March 28, 2022Print | PDF
WATERLOO – Wilfrid Laurier University’s Centre for Music in the Community is pleased to announce the Mel Brown Festival and Symposium, which will celebrate Black heritage in Waterloo Region and focus on the legacy of epic blues musician Mel Brown. The festival and symposium will include public events taking place May 27 to 29 in Waterloo and Kitchener.
Juno Award-winning musician Carlos Morgan will curate concerts highlighting the artistry of Black musicians at the Jazz Room, Kitchener Public Library and THEMUSEUM. Details for these events are forthcoming.
“I am excited to be hosting and curating the performances of the Mel Brown Music Festival,” said Morgan. “Being part of a team that created this festival to acknowledge and celebrate the musical influence and legacy of Mel Brown and the Black artists in the Waterloo Region is a wonderful honour.”
On May 28, a symposium will take place at Maxwell’s Concerts and Events with guest keynote speaker and spoken word artist Afua Cooper, a Killam Research Chair in Black History and African Diaspora Studies at Dalhousie University, and two roundtable discussions. The first discussion will explore the legacy and influence of Mel Brown in this community and will be chaired by Brent Hagerman, an instructor in Laurier’s Faculty of Music.
The second, chaired by Gerard Yun, an assistant professor in the Community Music program, will delve into issues of white privilege, racism and a history of academic programming that has resulted in barriers for many students coming from racialized communities. Participants in these roundtables will be announced soon.
A sister symposium will take place in October 2022 at Cape Breton University in Unama'ki (Cape Breton), N.S. The symposium will be hosted by the Centre for Sound Communities, an arts-led social innovation lab, and coordinated by its director, Marcia Ostashewski. Public talks, workshops and teacher professional development sessions will be presented together with local Mi'kmaq musicians and with Mali-based master musician Lassana Diabaté.
“To celebrate the influence of Mel Brown on our music community also provides us with an opportunity to shine a light on the great music of the Black culture that surrounds us,” said Lee Willingham, project coordinator and director of the Laurier Centre for Music in the Community. “As a traditional school of music in a university, we are faced with a cultural imperative to raise awareness and take action to address systemic white privilege that has historically shaped practice. This event creates a time and space for that to happen.”
The project was born out of a committee created by David Marskell, chief executive officer of THEMUSEUM, as confirmation of the Unzipped exhibit presenting the history of the Rolling Stones was made public. Discussions revealed that Mel Brown introduced Mick Jagger to prominent blues musicians in the southern U.S. in the band’s early days. Acknowledging the wider discussion of decolonization locally and in university communities internationally, the committee saw this as an opportunity to examine systemic issues that have long been overlooked in schools of music. Collaborators on the project include several Laurier-based research centres, York University and the Regent Park School of Music in Toronto.
Four goals guide the planning of the Mel Brown Festival and Symposium:
An original portrait of Mel Brown has been created by local artist Ken Daley and is now available on the Mel Brown Festival and Symposium website.
The Mel Brown Festival and Symposium is funded in part by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Connection Grant.
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