Halifax music fest apologizes for 'overt racism' at Polaris winner's concert

The Halifax Pop Explosion music festival is apologizing for the actions of a volunteer who interrupted a performance by Polaris Prize-winning singer Lido Pimienta with "overt racism."

Festival says some white audience members reacted negatively when Pimienta invited 'brown girls to the front'

Lido Pimienta performs during the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto in September. (Chris Donovan/Canadian Press)

The Halifax Pop Explosion music festival is apologizing for the actions of a volunteer who interrupted a performance by Polaris Prize-winning singer Lido Pimienta with "overt racism."

A statement on behalf of the festival's board of directors addresses the singer directly and promises to make changes to improve "anti-oppression and anti-racism training" over the next year.

"We are sorry that one of our volunteers interrupted your art, your show, and your audience by being aggressive and racist," reads a Facebook post signed by vice-chairman Georgie Dudka.

The Halifax festival says the incident involved a white volunteer photographer and several white audience members who reacted negatively when Pimienta invited "brown girls to the front" during her Oct. 19 show.

Lido Pimienta accepting the 2017 Polaris Music Prize Monday in Toronto. During her acceptance speech, Pimienta was flanked by her son, right, and her mother, who is out of frame. (Chris Donovan/Canadian Press)

The outspoken singer, who took home the Polaris Prize for her album La Papessa last month, frequently asks her audience to welcome people of colour to the front of the stage. In turn, she requests that white people move back.

While Dudka doesn't offer much detail in his post, festival spokesman Trevor Murphy confirmed Allie O'Manique's account of what transpired.

O'Manique says the problems started when the volunteer female photographer refused to step away from her spot near the front. It led to a clash with nearby audience members who became angered over her insistence on remaining near the stage to take photos, says O'Manique, who performs as dream-pop act Trails and shares management with Pimienta.

"She just kept saying, 'Move to the back,"' says O'Manique.

"Finally after saying it about 10 times — and the woman refused to move — (Pimienta) said, 'You're cutting into my set time and you're disrespecting these women, and I don't have time for this."'

Event organizers say the volunteer was removed from the show and ultimately chose to sever ties with the festival.

Pimienta's management did not respond to requests for comment.

'The artist is in charge in that space'

Julia-Simone Rutgers, one of the Halifax women invited by Pimienta to shift closer to the stage, says she was surprised by the photographer's refusal to move.

"There's a certain understanding that if an artist asks a crowd to do something ... the artist is in charge in that space," she says.

The clash was emblematic of the opinion that prioritizing people of colour — particularly women — is "reverse racist," says Rutgers.

"It's those mindsets that create that sort of pushback at the shows," she says.

"I don't know if I would say it can be attributed to the crowd Pop Explosion gets, or more so just the sort of people that exist in Halifax and the mindsets that prevail here."

The four-day music bash, which wrapped Oct. 21, is usually considered a diverse affair with performances by more than 150 artists, comedians and speakers.

Pimienta's show had its share of audience tensions, says O'Manique, who highlighted two instances that happened near her in the audience.

"There was a man standing behind me, an older man, who was referring to Lido as a racist because she was dividing the crowd," she says.

"I also saw two women fighting closer to me, yelling in each other's faces and giving each other the finger."

In closing their statement, Halifax Pop Explosion organizers specifically addressed people of colour.

"We are going to try our best as a festival to create ways to make our spaces safer and more accessible for you. We hope we can rebuild some trust and that you will come back to our shows."