Funk + Folk = Urban Divide

By Karoline Czerski

How magically harmonious is a world where the Weakerthans and Steve Earle can strum on the same stage, Youssou N’Dour’s world beats meets Lucinda Williams’ southern drawl, and elder folk groove beside young hipsters on the soft grass of Prince’s Island Park.

It’s easy to be fooled by the serenity of the scene, lost in the haze and the hype of a the sunny July sky. So it became my mission to shake the love-bed and get under the dirt of the communal atmosphere of the twenty-fifth annual Calgary Folk Music Festival–to find the tears behind the scenes of this fantasy-land island.

The Gauntlet interviewed the sobering members of Calgary’s funk-soul Urban Divide, Festival misfits out of place inside the folk genre and euphoric mentality.

“Not being a folk band, we entered with a little reluctance or interest in how a funk band was going to fit into a Folk Fest,” says Andrew Cull, the band’s pensive drummer.

The Calgary Folk Music Festival defines the term “folk” as liberally as artists define contemporary, allowing for genres like Afro-Cuban, rock, blues, and funk to slip in.

Urban Divide quickly fell under this overarching framework, letting themselves get sucked in by an eternally accepting and diverse audience.

“I think the Folk Fest has been successful because they haven’t done just folk,” explains Cull. “They can attract people that don’t usually listen to folk music. There’s going to be some world music, there’s going to be some rock, and there’s going to be some funk.”

Whether folk music or not, the Festival provides the audience with a range of entertainment, incorporating workshop jams under the five side stages sprawled around the park in addition to the mainstage performances by world-class artists.

While the organization seems meticulous and the artists easy-going, there is more to jamming on-stage with a dozen other artists.

“It’s terrifying, not knowing what the hell is going on,” admits Boucher of the Alberta artist workshop session. “Every group gets a tune, and they try to tell everybody else what key its in.”

For Urban Divide, the Festival was as much an off-stage experience as it was on stage as the young members try to come to understand an event of this size and caliber.

“You finish playing, then you gotta eat, and deal with your gear, and then, oh! It’s time to play again,” remarks Cull.

“Yes, we’ve been so busy,” laughs a nonchalant Boucher. “Jam packed, beating them off with a stick.”

Cull, reassessing the situation, manages to find a balance within the experience.

“This festival is a lot of relaxing, just hanging around and playing.”

The Folk Fest contains an intense mixture of elements within serenity, harmony in disharmony, and learning experiences. For the band, it has been an interesting ride, having to deal with their own inner struggles as one of their own members recently left the group to travel as a classic saxophonist in Europe.

“We’re going to be a solid five, instead of six,” says Boucher.

Having fit into the Folk Fest, Urban Divide is now secure in expanding their festival genres, possibly doing the Afrikadey and C-Jazz festivals, while always staying true to their breeding ground­–the Wildwood pub in Calgary.

The band intends to stick around Alberta, and rightly so, as I have learned from my Folk Fest experience. For a moment, as I listen to the soft melody of Copperhead Road, I, too, get lost in the euphoria of the place–where this land is our land, four winds blow strongly, and funk bands put folk, jazz and Afro-beat festivals on their resume.

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