British Columbia

Does Canada's music scene lack diversity? Musicians and industry weigh in

Delhi 2 Dublin performer and Vancouver musician Tarun Nayar says the music industry appears to be ignoring Vancouver's ethnically diverse musicians even though some of them are getting millions of hits on YouTube.

'Canada doesn't lack diversity in its musicians and artists. We lack it in our infrastructure'

Pharrell Williams, of N.E.R.D., performs at the Pemberton Festival in Pemberton, B.C., on Sunday, July 27, 2008. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

When Vancouver musician Tarun Nayar takes a hard look at the local music scene, he can't help but notice hordes of talent from a wide array of ethnic backgrounds.

In the Lower Mainland's South Asian community, for example, the Delhi 2 Dublin performer says there are genuine stars emerging.

"There is such an unbelievable amount of talent," he said, adding that some performers are getting millions of views on YouTube.

But Nayar says there's a catch: they aren't being recognized by the music industry. And he says the issue is far more widespread.

"Canada doesn't lack diversity in its musicians and artists. We lack it in our infrastructure — our music industry," he said in a recent Facebook post.

Tarun Nayar of Dehli 2 Dublin says the infrastructure behind the Canadian music industry contributes to a lack of diverse artists getting exposure. (Delhi 2 Dublin/Facebook)

The festival circuit

Nayar says that just by taking a glance at the national festival circuit, the lack of diverse performers is troublesome.

According to his rough count of the 2016 Pemberton Music Festival — one of Canada's largest music festivals that housed 180,000 attendees this year alone — of 165 artists on the bill, 128 were white, and only 16 were women. 

But for other festivals, the trend could be changing.

In the last two years, 40 per cent of the artists performing at the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival were from diverse backgrounds.

Dane Roberts says he's made diversity a priority over his 17-year run as the festival's organizer, even if some of the acts don't have a large following.

"A lot of these bands that we bring in are not popular — they're not as popular as the bands that are getting that radio play and are selling those tickets in the college markets," said Roberts, adding that the platform gives many artists a much needed opportunity to develop an audience.

Lack of funding?

All musicians need exposure to build an audience, but getting a spot on a music festival isn't the only way to get it. There's also a funding through arts organizations that musicians can apply for that can help develop their craft.

Music B.C. is among the most popular in Western Canada, which allows musicians to apply for travel grants and showcase opportunities.

Alex Grigg, the organization's director, says the music scene is very diverse, but that the industry needs to do a better job at reaching out.

"If you're sort of a non-commercial artist, it's extremely difficult to get the word out," he said. "It's one of those things where I think a lot promoters, [the] radio industry and other people need to take more risk, per se."

Grigg says opportunities for diverse artists have evolved over the last 20 years. He hopes with formal training, new professionals coming into the music industry will hopefully be more conscious of diversity.

With files from Bal Brach and CBC's The Early Edition

To hear the full story, listen to the audio labelled: CBC's Bal Brach explores diversity in the Canadian music scene