From a Whisper to a HOWL

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The annual HOWL Festival of Art and Revolution was launched last weekend in Toronto. In a couple of weeks, the festival rolls into Montreal, then moves on to New York City.

HOWL Montreal will raise awareness about efforts tocounter increases in racism in the wake of the WorldTrade Center incident. HOWL will further supportthose who are taking direct anti-war, anti-racism andanti-imperialism actions.

For HOWL’s debut in New York, it will support the Direct Action Network’s efforts against the WTO. HOWL Toronto benefited the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s campaign against the Harris Government.

HOWL was born a year ago in Montreal. Festival founder Stefan Christoff — a local artist, radio host, and activist — states: “HOWL originated as a response to the International Monetary Fund / World Bank protests in Washington.” As a festival of art and revolution, HOWL 2001 will combine workshops and teach-ins with spoken word, music and cinema. It will feature artists such as Clifton Joseph — known for direct, biting political commentary — alongside artists who are less strident, but more lyrical, like Montreal’s Ian Ferrier.

Such combinations are rarely seen on event bills in either Montreal or Toronto. HOWL, however, will bring together artists from different cultural, political and artistic backgrounds in the service of a common cause.

This combination of arts and politics has not yet caused any friction among those involved with the festival. Artists agree that art is inherently political. Artists further agree that performing within an activist framework means that their art will be approached as a form of social analysis, and not simply as entertainment.

HOWL Montreal

Montreal has a history of politically motivated artists. For instance, Hubert Aquin and Pierre Vailleres, both of whom were active in the FLN and FLQ respectively, wrote during the 1960s and 1970s. Montreal audiences are also well acquainted with socially conscious art. It is therefore fitting that the HOWL festival originated in Montreal. Though HOWL 2001 kicked off in Toronto and closes in New York, it will reach its climactic point during the three nights it will spend in its native city.

Montreal’s festival opener, sponsored by the Wired on Words label, will be dedicated to spoken word by queer performers and performers of colour. This event will feature Nah-ee-lah, a poet and performer whose play, Ya Ga Yah, recently toured Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax. Montreal activist Jaggi Singh, one of the main organizers of the protests this April in Quebec City, will introduce the festival.

On night two, one of the most interesting events of the festival will combine a montage of sounds recorded at the Quebec City protests with an orchestra. The orchestra will be composed of local musicians, all of whom work in different genres.

Night three will feature a presentation by the Toronto Video Activist Collective. The collective will be launching its film about the April demonstrations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations. The presentation will close Montreal’s festival.

HOWL New York: Amplifications

The recent confirmation of New York dates has sparked the enthusiasm of performers and organizers. “Even though the New York is just next door, it’s exciting to be taking the festival to a different country,” Christoff notes. “The New York artists, activists and organizations that I spoke with showed a great deal of enthusiasm. They instantly got on board. I was impressed and surprised by their willingness to cooperate.”

HOWL will kick off at the famous venue ABC NO RIO, with spoken word and music. HOWL New York will continue with a performance by musician Matthew Shipp and will end with a full day of workshops and teach-ins.

HOWL New York will not be a thoroughly American version of the festival. Montreal artists will perform alongside New Yorkers, an experience that many of those who are involved are hotly anticipating. “The idea is to link up members of the anti-capitalist movement who are working in different cities, opening the lines of communication, instead of letting local biases divide us,” states Christoff.

Indeed, if HOWL continues to grow at its current rate, it may soon be a North American phenomenon.

Kaie Kellough is a freelance writer based in Montreal.

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