A celebration of life, art, and culture. This is the tagline of UNPLUGGED – a festival in Toronto’s Jane and Finch community that showcases the city’s breadth of upcoming artists and performers. Running in its fifth year, UNPLUGGED has acted as a catalyst for social cohesion in a diverse neighbourhood of Toronto. The festival also brings together a plethora of amusement rides, carnival games, and amazing food for people of all ages.
Raz Mataz recently caught up with Kayode Brown – a key organizer of this event and spokesperson on behalf of the UNPLUGGED team. Brown is the founder of the non-profit organization Just BGRAPHIC, which promotes art, education, and equality for youth. We talked about what you can expect from the UNPLUGGED festival.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): How did the idea of UNPLUGGED first come about and who were some of the key players in making it happen?
Kayode Brown (KB): The UNPLUGGED festival started out as a showcase back in 2010. It was just like a community showcase and it grew from there and became a festival. The team has evolved over time and hasn’t had the same members consistently for two years. It started off with Andre and Susan – who were part of my original team – and then it grew into this new team now. It began with a group of three and now has six or seven, so the festival is growing.
RMM: What impacts has UNPLUGGED had on the Jane and Finch community?
KB: One of the biggest impacts is that it gives a new platform for youth to come out and showcase their talents. Jane and Finch doesn’t have a festival, so it creates that space of positive energy for people who want to come out and celebrate. Because of the way this festival is built, we get a lot of kids and different types of music and performers. Everything from hip hop, jazz, rock, and the blues. It’s a very big stage in terms of the genres and types of artistic merits.
RMM: What kind of messages are being sent to the community?
KB: I think one of the biggest messages is that Jane and Finch can have a safe, fun festival for people to just come out and have a good time. The festival unites the community – all parts of the community. You don’t just get one section because it really unites Jane and Finch and all other communities like Rexdale, Weston Mount, Scarborough, and even some who come as far as Kitchener. So the festival really opens up the community a wider audience and creates a sense of pride.
RMM: Can you tell me about some of the featured artists that are going to be there?
KB: Well we really changed the format of UNPLUGGED festival this year. Last year, it was about different artists hitting the stage, just like a cattle calling of them one after another. This year, we are going more into segments like featured and theme related performances. Also, we are going to have a whole segment dedicated to Luther Brown – my brother and choreographer from So You Think You Can Dance Canada – but also a pioneer and icon in his own right for what he’s done for the Jane and Finch community and hip hop dancers across Canada.
RMM: This year, you are putting out a Pan Am Edition of UNPLUGGED. What is that going to be like and how was it like getting the City of Toronto involved?
KB: Well we first like to thank them in selecting us to run these activities. The Pan Am Edition of the festival is all sports related. So what we’re doing is an ultimate Frisbee tournament for high school students, as well as a flag football one as well. We also partnered with another grassroots organization called Throne Athletics. They have been running a flag football tournament in the [Jane and Finch] community for 22 years. This year, we partnered with them to bring more attention and awareness to get a younger audience out to events like this. The funds raised in this tournaments will go towards kidney research, so it’ll be a different approach to the festival than what we did in previous years and we’re really excited for this year’s festival.
RMM: What opportunities will upcoming and independent artists benefit from joining this festival?
KB: We have two big media partners. One of them includes Vibe FM (formerly known as CHLY) – a brand new radio station with a much bigger audience span. They are going to be our key music provider. Any artists that come out here will have an opportunity to meet them, submit your music, and get some one-on-one time with the radio’s director who will be there. FEVA TV is another broadcasting partner who will be doing a whole TV segment on the festival that will capture all the performers, partners, and segments. Our Middle School Tour is also one of our flagship outreach methods. It is a mini concert that we bring to eight middle schools in four days that will feature acts from Danny Fernandes, JRDN, Reverse, Mike Black, and so many more. So I think it’s going to be an awesome tour and something to look forward to as well.
RMM: What does the tagline “A Celebration of Life, Art, and Culture” mean?
KB: It’s literally a celebration of life, art, and culture, where you just want to respect everyone’s culture, celebrate life, and we all want to do it through the arts.
RMM: What can we expect from UNPLUGGED in the near future?
KB: It’s only going to get bigger, so I don’t know what to expect. Expect the unexpected.
UNPLUGGED festival will be happening on June 20 at the Jane and Finch Mall (1911 Finch Avenue West) from 11 am to 9 pm. For more information, visit unpluggedfest.com for updates on events, performers, and basic information.
The deadline for artist submissions is May 31.