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Speaking Out Against Oppression – An Interview with QuiQue Escamilla

During the his song, Mascara de EsperanzaThe Mask of Hope“, QuiQue Escamilla pulls a black balaclava over his face and begins singing the words:

I’m throwing this mask down right now

in exchange for equality and justice

I’m throwing this mask down right now

and I hope this vicious racism will be gone

I’m throwing this mask down right now

indigenous and mestizo should be one

Escamilla moved from Chiapas, Mexico to Toronto, Ontario at the end of 2007 as has been in Canada for the last 6.5 years. In that time, QuiQue Escamilla, 33, has tackled the daunting task of establishing himself as a musician in a country where he has no connections. He moved to Canada in order to pursue more opportunities and freedom to work as an Artist. Escamilla cites the importance of collaborating with other musicians. Performing with Danny Michel, whom he toured with last year as a pre-show opener and percussionist, helped to disseminate his music to Canadian audiences. “I have been so fortunate to merge into the Canadian scene singing in Spanish and playing music that not necessarily the most common in regards to styles,” states Escamilla.

On Escamilla’s newest album release, 500 Years of Night, many of the tracks are a platform for him to voice his perspectives on the social systems of Mexico. Escamilla aims to bring awareness and challenge perceptions in response to the EZLN, a civil resistance group fighting for the rights of indigeneous people in Chiapas, Mexico. “One day I was awakened by a speech in the square given by the leader of the EZLN movement. He opened my mind. I was moved. I was almost crying listening to this speech. It was so humbling to hear the reality of all these people who had been oppressed for a long time,” he says.

One such politically charged track is, Ni Uno Mas “Not One More”.  A few shots of gunfire and voiceover are heard in the starting track, archival footage from an actual protest. “In the chorus I call out for organization to get together and communicate… I felt a lot of frustration after that year. One more time we would have to live through another six years of terror and oppression,” he announces. However, Escamilla succeeds in bringing awareness to these issues through his music without berating the audience from a pedestal of superiority.

Many of the album tracks are sung in Spanish but Escamilla has no concern that his message is lost in translation: “I’m surprised by how music has the power to connect with people regardless of language and the style of music. The music speaks by itself regardless of the language. People come up to me and say: ‘I felt that song.’ It’s pretty nice to see that because if I was singing to a Spanish audience they would understand all the lyrics, but to an audience that doesn’t speak Spanish, it’s the music that it’s all being measured by,” he says.

A listener with the CD has the luxury of following the lyrics and translations to understand Escamilla’s message; however, he is successful in bridging this potential gap in understanding by providing summaries to his songs prior to performance in a live setting. “If I didn’t do that, I doubt that people would see my direction and purpose as an artist to convey a message. Everybody should be aware of it… music is a means to communicate things I don’t agree with about the world, society, and things that I think could be better. One of those is racism and discrimination, those things really shouldn’t exist anymore. I think music is a great means to address that and plant those seeds,” he states with understanding optimism.

The musical stimulus for Escamilla traces back to his upbringing in Chiapas, Mexico. Immersed in a culture saturated with musical exposure from the streets, markets, parties, and family gatherings, Escamilla began playing a wide array of music such as heavy metal, rock, and reggae. However, around the time he turned 19, his perspective and approach to music shifted: “I started to realize more about my life, my surroundings, and you notice that not a lot of things are right about society. One of those was going to speeches in public squares. Those were moments that really made me open my eyes about [what was happening around us]. All the [indigenous people of Mexico] that had been segregated and excluded out of the system. I didn’t really pay much attention to it growing up as a teenager in the middle class. I was just comfortable. I had a family that gave me what I needed, nothing luxurious. You forget about those things. As you grow up and start developing your own ideas, you start to say: ‘what this guy just said makes sense.’ All these [indigenous people] have been oppressed for so many years, 500 years, and it is wrong. Why are we not doing anything about it? Especially when they represent so much out of our culture. Indigenous people represent the true culture of Mexico. Some people see it and pretend they are not seeing it. For me, it is not my personality to do that, it is not who I am. Music is my best weapon,” he states with passionate fervor and a smile.

In addition to the social commentary in his pieces highlighting the EZLN resistance movement, Escamilla has purposely chosen a series of black and white images by Marco Antonio Cruz. “The person on the cover of my album. She died from untreated cancer,” he states before continuing, “I hope just see that I’m trying to bring it attention in an honest way.”

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However, not all Escamilla’s pieces are fueled by social commentary, such as Huapango del Tequila. While it may seem like a tequila party song, the musical construction of the piece is highlighting a part of Mexico’s culture: “I wrote the song with a particular old style of music that is actually disappearing. It is a beautiful rhythm but it is not so common today in the modern musicians of Mexico. I want to bring those traditional sounds with a modern approach: electric guitar with a drumkit and electric bass. I like tradition.” The other tracks such as Okavango speaks to the innate lure of Mother Nature that calls an Elephant into migration and Presa Fácil details how people are powerless when it comes to love: “Love is really what moves anything. I think, in a way, love is shown throughout the whole recording because we wanted to say something for others. I’m not the one being affected but I feel love for those people. It’s out of love that I want to see people happy,” he says summarizing his hopes behind the album.

It is clear that there is a depth of feeling within Escamilla for the people of this world: “It takes a long time to see what you have around, what life is about. Right now I am at that point where I can appreciate friends, family, and every human being.” It is apparent that this love for humanity fuels his desire to speak for the social injustices that all races face through the medium of music. Escamilla says the following statement with a warm smile: “I think there’s nothing that can’t be said through music. It’s just finding the right way.”

 

More insight into other tracks on 500 Days of Night:

“Nuevo dia, a Hombre Libre literally means ‘Free Man‘ hoping that one day we will have that capability to accept each other regardless of language, color, race, no matter what, we will be able to co-habitate without prejudice. The title is a dream that we will be able to reach that one day.”
500 Years of Night is the first English song that I’ve written. The title encompasses 500 years of oppression and the darkness we’ve been in. The movement is fighting for these people. The song is historically somebody has been a witness of all these problems in the world. It all came down to the moon. The moon speaks to the earth. The moon has been the witness. A long witness of the earth and hearing all the outcries. This is the only English song. I wrote this song when I was finishing the album it was the last song that I wrote. I felt comfortable actually thinking about it in English.”

 

Anticipating Vancouver

Vancouver‘s 37th Annual Folk Festival begins Friday July 18th, with some main stage events and some events titled ‘Stage 3 @ Sundown’, Saturday evening expands this to include ‘Stage 5 @ Twilight’. Perusing the schedule, I think that the biggest problem I’m going to have this weekend is my lack of ability to be in two places at once. So, in order to avoid tears and regret later, I’m going to attempt to pick some workshops here and now.

Saturday Stage 2 ‘Sing Out! for Pete A Tribute to Pete Seeger’

Eliza Gilkyson, Joan BaezJosh White Jr.Alejandro Escovedo and Karine Polwart. I’m pretty sure that this is going to be an amazing experience, this power-packed lineup could promise nothing less. Needless to say I will be there to hear these fantastic musicians pay tribute to the legendary songs of Pete Seeger. Someone save me a spot near the front?

 

 

Sunday Stage 5 ‘Ain’t it the Truth’

The Grievous Angels, The Honeycutters, Fish and Bird. I hope that this workshop satisfies my need for some alt-roots-folk-country tunes. I’ve never seen any of these bands live (I’ve seen individual members of Fish and Bird play, but never together…) but by listening to the individual tracks that they’ve recorded I can imagine some glorious jams occurring between these musicians. Fingers crossed that they don’t just take turns playing a piece of their own but dive into the workshop environment with their whole-hearts, and create some folk fest magic -I’m pretty sure that it’ll happen at this session.

 

 

 

I Survived the Winnipeg Folk Festival

I survived my first complete Winnipeg Folk Festival. I feel like I need some kind of button. It was a fine balance to ensure I had enough mental acuity to conduct interviews and keep the media updates coming from the festival while making sure I got a good sampling of the campground culture.

Twila and I visited the campground for a piece last year at the festival and we were both convinced we needed to return to camp the festival for the full experience. The campground truly comes alive in the evening with 24h drum circles, fire shows, and vibrant Art installations in the evening. The routine of our evening after Mainstage at the Festival would be to come back to the campground, I would take a nap from 12 AM-1 AM while Twila edited photos, and then we would wander the campground from 1 AM until whenever we finished. Then we would wake up at 9 AM and get ready for another full day at the festival. We braved a wide range of temperatures from searing hot humidity in the afternoons to staving off the chill from severe thundershowers on the last day. My skills at the capture and release of spiders from within our tent, taking icy cold showers from communal taps, and tuning out the ambient drumming in order to sleep are now perfected. I also have a new appreciation for sturdy tents, solar panel chargers, and glowsticks.

We completed a particular rite of passage by camping these past two festivals in Orillia and Winnipeg. I am excited to see what Vancouver and Calgary will bring.

Spread Joy! An Interview with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald

Michael Bernard Fitzgerald walks towards me with his arms wide open for a hug and a mega-watt smile. The sleepy heat-induced lethargy within the media tent immediately lightens as soon as MBF approaches. He has just come from a performance and autograph signing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and has a short block of time before he heads over to the Shady Grove Stage to watch his mentorees from the Galaxie Young Performers Program. MBF leans forward in his chair with his arms resting against the edge of the table and waits expectantly for the start of the interview period.

Spending the summer playing at folk music festivals is a welcome way to spend the summer for MBF. “I love Folk Festivals because it seems like everyone is here to love music. There is no other reason. I mean people’s cellphones don’t work out here. I love that,” he says. MBF invited bass and drum player, Sacha Daoud and Benoit Moirer from Chic Gamine on stage for his two final pieces, Brand New Spaces and Firecracker in his Friday afternoon concert. His enthusiasm for musical collaboration is palpable: “[Chic Gamine] blew me away yesterday. I thought they were fantastic. And the collaboration with [Sc Mira, Until Red, and Young Folk for the Galaxie Young Performer’s Program] is what we were working on for that set for later today. I thought it would be great if we could do it another time because they sound so good. I’ve obviously fallen in love with Chic Gamine. Everybody in that band is the best at what they do,” gushes MBF about his new folk-fest find and giving a slight shake of his head in reminiscing about their performance.

MBF is always looking to keep things fresh for himself such as working with different musicians and playing his songs in different ways. He is not concerned with structure and prefer to just let things happen: “I think there’s room for more beautiful things to happen if you don’t control the flow so much…chaos is managable. You find something new in it, moments of inspiration,” he says with a quiet wisdom that balances the buzz of his vibrant energy.

Taking a listen to MBF’s tunes, messages of positivity and love are themes throughout his works: “I try to make that as the approach. Sometimes I think there is enough sad stuff and anger already. I don’t feel like I need to go on a rant or anything. Man Overboard has a bit of social commentary but I wouldn’t say that it’s dark. I like up tempo, fun, and love.” However, MBF is not one to limit his compositional process. “I hear something musically that starts to resonate. I find the words come so fast. I don’t do well if I sit down with the paper, pen in my hand, and think: ‘it’s time to talk to about Camembert over cheese.’ I don’t do so well with that. I love being with other musicians for that,” he says. MBF is also conscious to state his gratitude for the support of people surrounding him such as percussionist and vocalist on tour, Andrew Ball and Katie Stanton. He conveys an unpretentious and humble tone when recognizing how it he is here because of the support from others.

MBF describes the point in which he began to recognize his characteristic voice as an Artist:” I think oftentimes you cannot listen to a body of work for a while and think ‘this is obviously better than what I did before.’ I think my computer was on shuffle one time. I was able to hear a track from an album we did a long time ago and I started clicking on it to see what it sounded like now. And I love what we’ve done. And I see I’ve been able to make a mix of music on each of these CD’s that hasn’t been defined to one thing. It’s all tied together by acoustic guitar and vocal. There’s lots of different elements. On this [YES album] there is brass but then there’s also strings and synth. We’ve been able to do what we want with all these recordings and not be so targeted or aimed [to a genre] and I think that’s a lot of the style.”

New audience members may wonder if his on stage positivity is just an act. This is not the case. His positive perspective is shaped from utter comfort with his own identity. It has come from acknowledging that he had strengths and weaknesses but he has embraced this duality with understanding. Thus, when you see him on stage – it is his core character on display. His goal is to make honest music: “I know instantly if a song is from me or not. So once that’s done and it’s released in a large sense, the way to keep it honest for me is not to dress it up too much or be larger than life. Today we played at the record tent and I forgot the words to the second half of two songs. I think a way to keep in that honest place is just to look people in the eye and not try to hide the fact that I didn’t know them. Or if I make a mistake, I just don’t care. We’re here to have fun together. And I hope that’s something that reads in that honest way,” he states with a tone with friendly truth.

MBF just notes that he wants to be part of great songs and put them down on paper. He keeps a balanced perspective towards how listeners may receive his music when his newest album ranges from quick hits like Man Overboard and Firecracker to mellow love tunes, Follow and I WilI. “I understand that some people can listen to a diverse amount of things and listen to that from top to bottom. But with some, that may not be their cup of tea, and that’s okay. If they hear me live they’ll still stick around and have a good time,” he says.

MBF is a mentor for the Galaxie Yong Performers Program presented by the Winnipeg Folk Festival. This year, emerging Artists from Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, and Nova Scotia were mentored by festival Artists. MBF reflects upon his start in making music: “I knew I wanted to make music and I just started. I knew that I wanted to play shows so I just played one. There’ll be people all the time that tell you all the time that ‘you should do this first’ or ‘you shouldn’t do do that before you’re totally rehearsed.’ I just started. I think by that kind thinking this whole thing for me has been a complete progression since day one. And it progresses all the time and I’ve never been at my best yet. I’ve been having a great time and allowing it to become what it is. I think that set me up for behaving this way. If I tried for it to be perfect out of the gates and rehearse something to death, I don’t think I would do this anymore,” he says with genuine honesty. I ask MBF what was one piece of wisdom he shared with his mentorees. MBF reveals a quote which he has taken to heart after hearing it from Steve Winwood’s guitarist, Café: “Your sole purpose is to spread joy.”

Beckoning his mentorees forward onto the stage, MBF takes off his own acoustic guitar and places it around one of the young players. He adjusts the microphone around the groups of young singers and stomps his foot and claps his hands behind them as they begin to sing. His smile and energy radiates warmth to everyone from the stage in an moment of pure joy.

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Reunited with Winnipeg Folk Festival

There is nothing like the feeling of being united with an old friend. That’s what it was like as Twila and I rolled into Manitoba from North Dakota on Monday. The shimmering golden canola in the hot prairie sun was a welcome accompaniment as we drove towards Winnipeg. Out first course of action was to get some espresso at Lil Sister Coffee and to check out the locally made print t-shirts at Sew Dandee on Osborne Street. We stocked up on provisions and had our last hot shower before driving to Birds Hill Provincial Park. We set up camp and are ready for the upcoming week.

Winnipeg Folk Festival Workshop Picks

After spending an evening curled up with my Winnipeg Folk Festival app, listening to the Soundcloud clips, reading Artist biographies, and starring my must-see sessions. Here is where you can find me at the Winnipeg Folk Festival:

Indie 500

Sunday July 13, 2014. 1-2:15 PM. Big Bluestem.

Rueben and the Dark, The Strumbellas, and The Wooden Sky

After taking a listen to this track from the Strumbellas I am sold on this session:

Cover Me

Saturday July 12 2-3:30 PM. Shady Grove.

David Myles, JP Hoe, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, Sweet Alibi, The Bros. Landreth

IMGP0012Michael Bernard Fitzgerald has been through Edmonton many times for me to catch him live in concert and I was able to see David Myles live at communitea in Camrose this past Fall. I am excited to see them on stage together to see what they come up with in addition to JP Hoe, Sweet Alibit, and the Bros. Landreth. Plus, Shady Grove is one of the stage in the woodland area so I will be looking forward to some shade mid-Saturday afternoon.

Roll on Saskatchewan

Saturday July 12, 2014. 2:30-4 PM. Big Bluestem.

Kacy & Clayton, Little Miss Higgins & The Winnipeg Five, The Deep Dark Woods, and The Sheepdogs

This workshop session is exactly the way it is. Deep Dark Woods + Sheepdogs on a stage together? I am there. Plus, I feel extremely connected to Saskatchewan after driving through that golden prairie landscape on my way over to Winnipeg from Edmonton.

A Room of Her Own

Friday, July 11 4:15-5:30 PM, Big Bluestem

Calypso Rose, Little Miss Higgins & The Winnipeg Five, Martha Redbone Roots Project, Ruth Moody, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar.

Maybe it was the numerous years singing in treble voiced choirs but I love the sound of female singer-songwriters. I have been a fan of Little Miss Higgins, and Ruth Moody’s work in the Wailin’ Jennys for many years so to hear them on stage together, in addition established female voices, is a must see for me.

We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger Tribute

Sunday July 13, 2014 4:15-5:30 PM. Big Bluestem

Ani DiFranco, Elephant Revival, Jake Shumabukuro, Joan Beez, Reuben and the Dark, Sarah Lee Gunthrie & Johnny Iron

A folkie must pay homage where homage is due. The death of Pete Seeger was a significant musical loss this past year. There is no place I would rather be than at this workshop. I have sense that everybody at the Folk Fest will be thinking the same thing so I will be lucky to get a spot. It doesn’t hurt that headlining names like Ani DiFranco are on the workshop roster. I am also excited to hear Elephant Revival for the first time live.

 

Top Picks from Mariposa Folk Festival 2014

Mariposa was a blast, but this morning we were back on the road. Headed north then west, on our way to Winnipeg. The seemingly endless trees, lakes and highway gave us lots of time to reminisce and evaluate our own Mariposa’s. The categories and results are in:

 

Wish I Was There

Sable: I had Folk Rock group, the Most Loyal on my schedule but was unable to make it to their sessions. I wanted to check out their combined use of vocals, piano, organ, bass, drums, strings, and electric guitar. Alas, I will have to placate myself with sound samples for now.

Twila: I wanted to see Craig Cardiff‘s concert. I’d heard excellent things about a house concert he  played in Edmonton earlier this year, but being in Wales hadn’t been there myself. I managed to catch a few tunes of his at the ‘Songwriting Basics’ workshop was left wanting more and wishing I had been able to hear the concert on Saturday.

New Discovery

Sable: Elephant Revival gave a rousing Maintage performance on Saturday night. There was a strong sense of ensemble between all the players and I enjoyed how different members came to the forefront to have vocals or instrumental solos throughout their set. It emphasized the strength of each individual player and there was no one particular Artist at the forefront. Their collective musical jams were powerful and trance-inducing.

Twila: Ennis. I Caught their performances as a by-product of them being grouped with some known-to-me quantities, so when I started waxing poetically about Ennis to some friends over the internet, I got a chorus of ‘HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW ENNIS?’ and ‘YEAH THEY ARE AWESOME’. Both true statements. The blended quality of the sister’s voices and their enormous stage presence captivated myself and those around me too. Better still was their ability to tell us (the audience) stories that became part of our own stories.

Favorite Workshop

Sable: Saturday morning with Birds of Chicago, Aviva, and The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer was the perfect way to start a chill day. The groups were getting used to the collaborative workshop segment but the Birds of Chicago did a great job of building a musical foundation for improvization to occur. Numerous bending harmonia solos from the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer and soaring melodic lines from Aviva complimented the musical genesis on stage.

Twila: Saturday afternoon at the Estelle Klein Stage ‘The Gordon Lightfoot Songbook’. Magoo, Tim ChaissonJD Edwards and Dala were joined by the man himself. The group on stage was a huge ball of nerves and excitement (for reasons only revealed when Gordon Lightfoot graced the stage after a few tunes had been sung). It was great hearing different interpretations of this iconic songwriter and then hearing Lightfoot sing too, well it was really the cherry on top. The playlist for today’s drive was updated to include many more Lightfoot songs…