Avoiding Activist Burnout (feature in NOW Magazine)

The cover story for the August 8-14 issue of NOW magazine was titled “How to Fight Activist Burnout”, featuring an essay by artist Syrus Marcus Ware.

Ware has juggled a busy art career with working other jobs, in addition to “working pretty much full-time” as an activist.  Eventually, all this resulted in a season of burnout that “affected everything”: art practice, activism and family life.

Ware cites the support of friends and lovers, accessing care supports and even luck with being able to pull through, acknowledging that many activist-artists don’t make it.

Ongoing awareness of these kinds of difficulties is the main reason I’m amplifying Ware’s message here.  It’s an important message for activist musicians and is especially relevant during periods of “the heightened political divisiveness we are seeing today.”  Moreover, I’ve experienced burnout myself juggling musical pursuits, multiple jobs and personal commitments, without being seriously involved in any activism, let alone to the degree Ware has been.  However, I do want to be more involved and it’s through music I can make that happen.  Yet, I’d very much like to avoid burning out again.

Given the political shite we are continuing to experience these days, community is not only necessary to safeguard against personal burnout, but it’s the key to an activist life.  (Actually, it’s probably the key to life itself, but a more focused point needs to be made at the moment!). Ware has expressed the “need to care for activists before the toll on them becomes too great” – to “celebrate and nourish”, which Ware does through writing “love letters” and drawing portraits – and a call to continually combine artistic practice with activism, “using every form of communication as an agent of change.”

In a quest to find further solutions to avoiding burnout, Ware talked to some “comrades in the struggle” and found these are important: 1) seeking balance among various pursuits (when it’s easy to get caught up in something specific), 2) various forms of self-care, physical and mental 3) awareness of the toll that being in “crisis mode” takes – and our limits for tolerating this.

All of the above might be somewhat intuitive or touted as common knowledge or “common sense” but we would do well to revisit these points, to keep them in mind since we can easily forget about what’s good for us.

For me, the golden combination of community, music and activism is best expressed and experienced through the HONK! movement and related activity.

Apart from the simple joy that comes from participating in HONK!, it is an established system of civic engagement that promotes inclusivity and the breaking of social barriers.  It means I can step away from it if I need a rest and be satisfied that my like-minded friends are going to keep playing music, bringing love and joy to the people and supporting those in need of support.

Being able to rely on others and take a rest once in a while are the key ways to avoid burning out. In so doing, we can help maintain a life balance, take care of ourselves and avoid being in crisis mode for too long.

In the face of continued or renewed struggle, that’s the way forward when it comes to succeeding at the long game.

HONK! ON Propaganda (Part 1)

HONK ON square

One of the challenges of bringing the HONK! community to Toronto is actually building the local support network. In other words, we want to expand the broader HONK! community by leading our city into this special musical melee but part of our efforts are spent generating local interest among potentially like-minded musicians.

HONK! ON is unlike a lot of music festivals. It’s non-commercial so there are no ticket sales, for instance.  Apart from some merchandise sales to help generate some operational capital, it’s a hardly a commercial venture at all.  In this regard, gaining “exposure” is less a marketing concern than it is a community-generating concern.  It’s all volunteer-based and bands pay their way to come and play.  Hopefully, in the future we’ll have generated enough community and grant-based funding to offer a stipend to bands to help offset costs.

The priority – at least as I see it – is that bands have a good time!  HONK! ON is basically a community party with music.  I hope that the visiting bands have such a good time that they will want to come again and talk it up to their colleagues.  I hope that local musicians enjoy a unique musical experience that is exciting enough to cause ripples throughout their circles of influence.

In terms of the HONK! world, what’s taking place in Toronto this coming weekend is very special. It’s local music history-in-the-making.  What’s particularly a treat – and the locals generally have no idea about the degree of significance! – is that we are to be honoured by the presence of three of the longest-running HONK! bands: Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band, Extraordinary Rendition Band and The Carnival Band.

All three of these bands were at the very first HONK! Fest in Somerville, Massachusetts in 2006.  I think it’s absolutely wonderful that they’re all going to be here to help us launch HONK! ON.

Sax Drive begins!

So, first of all, we had a tremendously successful HONK! OFF event on July 7th, meeting with tons of good vibes, support, and raising about $500 in funds for our inaugural HONK! ON Festival coming up in less than two weeks!

HUGE thanks to Drom Taberna for hosting the event and being such gracious hosts to boot.  Thank you to Marion Lougheed, my love and partner, for helping me to put all this together! And special thanks go as well to Micaela Morey, who not only was crucial in helping us organize, but also did an amazing performance of various cover songs with her band.  Lauren Barnett and her partner Demetri Petsalakis – known as Catchfiyah in their duo appearances – also were wonderful (and it was so much fun to sit in with them playing bari sax!)  Both Micaela and Lauren play in my new band…

which leads me to…

Sax Drive - Drom Taberna July 2019

A significant detail for me, personally: the launch of Sax Drive.  We played a great five-sax set of some of my original tunes, which seemed to go over extremely with our crowd.  We are pumped to play our next gig at HONK! ON on the afternoon of Saturday, July 27th at Trinity Bellwoods Park (exact time TBA).

A brief description of Sax Drive goes something like this:

Sax Drive is a new funky jazz combo based in Toronto and led by composer/saxophonist Jason Hayward. The group also features Lauren Barnett and Scott Pearce on alto sax, Nicole Auger and Micaela Morey on tenor sax, along with Tavo Diez de Bonilla on bass and Trevor Yearwood on drums. Beyond that of a traditional jazz combo eschewing a chordal comping instrument, the band’s groove-based aesthetic is informed by diverse influences, including New Orleans street bands, Big Band sax sections, chamber music and EDM.

“Sax Drive” is a name I’ve had in mind for this project for ages!  However, seems like some people have beat me to the name.  Before we get too far along, I may have to change it or add something to it.  Maybe not.  We are way, way cooler after all.

In the meantime…

We started our Sax Drive Facebook page.

And next, we take the world by storm!

Eventually.

A HONK! OFF event: July 7, 2019

There is “HONK!”, the catch-all label for all HONK! Festival-related shenanigans.

There is “HONK! ON“, the Toronto-based version of the HONK! Festival – happening for the first time July 27-28, 2019!!!

Now, there is “The HONK! Off”, which is what we Toronto HONK-ers call events that support our HONK!-related activities.

Our first is an afternoon fundraiser concert/cabaret at Drom Taberna (458 Queen St. W) happening July 7, 2019 from 3pm to 7pm.

My new band, Sax Drive, will make its debut at this event!!!

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The Beauty of HONK!

No horn? No problem. Here are some shakers.

No rhythm? No problem. Just make a joyful noise.

You don’t have to even play an instrument; you can dance or juggle or do a hand-stand, etc. The only limit is your imagination.

Anyone can be involved in HONK! – literally, anyone. Among the many characteristics that make the HONK! street band movement beautiful is its inclusivity.

As Tim Sars, of Vancouver’s The Carnival Band, is fond of saying to anyone around to listen: “You’re all in the band.”

The Carnival Band’s website says further: “We believe community music is grounded in collaboration, with the aim of empowering the individuals involved.”  They invite anyone with an interest, even loaning instruments and providing instruction.

The Party Band from Lowell, Massachusetts says, “Open rehearsals encourage players of all skill levels and dedication to attend and join our cause, none are turned away.”

In Toronto, you can come play with Street Brass. We don’t have instruments to lend, sadly, but we can hook you up with some spoons at the very least.

Beyond being directly involved in the music-making, the second key aspect of “inclusivity” involves the participatory nature of the performance, the breaking down of the (very common) barrier between audience and performer. “Bands don’t just play for the people; they play among the people and invite them to join the fun” (honkest.org).

There are so many divisive, polarizing aspects to the world. HONK! actively thwarts this. On the one hand celebrating tremendous diversity in expression (musical and otherwise), HONK! is one tribe and openly invites you to be part of it.

HONK! ON (HONK! Ontario) is July 26-28 in Toronto (details TBA).

HONK ON Postcard

The Sound of HONK!

One of the things I absolutely love about the HONK! world is its musical eclecticism. The predominant unifying factor is the general timbre, which emanates from the use of brass  instruments, saxophones and percussion (other woodwinds and mobile instruments like accordion are also common – I even saw one musician playing electric bass with an amp on a little trailer!)

However, in terms of musical idioms or the kinds music played, pretty much anything goes.  According to the HONK! Fest website:

“bands draw inspiration from sources as diverse as Klezmer, Balkan and Romani music, Brazilian Samba, Afrobeat and Highlife, Punk, Funk, and Hip Hop, as well as the New Orleans second line tradition, and deliver it with all the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival.” [honkfest.org]

That’s a lot of fun music right there.  If you go to the HONK! website and check out the bands that have been involved, you can follow links to their sites to hear samples of what they play.

Now go hear some HONK! [Band List]

What is HONK!?

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“An irresistible spectacle of creative movement and sonic self-expression directed at making the world a better place.”

Originating in Somerville (near Boston), USA in 2006, HONK! is a musical and social movement featuring street brass bands and other collaborators. Various versions of so-inspired annual festivals have cropped up around the world…

[See honkfest.org for more details.]

…and the movement has finally reached Toronto: HONK! ON debuts in July 2019.