Kitchener-Waterloo sets date for the first Mel Brown Music Festival

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The Kitchener-Waterloo region has announced the first Mel Brown Music Festival for next May. 

The event is in honor of musician Mel Brown, an influential blues artist. It is planned to feature Black artists in live performances across Kitchener-Waterloo.

 The festival will also include a conversation on systemic racism within the music programs of higher education. 

The project began as Kitchener’s THEMUSEUM prepared to host its Rolling Stones exhibit. Mel Brown was a long-time friend and influence on a member of the Rolling Stones, so it prompted conversation about sharing his musical legacy as well.

This led to plans for the music festival, as well as building a statue honoring Mel Brown.

“The first thing was to make the Mel Brown legacy more widely known to our community,” Lee Willingham, Laurier professor in the faculty of music and project lead for the event said.

The festival will feature Black artists performing at live venues across the Waterloo-Kitchener region over the course of three days. These concerts will be curated by Laurier graduate and Juno Award winner Carlos Morgan.

I think [the festival is] among the first of its kind in the sense of combining the showcasing of music, the unpacking of a historical legacy, and the examining of systemic issues.

Lee Willingham, Laurier professor in the faculty of music and project lead

The event is also intended to be an opportunity to touch on the topics of equity and diversity within the music industry and musical education.

There have been six proposed workshops to help engage youth in the community, to be led by prominent Black artists and a segment on emerging Black musicians.

The final component of the event is a symposium looking at systemic racism within music, hosted on the Laurier campus. 

“This gives us a tremendous opportunity to examine [systemic racism within music programs] and to start a conversation, or add to a conversation that’s already going on, around equity and diversity in higher education,” Willingham said. 

“I think [the festival is] among the first of its kind in the sense of combining the showcasing of music, the unpacking of a historical legacy, and the examining of systemic issues.”

The music festival is planned to be livestreamed if COVID-19 regulations do not permit it to be held in person in May.

There are plans for a follow-up symposium at Cape Breton University in Fall of 2022, showcasing both Indigenous and West African artists.

Willingham said there’s still room for students to get involved in the festival before it premieres in May

“There’s definitely a place for conversation, for input, a capacity for students to have a voice in this.”


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