SASKATOON REGGAE AND WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL
Nope, it’s not as big and prestigious as the Jazz Festival, as long-running as the Fringe Festival or as entrenched in the community as Folkfest.
But one day, it could be all of those things — andthat’s why Oral Fuentes continues to work tirelessly in promoting the annual Saskatoon Reggae Festival, trying to bring publicity to what promoter / organizer / performer Fuentes feels is an underrepresented genre.
In addition to bringing in reggae musicians, the Festival aims to highlight cultural diversity through the arts. While the Festival has been around for nearly seven years, Fuentes says that there are still challenges to overcome — unpredictable prairie weather and the search for dates which don’t conflict with anything else among them — which playeda part in the decision to take the show entirely indoors for this year.
“Right now, we’re trying to see what works and what doesn’t work,” says Fuentes. “We’re definitely going to go back outside for next year, and we’re trying to find a date that works for us — we don’t want to compete with other festivals. But they have their own sound and so do we so it’s all a matter of finding that time of the year for us.”
Started in 2005 by Fuentes, the Saskatoon Reggae Festival has transformed from a showcase into a multi-day festival at various venues around Saskatoon — until this year, when it will once again be a one-day event. While it typically takes place outdoors in Friendship Park, Fuentes said that this year the Festival is being held inside at The Odeon.
As with any arts operation constantly searching for funding and ways to grow, it’s been a challenge — but it pales in comparison to another fight that Fuentes has had on his hands for the past year. A noted musician in addition to his duties as a promoter, Fuentes suddenly lost the ability to speak in 2011.
“I lost my voice for a year, which is why I didn’t do a lot of promotion for [this year’s] festival,” he says. “I’ve had some other people helping me out though, with both the festival and the band. But I had to have vocal surgery in March. After that, I went through training and then through therapy to try and get it fixed. And all of this has helped, and I’ve been back singing since from about May until now.”
The problem had a decided impact on both the Festival and the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band, who is influenced by a variety of genres including reggae, funk, punta-rock and brukdown (the latter two being musical styles from Fuentes’ home country of Belize).
Although the band hasn’t released any material since their debut album dropped in 2007, Fuentes says that he’s still writing new material, and hopes to get the group back on track.
“I’m heading back to Belize after the Festivalso I can visit my mom, but also so I can get in contact with some people in the music business there,” he says. “We’ve had offers to play in places like Los Angeles and Chicago, but of course we couldn’t do much because of my voice. But there are still some companies that are interested in us playing at other festivals, and we are still getting offers to play in other places, like Mexico, which is good.”
Along with his own band, the line-up will feature other reggae groups like Roots Syndicate from Calgary and locals The Steadies (ex-Mobadass), along with DJs and a professional dance troupe — a new addition, says Fuentes.
“This year we have a dance company, which features Latin dancing as well as hip-hop and jazz,” he says. “I think they’re really going to surprise a lot of people. It’s going to be great.”