “And then on top of that, when we get the chance, sprinkle in important messages. Little tucked away nuggets talking about problems that are real in the world but in a way that lets people relate and have a good time, that lets them grow as people rather than just talking about things that are negative.”
Doyle: “I feel that underground music that hasn’t been touched by commercialism is one of the last factions of art that is untouched by politics. So for people to just come forth and do what they love, and have a strong scene and just say ‘Fuck the man, we can do this without you. We don’t need your money or your influence, this is our thing.’ I think that’s very powerful.”
Zacc: “In your experience, how has music played a role in sending messages of empowerment?”
Sam: “Music creates a space for community which is a healthy and often lost aspect of our society that helps everyone learn from each other and live more robust, fulfilling, and empathetic lives.”
Zacc: “What do you find intriguing about the festival circuit in terms of amplifying social movements?”
Sam: “The festival circuit has the potential to spread powerful ideas to larger groups of people. It opens people up to the chaos of others and information that they normally wouldn’t have access to.”
Zacc: “What do you strive for, as a touring musician in the North American festival circuit?”
Sam: “I’m looking to validate people. In a society that leaves non-conformists feeling like alienated outcasts, I try to use my platform to connect and encourage creatives to keep networking, growing together, and resisting the pitfalls of our hyper-individualist programming.”
Zacc: “In your opinion, what does the scene lack and how can we better grasp the challenges that face us today?”
Sam: “The scene is lacking outreach and inclusivity. We need more people from more areas of society. What we are doing is changing the world in a powerful way but it is foreign to a lot of people from afar. It would be good to use creative marketing to make the art world more accessible.
Zacc: “Do you see festivalism as a means of escape or a means of engagement?
Sam: “It’s both. IT takes complete escape and distance from your normal life to see why engagement is so important. When you separate your mind and body from your ‘normal’ life it makes it easier to strip away what you were once fearful of, and re-engage in a more meaningful way. It makes you a weirdo, but the weirdos are taking over.
To me, Victoria Ska and Reggae Fest has always done a great job at bringing people together in way that is fun and facilitating. Dane Roberts works tirelessly, year-round, to bring in musical acts from around the world. There is a real sense of community that can be felt from opening day to the end of the week. The vibes are high and the conversations are real. We had a blast covering this year’s event from a unique angle, and are forever grateful for the opportunity. If you’re thinking about hitting a lively and inspiring festival next year, be sure to check out Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival.
Good times had by all.
Zacc Lavigne, Kayla Kealey, and the Festie Vibes media team.
Photos: Zacc Lavigne and Kayla Healey – Festie Vibes Media