Plenty of outdoor summer festivals give music fans good times in the park. Some feature global sounds. But in sonic scope, community impact, and positive vibes, few rival London, Ontario’s admission-free TD Sunfest (July 7-10, 2011) Full festival info at http://www.sunfest.on.ca/.
Artists fly in from across the continent and overseas—just to perform at TD Sunfest. It’s a signature Canadian festival that has now outgrown its verdant, tree-lined home in Downtown London’s Victoria Park, drawing ever larger, strikingly multi-generational and multi-ethnic crowds during its four-day run (More than 200,000 visits last summer in a city with a population of just over 350,000).
The credit goes to Sunfest’s unwavering commitment to fresh yet deeply rooted global sounds: from Maori chants (New Zealand’s Moana & the Tribe) to rough Saharan blues (Niger’s Etran Finatawa), and from the swaying, accordion and banjo-powered songs of Haiti’s Ti Coca & Wanga Neges to the lush marimbas and vocal harmonies of South Africa’s Dizu Plaatjies & Ibuyambo. Elsewhere in the park, Chicago’s super-cool family affair, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, bumps with the jazz-tronic wonder of Netherlands-based Saskia Laroo and her effects-fueled trumpet.
In addition to its always rich panoply of roots, world, and jazz artists–many of them JUNO Award (Canadian Grammy) winners—this year’s TD Sunfest is highlighting the global edge of electronica through a new programming component entitled “Suntronica ‘11”. International heavy hitters—the South American psychedelia of Chicha Libre, the Afro-Colombian Technicolor hip hop of Systema Solar—meet Canadian favorites, such as Vancouver’s unlikely yet grooving Delhi 2 Dublin and Montreal’s Nu Afro-Latin big band, the Roberto Lopez Project. Artful jazz, raw roots, and dance floor beats mingle, just as immigrant grannies get down next to hipster teens.
“Our patrons relish the tremendous element of surprise, of sharing new discoveries,” explains TD Sunfest Executive & Artistic Director Alfredo Caxaj. “Every year we work hard to book both established and up-and-coming creative artists whom people haven’t seen live before; international and Canadian groups coming to the area for the very first time. Sunfesters always know there will be something spectacular on stage.”
Caxaj adds: “The most incredible thing about Sunfest is its unparalleled socio-cultural impact. We are the only event where the community, here in London and from across the region, comes together in a free and upbeat environment. That’s worth a hundred political initiatives, in our book.”
This unique environment stems not only from an eclectic music lineup—ranging from the Afro-Colombian body percussion and a cappella from NVOZ to the Kiwi alt-klezmer of Mamaku Project—but also from the hundreds of premier food, craft, and visual art exhibitors who turn Victoria Park into a huge international feast. With the sun as its inspiration, the heady mix of sounds, sights, and tastes draws tens of thousands of visitors from increasingly far afield—Middle Eastern music fans from Southeastern Michigan, festival devotees from Central Ohio. As one visitor told London’s local daily last summer, “Once you get a taste of Sunfest, you’re a fan for life”.
While putting London on the global music map, the festival is also helping to catapult the Forest City to the top tier of tourist destinations. In fact, the American Bus Association recently selected TD Sunfest one of the TOP 100 North American Events for 2011.
Such popularity and acclaim is already fuelling plans to move TD Sunfest outside its park hub and into the streets of downtown London. The expansion comes despite the dismal economic outlook confronting many arts organizations. If Caxaj and his colleagues have their way, “Canada’s Premier Celebration of World Cultures” will soon turn urban street corners into dancehalls, jazz clubs and jam sessions brimming with musical surprises.