Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Toronto City Council Limits Afrofest to One Day - UPDATE: Decision Reversed

Power to the People!
Afrofest Update:
Two Day Festival Back for July 9-10 2016

TORONTO (March 24, 2016) After an online campaign gained steam (see the original story below) and created a huge buzz in favour of the 27-year old festival, Toronto City Hall has reversed its decision and given Afrofest a two-day permit for Woodbine Park after all.

As reported in the CBC, the festival's fans took to the web en masse to protest the unfair treatment of the festival. Here's my take on this:
  1. Afrofest uses the same sound company that the other big festivals at Woodbine use - same techs, same equipment. It's hard to see how they could be so out of line with everyone else.
  2. I'd like to know how many complaints were lodged against the other festivals at Woodbine. Were they all entirely complaint-free? Why is this the only festival that seems to have this issue with the city?
I'll also note that, just after City Hall moved to limit Afrofest to one day, there was a big splashy announcement of Bestival - a rock festival taking place at Woodbine Park in early September and headlining The Cure, surely guaranteed to be a peaceful, quiet affair...

As the CBC story notes, part of the outrage - mine included - was the condescending tone taken by Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon who suggested publicly that the organizers needed to "behave". What kind of language is that?? And what sort of tone is that to take with any of your constituents - let alone one that has been contributing to community life for so long and obviously enjoys widespread support? These are citizens she's talking about; the people who elect these officials.

Meetings apparently went all the way to Mayor John Tory. Afrofest is set for July 9-10 and is expected to bring 120,000 people to Woodbine Park throughout the weekend.

From a media release:

Toronto City Council Limits Afrofest to One Day

Toronto, Ontario – March 16, 2016 - The City of Toronto has limited Afrofest at Woodbine Park down to a one day event from its traditional two day (Saturday-Sunday) format. This move will not only make it difficult to organize a viable festival but also hinder its growth and community impact. The reasons given are that permissible sound levels and permitted time frames were exceeded in previous festivals. Afrofest organizers maintain that these allegations are inaccurate.

Afrofest started in 1989 and is the largest annual African music festival in North America. The festival, which draws a crowd of up to 60,000 daily, has become an extremely important African celebration locally and internationally. Peter Toh, President of Music Africa, the organizers of Afrofest, called the decision completely unfair and discriminatory.

Thomas Mapfumo - Afrofest 2011:

“The sound company we employ works with most of the events at Woodbine Park, including Canada Day and Beaches Jazz festival concerts, and use the same sound equipment, crew and sound levels. The volume at Afrofest is no different than at those events but in our case they are being called violations.” Toh also added that the City had agreed, in writing, six months prior to Afrofest 2015 to allow it run later in order to accommodate a ceremony for the Pan Am Games, then just two weeks before the changed the permit conditions. “There seems to be no understanding of the contractual obligations we had, both to accommodating the Pan Am Torch Relay and to the headline act that followed”.

Alpha Blondy - Afrofest 2013:

“Music Africa is always willing to work constructively with City of Toronto officials but it seems that while they wish us well, they in fact set conditions to jeopardize success. This seems in complete contradiction to Toronto’s official “Music City” initiatives”, Toh adds.

Music Africa is calling on all the supporters of Afrofest to write, phone or email the City Councillor, Mary Margaret McMahon (, 416-392-1376) and the Mayor John Tory (, 416-397-2489) to express your concerns about their decision.

Petition for support: Maintain two day festival format

Afrofest 2015:

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