The 2019 Montréal Pride festivities are on until Aug. 18, and the event aims to unite all, and make our differences disappear. With art as the main uniting force, the whole world is converging on Montréal so that we can all showcase what we have in common.

Alexandra Stréliski

Alexandra Stréliski (Photo: Raphael Ouellet)

“I’ve accepted the offer to participate in the Pride festivities mainly because I truly believe in diversity, justice, and equality,” says pianist Alexandra Stréliski. “Tolerance and goodwill are principles that I deeply believe in, and I think we still have a lot of work to do – both locally, and especially elsewhere in the world –  to raise the awareness of people with regard to sexual and gender diversity.”

Created in 2007 by the various communities on the sexuality and gender-diversity spectrum, Pride Montréal has become the biggest event of its kind in the entire Francophone world.

Artists from the LGBTQ+ communities are featured throughout the festival, as are their allies, with the goal of showcasing everything good that comes from being united. The Pride Montréal Festival celebrates diversity by allowing everyone to shine.

According to Jean-François Guevremont, the Pride Montréal Director of Programming, this unique environment of peace and celebration is extremely useful to provide answers to those who seek them, and even to those who don’t even intend to ask the questions. “We use the arts, various activities, and mostly music from local artists that people can relate to, in order to communicate positive messages to the people who gather together,” says Guevremont. “Pride Montréal is a great opportunity for people who are questioning themselves to meet our organizations and find more information. It’s important to note that we’re on a continuous learning path. Understanding a non-binary person can be challenging for some people, and it’s easier in an environment that’s pleasant and festive.”

“In the end, I think there’s no better setting than a huge, love-filled festival to unite people and let them be heard.” – Alexandra Stréliski

To Guevremont, diversity is more than homosexuality, and education is key. Alexandra Stréliski couldn’t agree more. “All celebrations are important!” she says. “In the case of Pride, it is also, obviously, a question of visibility. We may think the issue of homosexuality has progressed in Canada, and although it might be true for homosexuals, the LGBTQ community is a lot more diverse than we can imagine. Nowadays, we’re also talking about the visibility of non-binary persons, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, and trans people, and many more. In the end, I think there’s no better setting than a huge, love-filled festival to unite people and let them be heard.”

Two years ago, Pride Montréal became Canada’s largest LGBTQ+ event. “We get huge media visibility,” says Guevremont. “We can count on our artists to promote our political agenda. Music captivates you and invites you here, but we also have community programming that focuses on advocacy. It’s all very important.” Alexandra Stréliski will perform on August 14th, in a show titled Vagues, and she believes that, in our position as a province and as a country, it’s crucial to put ideas front and centre. “I believe Canada, and especially Québec, can be examples to follow for other less progressive places,” she says.

Her concert will gather several artists of the “new wave.” Safia Nolin, Beyries, La Bronze, Geoffroy, Annie Sama, Anthony Carle, Wake Island and Mathis Xavier will all share the stage with her.

Music is a language that facilitates everything, according to the program director. “Regardless of whether those artists are part of the diversity, they show up to champion a message,” he says. “It’s a statement they’re making when they show up by our side. Being open is one thing, but taking action can actually change things. A lot of people were surprised by the presence of Claude Dubois, on Sunday, for example. People who aren’t on board with diversity need to see people like him take a stand. The surprise of those people is very positive for us.”

On the music front, Guevremont works year-round to book artists that will attract as many festival-goers as possible. “I go to a ton of events and I do my research,” he says. “We hold consultative meetings. We were super-happy to have an ambassador like Ariane Moffatt for the opening show. We’ve been trying for years to have her, but the schedules were never aligned. We’re also grateful for the presence of other personalities, such as Roxane Bruneau, Debbie Lynch-White, and Safia Nolin. And we’re proud to offer exposure to up-and-comers like Antony Carle, for example.”

While we hear a lot about the lack of women in most festival line-ups, Guevremont is quick to mention their lack of diversity. “People tell us there’s a lot of drag queens in our festival, but have you ever seen one at Osheaga?’ he asks, rhetorically. “No! We only have three out of 20 shows that feature drag queens. That’s not a lot, especially when you consider that this makes up for their total absence in other music festivals.”

He believes evolution is a never-ending process. “A few years ago, people told us there were a lot of allies and not enough queer people,” he says. “We strive to be as representative as possible. We have many lesbians from the music industry. It’s a step in the right direction. We want to be diversified musically in order to attract people with a variety of musical tastes.” To Guevremont, it’s also crucial that major festivals in Québec and Canada stop “ticking diversity boxes: a gay guy, a trans person, a woman, etc.”

One thing’s for sure: music remains a conduit for positive messages, no matter what the message is. “I believe music can be a balm for the hearts of those who need it,” says Stréliski.” Whether those hearts are queer, L, G, B or T… We’re all the same in our human experience, and that’s what I want to champion.”

We’re now entering a revolutionary time in Canadian music, where a new generation of up-and-coming musicians can find themselves represented within our country’s diverse mosaic of voices. This was the case for Rita Claire Mike-Murphy, a.k.a. Riit, a Nunavut artist who says seeing the recent rise of Indigenous music – from Polaris Music Prize winners Tanya Tagaq and Jeremy Dutcher, to the genre-redefining A Tribe Called Red – has given her “such high confidence in myself as an artist.”

Riit now joins what Dutcher calls the “Indigenous renaissance,” combining her love of synth-pop (“I listened to a lot of Lady Gaga”) with her native language of Inuktitut. Her music also features throat singing, field recordings of snow crunching, ravens singing, and her sharpening an ulu (a woman’s knife) – all essential sounds that embed an integral sense of home at the heart of Riit’s propulsive music.

“I wanted to incorporate sounds from home, just because that’s where these songs belong,” she explains. As for the language, Inuktitut speakers continue to decrease every year, and Riit is passionate about keeping it alive – as Dutcher has done with the even scarcer Wolastoq language. She adds, “I want my children and my grandchildren and generations after that to speak it.” Riit is also the host of an English and Inuktitut children’s program called Anaana’s Tent, which aims to educate its young viewers on Inuit culture.

This year will mark the release of Riit’s debut full-length album, which she worked on with producer Graham Walsh of the band Holy Fuck. For Riit, the hope with this album, and with all her music, is to “bring healing and forgiveness to people, especially Inuit.

“We carry immense trauma from colonization as a whole,” she continues, referring to the high rates of suicide, sexual abuse, as well as the inter-generational anguish of residential schools, and countless other historical injustices. “I really want to find a way for my art to open up more opportunities for discussions and healing.”

For Shauna de Cartier, founder of the independent record label Six Shooter Records, an intuitive approach to her business suits her best.

Six Shooter Records, Staff

The staff at Six Shooter Records. (Photo: Lyle Bell)

De Cartier, originally from Edmonton, started the label almost 20 years ago, with one artist on the roster: Luke Doucet. Eventually, she moved to Toronto with the business, and has since established what is truly, not just optically, a diverse and real Canadian-representative roster of musicians, including The Rheostatics, Zaki Ibrahim, The Strumbellas, Riit, William Prince, and Polaris Prize winner Tanya Tagaq, among others. Nine people of their 13-person staff identify as female. Six Shooter Records also includes the Six Shooter Management company, Girl on a Horse Publishing, and the Interstellar Rodeo music festival, back home in Edmonton (and in Winnipeg as well, from 2015 to 2017). Recently, she was the 2019 recipient of the Entrepreneur Award at the Canadian Independent Music Awards gala. But none of these successes would have happened if de Cartier didn’t, as she puts it, lead with her heart.

“My decision-making style is very steeped in emotion,” she says via e-mail. “How does it feel to me if I make one decision, versus how does it feel if I make another. This sounds flaky, and maybe it is, but I like to think about it in terms of leading with the heart. All of the other parts of me feed into that, whether it’s my head or my gut. I acknowledge that this is a style of doing business that makes me more vulnerable than some of my colleagues, and ultimately, I’m okay with that. Art is a business of emotion.”

This is the part where I tell you that the robust conversation I had with de Cartier in early July doesn’t exist anymore. Call it a Mercury Retrograde flub, or a technological nightmare come to life, but what we spoke of — the minute details of her work life, where she talked about delegation, and her role shifting from day-to-day management to bigger-picture strategy – is lost forever. But since piecing together this article with my notes and research, and e-mails from de Cartier (brief but fully-formed thoughts, delivered while understandably busy with running the Interstellar Rodeo this year), I’ve come to see this portrait of her as a decision-maker. How her position in Canadian music really does have an impact on a community, or artist, and it comes down to a vulnerable approach in her business.

Often, vulnerability is seen as weakness, but emotional awareness is a crucial strength. And this is no more true than in art, a wholly emotional endeavour.

Six Shooter Records, Tanya Tagaq

Six Shooter artist Tanya Tagaq

Prioritizing what may feel good over what may seem like a “good business decision” has led Six Shooter down a path of great international success. There had been, de Cartier admits, some decisions that weren’t financially that lucrative, but the passion for the project, the artist, or the art itself felt worth it. Taking on Tagaq, for example, who is so spine-tinglingly brilliant, was a decision she made because it felt like the right one. And, of course, it was.

De Cartier also told me that values factor into how she makes decisions and what sort of strategy she’ll take, whether it’s working on a project,  hiring a new employee, or anything else. Alignment is key. “I learned early on that you can negotiate almost anything: your vision, your goals, money, strategy, etc.,” she says. “But you can’t negotiate your values. They simply are what they are. In fact, they are who you are. If you work with people whose values aren’t in alignment with your own, that relationship is not going to work out.”

The label’s motto gestures toward an ephemeral approach to business with the crisp, “Life’s too short to listen to shitty music.” Though the motto is going to change for the label’s official 20th anniversary, the sentiment of going with pleasure, with what feels good – essentially, with your heart – is immeasurable, in an industry so often stuck on other measurements of success.