Context is king

Clarifying Keonté Beals’s views on how the music industry is changing

When you’re trying to communicate an idea, context is as important as content. That’s not a groundbreaking new concept, but it is an easy one to forget.

It’s one I wish I’d remembered when we put together the last issue of Unravel Halifax. Our cover story, by Robyn McNeil, was intended to be an exploration of how Halifax’s music scene is evolving, becoming more inclusive, opening opportunities for more people, after decades of being a place where most of the power and profit ended up in the hands of white people.

Robyn did an excellent dive into the subject, talking with several established and rising talents and industry insiders about their journeys. The story included the following passage, featuring quotes from Keonté Beals about Music Nova Scotia’s efforts to give artists of colour their due at Nova Scotia Music Week.. 

“They put a lot of effort into diversifying our lineup and making sure that there is a place for everyone,” says Meghan Scott, newly elected president of the MNS board. “I think we had at least a half dozen new Canadians.”

She’s referring to Music Nova Scotia executive director Allegra Swanson and other staff.

“It was extremely important to us … to present a diverse lineup, and I’m really proud of that,” adds Scott.

Beals is encouraged by the change, at least for now. “Diversity is in,” he says. “So, I just hope that it’s
something that continues to move in that direction.”

Beals encourages younger artists to grab the chances suddenly coming within reach.

“So many opportunities for funding now are directly targeting African Nova Scotians,” he says. “That’s something to take advantage of. It’s not something to let pass by.”

In the context of the larger story, it’s clear that he’s talking about awareness, not trendiness — a gradual righting of the systemic racism that saw non-white artists often denied funding, venues, and opportunities.

But when we needed a pithy quote to caption a photo, we edited that down to “Diversity is in … So many opportunities for funding now are directly targeting African Nova Scotians.”

For many readers, that edited quote, prominently displayed without the surrounding explanation, seemed to mean something very different from what Keonté had really said. Some read it as a statement that diversity is trendy, so get in there and make your money.

This misinterpretation is harmful to both Keonté and the Black community and we should have anticipated it. To avoid further misunderstanding, we’ve removed that caption from the digital edition, and we apologize both to readers and to Keonté for not being more attentive to the context of his words. We’re also reexamining how we choose and edit our photo captions, to avoid similar situations in the future.

Read the complete story, where Keonté and his peers in the music scene tell share stories, and learn about the opportunities that are finally opening up and the challenges that remain.

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