ALFREDO CAXAJ'S SUNFEST STORY
In the fall of 1985, Guatemalan high school teacher Alfredo Caxaj and his wife Patricia were a few door knocks away from being kidnapped and/or murdered by their country’s brutal death squads. What happened next would forever alter the direction of Alfredo’s life and that of his soon-to-be adopted city of London, Ontario.
In December of that year, the Canadian Embassy fast-tracked the Caxajs’ escape to Canada as refugees. When Alfredo landed in Toronto, he experienced the city’s socio-cultural diversity as a form of the sublime. Fortuitously, Alfredo’s recognition and embrace of Canada’s diversity occurred at the very moment that London’s demographics were undergoing a profound change through an influx of refugees and immigrants from across the globe, especially from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. The FREE-admission summer festival that Alfredo later conceived (TD Sunfest, which debuted in July 1995) was built on the pillars of accessibility and inclusion: giving dozens of populations from “a different London” an affordable space in a central location where they could feel comfortable assembling and celebrating. It should be noted that it was Alfredo’s decision to make “Canada’s Premier Celebration of World Cultures” not an expression of identity politics, but, rather, a festival for EVERYONE regardless of culture, class, etc. As both an innovative musician and an experienced community organizer, TD Sunfest’s founding Executive/Artistic Director knew that true festivals were all about ‘soul-making’. “I always have said that a community with no art, with no music, is a community with no soul.” In other words, when you add human imagination to any project, it’s no longer just a reproduction of an existing reality, but a staging of an alternative world enhanced and energized by its aspirational qualities. That is what constitutes “the most beautiful expression of community” – a frequent description of TD Sunfest!
Also key to TD Sunfest’s quarter century of successfully bringing together the whole London community is that the festival-going experience has never been dogmatic or limited by the intentions of its founders: the Sunfest team invites thousands of visitors of all backgrounds and traditions to be the festival’s co-creators. As our patrons “live in the sun and love in the moonlight,” we sincerely hope they’ll use the TD Sunfest weekend as a jumping off point to enact their own heartfelt stories of collaboration, sharing and community-building with their neighbours. And we hope they’ll continue to be inspired by the music of our guest performers, such as 2019 international headliners Ladama (Brazil/Colombia /Venezuela/USA) for whom borders are meaningless and the world communicates across continents and cultures, through sound and story.
Almost a decade ago, Sunfest observer Bill Rathborne memorably wrote: “Sunfest features a dazzling diversity of music, food, and crafts, but diversity in the crowd, thousands of voices, hundreds of languages - elbow to elbow - is the real message and magic of Sunfest. Carrying the memory of Sunfest year-round and understanding how amazing we CAN be, with the right attitude, is the lasting lesson of Sunfest.”
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