In its 30 years, the Vancouver Folk Festival has become the setting for a musical community stretching from East Vancouver to Australia.

The seven members of The Fugitives deliver slam-poetry backed with vocal harmonizing and a grab-bag of instruments. Founding member Brendan McLeod explained how the band draws on the East Vancouver community for inspiration.

“We’re really a product of that vibe around Commercial Drive,” McLeod said. “The roots movement is really big in East Vancouver, as is spoken word.”


Ironically, though she grew up in a musical community, Australia-based roots/hip-hop artist Mihirangi at first hated the constant moves and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. However, she was soon hooked on Bob Marley, funk, dub and hip-hop while learning traditional Maori music. She’s since studied percussion in Australia and got into the vibrant folk scene there.

“When my dad died I understood why he did what he did with music,” she said. “We’re all artists, we all have some gift to express … whether it’s engineering or painting … For me, that’s getting in front of an audience and saying how I really feel.”

Both groups spend time on the road, and collect ideas along with souvenirs. Now playing her third FolkFest, Mihirangi has gathered fond memories — and techniques — from impromptu collaborations, such as one last year on the main stage with Tanya Tagaq, Ganga Giri and Allison Russell from Vancouver’s Po’ Girl.

“We all really connected … Meeting Tanya Tagaq and hearing what she was doing [really inspired me],” she said. “We have a tradition in my [Maori] culture that involves breathwork… [and] in my new album I do that on some songs.”

McLeod said the Fugitives learned to yell after trying to hold down a huge bar with just an accordion and guitar in Switzerland. As well, playing in the U.K. highlighted a new approach to spoken word.

“In America, [spoken word] comes out of hip-hip, and Canada as well to a degree, but in England, it comes out of punk,” he said. “All the artists act like punks — which is not our style at all — but we took that and learned a lot.”