Karaoke with a cause: Montreal's Rock Camp for Girls is building a musical home for youth
RC4G MTL offers girls and gender non-conforming youth the chance to come together
Every summer, Rock Camp for Girls Montreal (RC4G MTL) offers girls and gender non-conforming youth the chance to come together, make music and build community. During the week-long camp, which began in 2009, campers learn to play an instrument, form a band, pen a piece of music and perform that song at the "Showcase Concert," the grand finale of the camp session. This showcase — a definite high point in a Montreal summer — is a remarkable event that exemplifies how much musical knowledge, self-esteem, stage presence and cooperation can be fostered in just seven days.
Now, RC4G MTL wants to offer their campers year-round programming in a set location. Carol Fernandes, the camp's full-time coordinator, explains the origins of this expansion. "The need for a permanent space came from the campers," she tells CBC Arts. "We were brainstorming for the coming year, and campers suggested having a permanent space."
What is so remarkable about RC4G MTL is that in addition to forming bands and writing songs, campers also partake in a variety of workshops from three distinct tracts: gear and tech, arts and social justice — all based on feminist and anti-oppression frameworks.
"We offer a history of women in music, and every year we change the content because there's a lot to talk about," Fernandes says. "This year for gear and tech, we had a workshop in DJing that campers were really excited about. We've also had workshops in animation, video, and pedals and sound effects. In social justice, we had a talk with Missing Justice about missing and murdered Indigenous women, [another about] media literacy with CKUT, a discussion on cultural appropriation and a 101 workshop for newcomers called 'Put Your Gender in a Blender.'"
The continued necessity for these different kinds of learning — both musically and socially — for young girls and gender non-conforming youth became all the more apparent at the end of October when singer-songwriter Safia Nolin's appearance and acceptance speech at a Quebec music awards show garnered a virulent and sexist backlash.
"Nolin was so articulate about how this was misogyny," says Fernandes. "As soon as I saw this, I wanted to interview her with a camper. I thought it would be interesting to see Nolin's reaction to Rock Camp. Georgia, a camper, interviewed her and talked about Rock Camp, and Nolin was so happy and excited. She wants to be involved. It's also important for us, as a camp that began as an anglophone camp, that now we have almost half and half anglo/franco [participants]. It's important that we have more presence in the francophone scene. Nolin basically represents everything that we believe."
In order to accomplish their mission of providing year-long programming, the camp is launching an online Crowdrise campaign at a raucous karaoke party fundraiser on November 26 at Bar Le Ritz PDB. This event will be part regular karaoke and part live karaoke courtesy of musicians from Riot Grrrl Band Off, a satellite fundraising initiative of RC4G MTL that Fernandes likes to call "rock camp for adults."
"In the first year there were four bands and last year there were eight — more than forty participants," she says. "Each band chooses an artist to cover. They cover work by Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, L7, but also The Raincoats, Alanis Morissette, Robyn and Motown artists."
On November 26, Band Off members will assist in making the live karaoke something that everyone can partake in. "If anyone has requests, our volunteers will try to learn songs. One of the bands is apparently organizing something very special for that night. Samuele, who won the 2016 grand prize at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby, has prepared something special as well."
Though RC4G MTL is already providing programming outside of summer camp — including a choir at Girls Action Foundation and an upcoming workshop on sound and video with GIV (an artist-run centre dedicated to the promotion of works made by women) — it's clear that a permanent venue should house this wealth of skill-sharing. One of the biggest challenges is finding an accessible location, which Fernandes says is a dealbreaker.
The energy of everyone supporting one another is amazing. It's not a competition.- Carol Fernandes, RC4G MTL coordinator
"We're not renting a space if it's not accessible," she says. "It's frustrating, because Montreal has a big problem in terms of accessibility. I've contacted activists here, I've contacted the city and I can't find spaces. We recently applied for a space from the city that is accessible, but we're still waiting to hear if we got it. It's been a really difficult search."
Still, RC4G MTL is certain that the launch of their Crowdrise fundraiser at the karaoke party will be integral to attaining their goals. While turning a week-long camp into a year-long program might seem like a giant step, Fernandes points out that each summer, campers teach her that you don't have to do things "right" when it comes to music.
"Campers will come up with crazy sounds that a professional musician might say isn't right, but they're so happy about it that it becomes contagious, and everyone enjoys it. The energy of everyone supporting one another is amazing. It's not a competition. This comes from volunteers being role models, but it also happens the other way around where campers are role models. They're so positive, so encouraging of each other. It can be tiring, it can be emotionally exhausting, but you end your day feeling so good that nothing else matters."
Rock Camp for Girls Live Karaoke. November 26, Bar Le Ritz PDB, Montreal. www.crowdrise.com