‘We’re excited and worried’
Sākihiwē Festival organizers 'excited to reconnect with Indigenous families... but worried about the pandemic'
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This article was published 06/08/2021 (664 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Anticipation and anxiety are common emotions for music festival organizers before the first note is sung.
There are countless details to attend to — signing up sponsors, making sure stages and music equipment are set up correctly and creating a schedule for the performers — which are as crucial for a small event as they are for an extravaganza that brings in thousands of fans.
Throw in the uncertainty caused by a pandemic and Winnipeg’s smoky skies and the result has festival organizers tenser than a guitar string.
That scenario faces Alan Greyeyes, the director of the Sakihiwe Festival. It launches a seven-show pop-up concert series Saturday afternoon that will showcase some of Manitoba’s top Indigenous performers before live audiences. It will continue over the next three weekends before winding up Aug. 29.
“We’re excited and worried. Excited to reconnect with Indigenous families in Winnipeg, but worried about the pandemic, the air quality and the early mornings,” Greyeyes says. “I’m also worried that I’m going to forget to bring stuff like water, zip ties, banners or batteries.”
The event is teaming up with four community agencies, Ka Ni Kanichihk, Central Neighbourhoods Winnipeg, the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre and the Spence Neighbourhood Association, as well as the West End Cultural Centre to put on the festival at parks and recreation centres in the West End and downtown over the next four weekends.
The province has allowed up to 150 people, including stage crew members to attend each day of the festival but Greyeyes says they have scaled back even further. They will set up about 10 picnic tables for Saturday’s show at Ka Ni Kanichihk’s outdoor space at 455 McDermot Ave., and keep one household per table to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. People will be allowed to take off their masks while seated, but will have to put them back on when they leave the table.
“We spread it out over several weekends just so we can reach more people. We weren’t too sure how many people we could have in the audience,” he says. “That’s what we missed in 2020 was the connection to Indigenous families. I think we all took for granted that everybody could afford high-speed internet, smartphones and computers but for a lot of families we try to connect with that’s not the case.”
Last year, Sakihiwe streamed more than 40 events on YouTube and Facebook to online viewers instead of live audiences, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival will also have an online component in 2021, but will follow a big lesson learned from 2020 — the conveniece of watching video on on demand trumps the immediacy of viewing a livestreamed show.
The result is that Sakihiwe’s will première videos shot during the festival Sept. 16-19 as well as pre-recorded performances from out-of-province artists that pandemic travel restrictions have kept them from travelling to Winnpeg.
Among this headliners are Indigenous artists such as the C-Weed Band, which plays Saturday afternoon, country singer Ernest Monias, fiddler Patti Kusturok and blues artist Billy Joe Green as well as performers on the rise, such as the folk duo Burnstick, rapper Leonard Sumner and singer-songwriter Ila Barker.
“We want to see more Indigenous artists on every festival stage, every concert poster and every awards show in Canada and that’s not going to happen unless we find, support and present new voices every year,” Greyeyes says.
Two out-of-province performers, Afro-Indigenous pop singer Prado and Iqaluit-born electronic music artist Geronimo Inutiq are on the bill, but both have Winnipeg connections that have proved to be a festival bonus. Prado was born in Vancouver but is visiting her mother in Winnipeg this summer, Greyeyes says, while Inutiq, who had been based in Montreal, moved to Winnipeg earlier this summer.
“I’ve been a fan of Prado for the last year or two now, so it’s nice that she has ties to Winnipeg,” Greyeyes says of the Los Angeles-based artist. “(Her music) something that the younger audience will appreciate… very much pop music in the vein of Cardi B and Nicky Minaj or any of the incredible stars in the U.S.
“One thing that is important for us as a festival is to use our stages to show Canadians how diverse and unique Indigenous people are. That means not only programming folks that fit the Disney stereotypes of what Indigenous people look like but Afro-Indigenous artists, Métis and mixed-blood artists. I’m a firm believer that the more diverse we are, the more people see us as individuals, the safer we become as Indigenous people in Canada.”
Greyeyes added that if Winnipeg’s air pollution level reaches Level 5 or higher during any of the festival days, they’ll have to cancel that day’s show. Environment Canada has sent out air-quality weather alerts for more than a week after forest fires from across Manitoba spewed smoke into the southern part of the province, including Winnipeg.
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.