Famous Ukrainian artists descend on Winnipeg as Jazz Festival returns

Winnipeg’s Jazz Festival is back for the first time since 2019 and the excitement is palpable. Alex Karpa provides you details on the event and showcases the Ukrainian content they’ve mixed in to the lineup this year.

By Alex Karpa

Winnipeg’s jazz festival is back for the first time in three years. There’s live music, and countless performers lined up.

Jazz Fest signals the beginning of Winnipeg’s festival season and the non-official kick-off of summer.

“How excited are we this year? Eleven out of 10 for sure,” said Zachary Rushing, the programs manager at Jazz Winnipeg,

“Come out, see a show. Part of the fun of jazz fest is the joy of discovery. Go see a show of an artist that you have never heard of, see a band you’ve never seen before at Old Mark Square. Come to the CMHR patio on Friday and discover something new to you.”

Jazz Fest is not only returning for the first time since 2019, but the festival is addressing Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine by bringing in famous Ukrainian artists.

“One in 10 people in Winnipeg can claim Ukrainian heritage and it is a significant portion of our community,” said Rushing.

“With something going on the world stage, at such a major level, it can’t be ignored. We are doing everything we can to uplift.”

Ukrainian sax player Bogdan Gumenyuk performed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Tuesday night. He was born in Ukraine and now lives in Montreal. He says it’s been hard watching what’s unfolding in his home country.

“For me, it’s almost therapeutical when I can play music,” he said.

“It is probably the first time in the history of Ukraine that we are united as one, and we are doing everything to stop this, stop this genocide.”

Jazz Fest is also welcoming Go_A, a Ukrainian folklore and electronic beats group that finished fifth in the 2021 Eurovision song competition. They will be playing with Toronto-based Balaklava Blues at Burton Cummings Theatre.

Biali is kicking off a month-long Canadian jazz tour Friday in Winnipeg at the Royal Albert Arms. They have toured Europe, the U.S. and Atlantic Canada since April, but now they are trying to make up for the time that was lost during COVID.

“Winnipeg has always been one of my favourite cities to play, so I’m feeling a little starved of the scene there,” said Laila Biali, a Juno-winning singer-songwriter.

“Live music is really where it’s at. It’s great that we have been able to do livestreams, and we can still do that, but there is nothing like performing music live, so for us it’s exciting to meet fans, music appreciators and all that.

“We will play songs for David Bowie, Coldplay, the Canadian songbook and also some original songs that straddle the worlds of jazz and pop. It’s a show for everybody to enjoy.”

The festival is also an added bonus for businesses like the King’s Head Pub in the Exchange District.

“It’s one of the greatest things we get to be a part of, especially because it brings people down,” said Seka Lussier, the operations manager at King’s Head Pub. “Foot traffic is a big part of our business and how we stay afloat, so we are very excited for festival season.”

The festival ends Sunday. Visit the Jazz Winnipeg website for more details on performances.

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