— Feature —

5 ARTISTS 1 LOVE:

An Offer of Connection and Joy

ISOLATION AND CONNECTION

In 2021, the annual music show connected to 5 Artists 1 Love was cancelled because of the provincial mandates. “During COVID, because we couldn’t meet each other there was even more reason to somehow reach out to each other and ensure we’re hearing each other and connecting.” Darren Jordan said. As the curator and producer of 5 Artists 1 Love, he creates a space for Black artists to share their paintings, sculpture, music, poetry, and creativity every February. Celebrating 15 years of the art show, 5 Artists 1 Love filled the second floor of the Art Gallery of Alberta last February. Unfortunately, Alberta was in a lockdown. As mandates relaxed, the AGA extended the show until September. The music show of 2021 was not so lucky.

However, Jordan and the team at 5 Artists 1 Love put together a video retrospective about the show’s 10 years of history available on their website, 5artists1love.com. Additionally, 5 Artists 1 Love has been involved with Culture Days for many years. In the midst of the pandemic and in partnership with the National Black Coalition of Canada – Edmonton Chapter, 5 Artists 1 Love created “The Not So Tiny Desk Series,” a video performance playing off the popular NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. Musician, engineer and producer Enoch Attey has been involved with the annual concert in a variety of ways. Attey performed in the video, which is available on the 5 Artists 1 Love Youtube channel. Attey said there was a real need for the music and reminder of community in between COVID waves. “The wild thing is, could I use the money at the time? Yeah. For me, what was more important at that time was I haven’t played with anyone in a minute. I haven’t seen anyone in a minute. It’s been harder each day to find a reason to play. They could have been paying me 20 bucks and I still would have showed up.”

“As a creative it is hard,” Jordan reflected. “Most of the artists
I know, most musicians are always griping that they don’t have enough time to rehearse, to paint, to create. Most of these people have day jobs. So you would think that most people would be on fire in terms of their creative output.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has many of us feeling anxious because of all the uncertainty. Jordan, who works in mental health continued, “You may not have the spirit right now because of what’s going on in the world. The uncertainty zaps your energy and it can sometimes cover that spark that you need.” Jordan hopes that the art show and the music performance of 5 Artists 1 Love are bringing people together to support each other. “Now, more than ever, people need to connect. Now, more than ever, people need to share joy together.”

DIVERSITY WITHIN

As the 5 Artists 1 Love website states, part of the spirit behind the organization is to provide “Edmonton residents with the opportunity to celebrate the cultural mosaic within the city’s Black community.” As the Black Lives Matter social movement continues to grow and evolve it feels important to remember the diversity within the Black community.

“That’s key. I think a lot of people tend to forget that and lump Black people together, but it’s a lot more than that.” Attey put it this way, “There’s folks from Trinidad, folks from Jamaica who are going to see things and experience things completely differently. I’m going to taste someone’s dish and be like, ‘Nah, I am not about that.’ Then there’s the dish I grew up with, and I’m like, ‘Yes! And everyone else is like are you crazy?'”

Jordan is passionate about exposing people to the variety of cultures within the Black community. “Not only are we celebrating that diversity within ourselves, but we’re sharing it with the people that come through the door as well. We’re connecting and educating with other communities and cultures as well. Nothing but good can come from that. You can’t hate somebody once you’ve shared their culture, broke bread with them or danced with them or you nodded your head to some Marvin Gaye.”

Just as Edmonton recognizes Ukrainian and French heritage, Jordan reminds us, “Just because you’re Black, we’re not a monolith. We don’t all respond the same way. We don’t all act the same or share the same views.” As a performer, Attey noted that Jordan and the team at 5 Artists 1 Love could use their social capital after 15 years to attract bigger acts. Attey went on to say, “But every year there’s a push, how can we do something different this year? Who wasn’t showcased last year that we can showcase this year, that has a completely different voice than anything we’ve ever heard before? That drive for innovation and solving that puzzle is epic. It’s the thing that has me waiting by the phone, hoping Darren calls me and says, ‘Yo Enoch, I need you.'”

Jordan has a core group of artists to rely on for 5 Artists 1 Love events, “but it is imperative that we make way for people who haven’t had that opportunity. So, for example, where the art show is concerned, it doesn’t matter how successful or how well received your work is, two times. You are allowed to be in the show twice as a featured artist. And what that does, it opens the door for new and emerging artists to throw their hat in the ring to show the city, the community what it is they have to offer.”

In addition, 5 Artists 1 Love has used The Wall to encourage more community participation. This feature of 5 Artists 1 Love allows anyone to provide a 12 x 12 gallery-ready, 2-inch thick canvas with art based on a different theme each year. Feature artists in the art show are encouraged to participate in The Wall, but Jordan says individuals from a variety of different backgrounds share their work. “One of the goals of the show is to invite people to the party. How do you hate somebody when you have learned about their culture, experienced their culture, you’ve heard their stories. You make the connection in the similarities you have in your values and cultures as well. What I try to do is be a conduit for those conversations. Set something up so that people can gather, meet and learn about each other in a safe and welcoming environment.”

BEING BETTER ALLIES

Conversations about racism can be uncomfortable. How do we, as Edmontonians, rise to that challenge? Jordan offered, “Acknowledging that it is an uneven playing field and that there’s a history that precedes you or your family. I believe behaviour is purposeful. A system like that, a system that is uneven, inequitable there’s a reason why. I think people need to be honest about the fact that it does exist.” Jordan believes that our city is constantly changing with a rich influx of different cultures. “We’re fortunate in that respect. It goes back to educating each other. Sometimes there are people within our own community that don’t know much about another set of people, another group. And if they’re given an opportunity to share that culture through music, food and art I just think it makes for a much more cohesive and positive community as a whole.”

Attey commented that being part of the music production of 5 Artists 1 Love allows him to engage “with people from different backgrounds, worldviews and mindsets and cultural roots. I get to engage with them all on even ground. It doesn’t matter if the person sitting next to me is black or white or indigenous, we are all there to enjoy, partake, contribute to this beautiful exposure of culture, and to learn.”

Despite the pandemic, over 6000 people went through the AGA during the 2021 5 Artists 1 Love show. The 2022 art show has been extended to run from February to April. Darren Jordan is “hoping to do the 5 Artist 1 Love music show in-person this year. We’re at the Winspear. It’s been my goal from day one that we’ll play at the best stage in the city. Looks like that might happen.” Saturday February 5, 2022 is the scheduled date. Tickets to the last 11 years of the shows sold out quickly, but should you miss out Jordan mentioned they’re always looking for volunteers. There is an application available on the 5 Artists 1 Love website, along with contact information to be part of The Wall. 5 Artists 1 Love is always looking for sponsors and can contact them through the website as well.

Enoch Attey is a guitarist and the music director for an Edmonton group called Melafrique. You can find more information at linktr.ee/Melafrique_. Attey hopes to be involved in the 2022 show in some capacity. “What’s so deep about Edmonton for me, especially coming from a place like Washington D.C. where the music scene is thriving, what’s so deep for me is that here you have the unique opportunity to not just contribute to the scene but shape and change it, To mold it. I never would have dreamt that was a thing I could do.”