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Can-Do Musos Festival 2021: When the music’s in you

By Sarina Sahari

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July 29, 2021

Sarina Sahari, Assistant Producer, True Colors Festival, reviews the first Can-Do Musos Music Festival.

By Sarina Sahari

Image description: Video embed via YouTube of the Can-Do Musos Festival 2021, a celebration of music and disability from across the globe.

Music can be an antidote, a healer or a form of therapy. It is empowering and has no limitations.  With this belief of “no limitations”, Can-Do Musos, a global voice for musicians with challenges, believes that every musician should have a chance at their dreams.  This non-profit organization was established in 2013 out of a discussion among musicians about the barriers faced by musicians with disabilities. It was about realizing that the term ‘disability’ is often understood to mean ‘inability’. So the founders decided to use the word ‘challenges’ – because everyone understands that challenges can be overcome and beaten. Can-Do Musos promotes and supports musicians with challenges all over the world, and today, its global family comprises more than 350 musicians from 36 countries.

With the message of hope and as part of their fundraising efforts, Can-Do Musos recently premiered its first ever online music festival featuring 60 musicians from 20 countries. The festival showcased musicians with various disabilities – visible and invisible – which they were either born with, were a result of trauma or diagnosed at some point in their lives. It is available for viewing on Can-Do Musos YouTube channel.

I came across Can-Do Musos as part of outreach efforts for our latest music video You Gotta Be. Alvin Law (who is in You Gotta Be), Sparsh Shah and Tony Dee, who are in our 2020 music video Stand By Me, are also part of their global community. It was wonderful to learn about others like Can-Do Musos, who share the same ideals and are on similar journey with True Colors Festival – toward a more inclusive world. I was keen to watch the festival partly out of curiosity and mainly because I am a firm believer that music empowers and crosses all barriers; and that talent – regardless of shape and form must be respected.

Expect to watch and listen to various music genres, ranging from ballads to electronic, and blues to rock, featuring a whole spectrum of mainstream and lesser known musical instruments including the didjeribone, washboards and everyday items like wine glasses.

The music festival combined clips of live performance recordings and music videos of original works and covers. Either solo or band performances (some with and some without disability), their names, types of disability and where they are from are displayed at the beginning and the end of their clip. The focus is on their talent but to me, knowing their disability is an equally important detail. With invisible disabilities and uncommon or medical terms used, it is educational as it helps me understand the disability. To help me understand further, I did some quick online research while listening to the performances. I may not remember all that I read but that little knowledge is important especially in my role at True Colors Festival, in which I get to connect with people from all walks of life.

Image description: Image of Can-Do Musos team — Joe Hardy, Andrew Hewitt, Mike Mignogna, David Segal, Dom Famularo — smiling for the camera at Anaheim, California, in 2015.

This is not just a music festival that showcases talent. It also created a space in which musicians could share their personal stories, their life hacks for being a musician and for overcoming daily challenges. Mike Nagoda, a double slide guitarist from Canada shared that he was unable to play the guitar as holding it and forcing his hands into cord shapes was painful due to his cerebral palsy. Finding a lap steel guitar too limiting as he can only play the major chords without being able to show other skills, he stumbled upon a double slide system that was invented by a local blues musician. Brandon Cruz from America has multiple sclerosis and has designed a variety of ways to adapt for his professional drumming. On his duet with his son for the festival, he played the congas and improvised an Afro-Cuban rhythm that is popular in Miami.

There are many inspirational and jaw-dropping performances at this online festival. Zaina Arekat, for example, plays the guitar effortlessly while in bed and connected to a tube. Being diagnosed with nemaline myopathy as a child and losing her eyesight at 18 did not stop her from composing a fantasy medieval tune like Beasts of Wonder from her Mind Journey album and continuing her passion for playing the guitar. Catch Sidiki Conde, a polio survivor from Guinea, playing an African instrument that makes you want to dance. I was wowed by Daniel Segres – born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy – whose take on LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem makes me wonder if the neighbours complain as he jams in his room!

“I was keen to watch the festival partly out of curiosity and mainly because I am a firm believer that music empowers and crosses all barriers; and that talent – regardless of shape and form must be respected.”

I find these words from Dan Caro, professional drummer and burns survivor at the age of two particularly powerful: “Lost my hands and fingers, scarred from head to toe. Horrible situation, but I survived and more than that, I thrived. And I found music. I use music throughout my life as a medicine and I take my medicine every day.  I am so fortunate that I get to play music as a profession in one of the greatest cities in the world, New Orleans. I’m here, you’re there. We are in this together. Love yourself and know yourself. And do the best you possibly can”

One of the many challenges of presenting such a festival that combines performance recordings and music videos is the viewer experiences different levels of footage quality. While the focus is absolutely on the talent and the music, this is something to bear in mind for the next edition.

The musicians featured in this music festival are testament to the fact that hope is powerful and self-belief empowers. With a A Can-Do attitude, you CAN be unstoppable.

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True Colors Festival 2020/2021

True Colors Festival (TCF) presented by The Nippon Foundation is a series of performing arts events presented across geographies, in celebration of diversity and inclusion as “One World One Family.”

Through festivals since 2006 in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, and Japan, TCF has presented more than 1,100 performing artists from more than 30 countries and attracted more than 40,000 people.

The re-start of TCF 2020/2021 marks its commitment to tap on the power of the arts to connect artists and audiences in experiences such as music videos, film screenings, children’s programs, musicals, concerts, and workshops.

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