Episode 145: Mel Brown Music Festival & Symposium Part Two
Legendary blues musician Mel Brown brought the sound of the Mississippi Delta to Waterloo Region.
And although Mel himself is gone, his legacy lives on. In celebration of that legacy, the region was home to the inaugural Mel Brown Music Festival & Symposium that happened May 27 through 29 at The Jazz Room, Maxwell’s Music House, Kitchener Public Library, and TheMuseum.
Join Sara and Marshall for the second episode of a special three-part series about the Mel Brown Music Festival & Symposium, featuring Elaquent, Muhleak, Quinton Barnes, Glenn Marias and the Mojo Train, Ekhaya, and Haviah Mighty.
Sara: Legendary blues musician Mel Brown brought the sound of the Mississippi Delta to Waterloo region.
Sara: And although Mel himself is gone, his legacy lives on.
Sara: In celebration of that legacy, the region was recently home to the inaugural Mel Brown Music Festival and Symposium.
Sara: And it happened May 27, 28, and 29 2022 at the Jazz Room, Maxwell's Music House, Kitchener Public Library and the Museum.
Dr. Laura Mae Lindo: And I think at this point, while we're welcoming the energy and the expertise and the love that Mel Brown represents, not just to the region, but to the world, that crossroads is really important because we always have an opportunity to do with our voice something exceptional or to do status quo.
Laura: And I would argue that somebody like Mel Brown, who used his voice and passion and love and commitment to build music right here, the blues music, that hels what we know as black community members, both the pain and the love and the hardship and the joy, and put that into music that helped to carry us through a number of very difficult things.
Laura: And while we're here and we're talking about some of the difficulties of being racialized within musical spaces, we can't do that without thinking about the exceptionality of black musicians like Mel Brown and so many others who taught us how to bring joy in the midst of all of the pain, who taught us how to ground ourselves, not in the pain, but in that joy.
Laura: So sometimes when people listen to the blues, they think about those lyrics and they think things are so hard.
Laura: But when I think about my own family, for instance, and the ways in which music carried us through the hardship, that's why I'm so grateful to people like Mel Brown and that's why I'm so grateful to the folks like you that have come together to have some I call it real talk, those hard conversations so that we can celebrate, where we can be.
Laura: That's what brings us hope, right?
Laura: By having those hard conversations, not pretending that they're not there, but grounding ourselves in love for each other and being so committed to loving each other through that hardship that we will call on the music to bring more of us into that conversation and to bring more of that hope, not just sort of in small little circles, but to the world.
Laura: That's the power of music.
Sara: That was the voice of Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, former EDI Director at Wilfrid Laurier University
Sara: On May 28, we were at Maxwell's Music House for the Mel Brown Symposium.
Sara: Let's hear again from Dr. Lee Willingham about his relationship with Carlos Morgan.
Lee: Hi, I'm Lee Willingham, professor at the Faculty of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Lee: I coordinate the Master of Arts in Community Music program as well as I direct a research center called the Laure Centre for Music in the Community.
Lee: So Carlos applied to our Ma program a few years ago without an undergraduate degree, but with the junior award in his pocket and with a ton of influence and musical experience.
Lee: And so we assessed his capacity to do graduate level work and we found a pathway for him to do it.
Lee: And clearly it was a cultural shock for him, but he was all in and totally engaged.
Lee: My colleague Gerard Yun spent hours with him, helping him get into academic reading and writing and that kind of thing.
Lee: So all the way through that program, I was not sure of my relationship with Carlos.
Lee: I clearly was the coordinator of the program.
Lee: I had my doctorate, I'm a white guy that has a good job.
Lee: And so I was the face of all the white privilege that he was challenging all through his time there.
Lee: And I never felt like we ever connected.
Lee: When this Mel Brown project started to emerge, I spoke to a few people in the black community, both performers and scholars, who basically kicked me to the curb and said, you have no business doing this.
Lee: You're not the face of this project.
Lee: You're the very example of institutional sustainability, of Eurocentric dominance.
Lee: So I had to talk with Carlos and said, I don't want to be out front in any of this project.
Lee: I'm not going to be visible in any concerts.
Lee: I will host the symposium.
Lee: But it's just a matter of welcoming people and then letting it go.
Lee: Would you be the face of this project?
Lee: Would you be the artistic director, the curator?
Lee: Would you take on the responsibility of contracting the performers?
Lee: He thought about it and he said yes.
Lee: So at that time then, I think he felt empowered.
Lee: He made decisions.
Lee: He didn't have to check with me on everything.
Lee: We had a budget, so I showed him a budget.
Lee: You've got this much you can work with in this much.
Lee: He was brilliant at that, and I think he's learned that I'm basically somebody that creates space with my privilege for him to function.
Lee: And we've had some good talks.
Lee: I hate the idea that white people in a university take on a saviorist role for black people to say, come in, we've got you.
Lee: There's a warm blanket of love here for you.
Lee: On the other hand, the other end of that is white fragility.
Lee: So somewhere in there, Carlos and I connected.
Lee: And I think it is what you said, Marshall, that it's about the mutual respect and the idea that when he's been given power and authority to do something, nobody cuts him down for that.
Lee: And he lets me do my thing, which is sign the checks and schedule the venues.
Marshall: The driving force behind the Mel Brown Music Festival and Symposium involves a group of musicians and scholars, including Dr.
Lee Willingham and Carlos Morgan, whose aim is to highlight Mel Brown's music and influence in all its full, richness and context.
Marshall: Let's hear from Carlos again.
Carlos: Hopefully, this will be the first of many Melbourne music festivals.
Carlos: One of my dreams in life was to be a part of a festival like this.
Carlos: So we understand that there's systemic anti black racism in institutions and education in the music industry in Canada as a whole.
Carlos: I've always said this, that the Canadian music industry is rooted solely in white supremacy and racism.
Carlos: Hopefully, this festival will again show that there are incredible, gifted, talented musicians within modeling region, and it will hopefully continue to grow and to build and expand.
Marshall: Now we're going to hear from Dr. Brent Hagerman of Wilson Laurie University.
Marshall: He was part of two really compelling roundtable discussions at symposium, and he was also my editor at Echo Weekly 20 years ago.
In 2002, Brent gave me my first writing opportunity to interview artists and musicians, and he's the one who gave me a chance and got my writing career started.So thank you, Brent.
Sara: Brent was also a guest on Bond Park.
Sara: Back on episode 31, here his is to shed some light on the symposium.
Dr. Brent Hagerman: Some light on the symposium, some memories of Mel Brown and his discovery of blues music.
Brent: I'm Brent Hagerman, and I teach the history of rock in the faculty of Music at Laurier.
Brent: This sort of symposium and festival that's on one hand celebrating the music of Mel Brown, the legacy of Mel Brown, the festival itself celebrating black artists, contemporary black artists, and the symposium, the part that I'm doing in it is really putting a spotlight on the legacy of Mel Brown in Kitchener Waterloo.
Brent: Yes, I saw Mel Brown quite a few times, I met him quite a few times.
Brent: He used to play on well, I seem to remember Wednesday nights at various places.
Brent: I think the first time I saw him was at Pop the Gator which is his sort of first residency in town in the early 90s he used to run a gym there, I think that was on Wednesdays.
Brent: I was always too scared to get up at those jams but I went in and watched a bunch of them and then he would often play around town so I would see him quite a bit.
Brent: He moved to other venues later on the Red Pepper, Flying Dog and things like that like a lot of music fans and musicians I would have seen him several times and I did have the opportunity to interview him one time for The Chord, which was the Wilfrid Laurier paper and still is the student paper, yeah.
Brent: So my brother is four years older than me and I always listen to the music that he brought home.
Brent: He always brought home really cool stuff and he had very diverse musical tastes and when I was probably about twelve he started listening to Eric Clapton.
Brent: He had Eric Clapton's Crossroads
Brent: And the way my brother listened to music was he would listen to Eric Clapton then he would trace back where these songs came from and a lot of those songs went back to Robert Johnson because many of those songs are Robert Johnson's song so then my brother got Robert Johnson record right?
Brent: And so for me that's just the way I learned to listen to music.
Brent: It's like oh, if you like artists, A, you find out who influenced them and so that blues connection was made fairly early on and I fell in love with Robert Johnson and rural blues and moving on to Chicago blues and The Howling Wolfs and Muddy Waters and people like that and so I think as a teenager I tended to sort of listen to and discover more contemporary styles of music alongside older forms of music and that also for me also included a lot of folk music and rural country music, bluegrass and those kinds of things.
Brent: Two things that I've kind of done is write books on reggae artists and one is a book on Bob Marley and one is a book on Yellow Man and this kind of experience of really delving deep into this research is something that I've really loved and I started as a music journalist really at Echo in the early 2000s, echo Weekly and Kitchen Waterloo and really loved interviewing artists, really loved writing articles about artists and one of the main reasons I went back and did my PhD and focused on music was because I wanted to write a book on a regular artist, actually.
Brent: And so I ended up doing this and this experience of kind of spending a few years really kind of digging deep into an artist's legacy.
Brent: Their history, their music is, on the one hand, really fun, and on the other hand, it's sort of the surreal experience where you try to go out and get as much of their music as possible, get as many articles and books that have written on them as possible, try to understand them from several people's point of view, and spend months and months and months kind of with your computer and with this music, trying to piece together a narrative to help me and other people understand them.
Brent: And I don't know, I think for me, that's almost as cool of an experience as playing music, because that's probably the peak for me.
Brent: And then writing about music and researching music is kind of right alongside that, I think.
Sara: Let's hear from Teneile Warren.
Sara: They are currently the Equity and Inclusion Officer at the Waterloo Region District School Board and the publisher of Inside Waterloo, an independent media initiative that amplifies diverse voices and excluded stories in Waterloo regions.
Teniele: My name is Teneile Warren.
Teniele: My pronouns are they and them.
Teniele: I identify as black, nonbinary, and queer.
Teniele: As Gerard said, I am the Equity and Inclusion Officer at the World of the District School Board.
Teniele: We'll see if that lasts after my statement.
Teniele: And I think about my own bicultural experience, my own bilingual experience, because I have to learn to speak at Canadian English.
Teniele: And that comes from this idea of when we talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion, three terms that I absolutely hate.
Teniele: What we're really talking about is trying to find a nice way to say white supremacy, trying to find a nice way to say colonialism.
Teniele: And it very much centers the need to not disrupt the systems that are comfortable for the dominant identities.
Teniele: And whether we want to admit it or like it, or it makes us miserable or it feels bad or it hurts or it causes fragility, the dominant identities are white.
Teniele: That is historically how it's played out.
Teniele: And that's not just about a social hierarchy.
Teniele: That is scientific racism.
Teniele: That's environmental racism.
Teniele: When you come here as a newcomer and you go through the settlement process, that supplement process, first of all, it's supplement, right?
Teniele: It's called supplements.
Teniele: And I'm just thinking to myself, how are we going to decolonize space and give land back and reconcile?
Teniele: We have an entire ministry called settlement.
Teniele: Like, we're still dealing with the term settlement.
Teniele: And so we're still bringing in people to settle.
Teniele: And within that, we have this birth of diversity in multicultural.
Teniele: We talk about Toronto's, the most multicultural place in the world, because it is.
Teniele: But when we think about how that multiculturalism has come to be, it has come to be because of the global impact of white supremacy, the world is not diverse cities like Toronto or Kitchener, which has diversity, has ballooned in the five years I've been here.
Teniele: It is not a diversity that's because everybody said, oh, we're going to come, and we're all going to be here.
Teniele: No, it's a diversity because of an ongoing displacement in society.
Teniele: And so we have to think about that as a one where when we're using these terminologies, and especially the emphasis on diversity, a lot of principals say, Oh, this is a diverse school.
Teniele: Well, what else is it going to be?
Teniele: The people who live, you didn't make them.
Teniele: You didn't go bring all the diverse people, they live in the neighborhood that's their catchment to show up at your school.
Teniele: Nothing special has happened here.
Teniele: But the diversity that we praise Canada for is a result of ongoing impact on white supremacist places around the world.
Teniele: It's not people just getting up and leaving and saying, I want to see what's over there.
Teniele: It's people who are forced to leave because of an ongoing violence that we have almost romanticized.
Teniele: And in that romanticizing of that, we are replicating those harms in this space.
Teniele: But we don't see it the same way because even though we open the textbook, there are only 13 pages on Black history in the standard grade ten curriculum book.
Teniele: We look outside and say, oh, well, we can't be doing such a bad job because look at all these diverse people who have come here through war and violence and refugee crises.
Teniele: We are a diverse place.
Teniele: We have to reframe that or we're not going to move forward.
Sara: Marshall and I were incredibly moved by keynote speaker and spoken word artist Dr. Afua Cooper of Dalhousie University.
Sara: Let's take you into the symposium.
Lee: Dr. Afua Cooper is in Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Lee: I just wanted to tell you a little bit about Dr. Cooper, the Chair of Black History and African Diaspora Studies.
Lee: She's a visiting scholar at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University.
Lee: She's the principal investigator of the Black People's History of Canada.
Lee: And at Dalhousie, she's cross appointed to Department of History, Sociology and Social Anthropology, faculty of Graduate Studies, Gender and Women's Studies.
Lee: I'm surprised you're not in the music department, Afua, but you're busy enough.
Lee: Dr. Cooper was the recipient of the Dalhousie's President's Award for the Advancement of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity 2021.
Lee: She's Canada's Representative at UNESCO in the International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project.
Lee: She's the Porsche White Prize winner of 2020.
Lee: She's the Poet Laureate emerita from the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Lee: That's page one.
Lee: She is the founder and past president of the Black Canadian Studies Association.
Lee: She's the Chair of the Lord Dalhousie Scholarly Panel on Slavery and Race.
Lee: She's the lead author on the report on Lord Dalhousie's History of Slavery and Race 2019.
Lee: And she's the founder of the Dalhousie Black Faculty and Staff Caucus.
Lee: Her research interests are African Canadian studies with specific regard to the period of enslavement and emancipation in the 18th and 19th century Canada and black Atlantic Africa, Nova Scotian, history, political consciousness, community building and culture, slavery's, Africa.
Lee: After math black youth studies, she founded the Black Canadian Studies Association, which she currently chairs.
Lee: We're going to go back a few years now.
Lee: While teaching high school at Bickford Park in Toronto, affluent began to perform her poetry at a variety of Toronto's spoken word spaces.
Lee: Shortly thereafter, Cooper joined the guy up ridden drummers as a resident poet and percussionist, touring Canada with a brand of poetry infused with women's perspectives and contemporary social commentary.
Lee: Women, I note, while similar to feminism, designates a movement that arose in response to racial and gender-based oppression experienced by women of color.
Lee: Her first book of poetry, Breaking Chains, was published in 1983, concurrent with her enrollment in the African Studies and Women's Studies program at the University of Toronto.
Lee: That was just page two.
Lee: I’m going to stop.
Lee: Would you warmly welcome Dr. Afua Cooper
Dr. Afua Cooper: Thank you, Lee, for such a warm introduction.
Afua: I am thrilled and I'm honored to be part of the Mel Brown Festival.
Afua: And thank you also for creating this honor for Mel Brown.
Afua: Truly, he deserves it and more.
Afua: A part of my presentation to honor my African ancestors.
Afua: I won't do it now because Laura did it, but they died.
Afua: They crossed the Middle Passage.
Afua: They were brutalized, and somehow somebody survived that I could be here.
Afua: I often think of it.
Afua: I said, someone survived.
Afua: Someone survived the crossing of the ocean.
Afua: Someone survived the brutality in the homes of the enslaver on the plantation.
Afua: And so here I am.
Afua: And that, to me, is a miracle, because it could have been otherwise.
Afua: In my research, as I do research on black history and African Canadian history in particular, you come up on these nuggets and you often find them in things like runaway ads.
Afua: Enslaved people would run away, and their owners, their masters and slavery slaveholders, would place an ad in the newspaper, run away, so and so, 5ft, seven inches high, and they would describe what kind of clothes they were wearing.
Afua: And perhaps they're going to a port and may jump on a ship for somewhere.
Afua: And if apprehended, they will be lodged in his majesty to jail.
Afua: But sometimes in some of these little nuggets, for what's?
Afua: It says something.
Afua: And he plays the violin.
Afua: And I'm thinking, aha, and he plays the violin.
Afua: May attempt to pass off himself as a free man, that sort of thing.
Afua: But he plays in tells me that this person is a musician.
Afua: This person probably creates joy wherever he is.
Afua: He plays the music on the weekend in these ads and in narratives and will self enslavers.
Afua: They will speak to the musical skills of their enslaved property.
Afua: So and so has a fine voice.
Afua: So goats about the neighborhood with a bunch of other singers and they would sing.
Afua: Many of the enslaved people who were born in Africa, who were old enough, let's say they were twelve or 15 when they made that tragic journey across the Atlantic, were already steeped in their culture.
Afua: Some of them were already musicians, drummers.
Afua: So when they came to this part of the world, perhaps after they got over the shop, because enslavement is a thing that shocks the body, when they got over that and started having children and producing a new generation, they began to engage in musical culture.
Afua: We know without a shadow of adults, that the blues and jazz we can pinpoint exactly where in Africa came from in Maui, we know that.
Afua: Now we talk about Congo Square in Louisiana, which sort of started up or blues in the Mississippi Delta.
Afua: But for jazz, we also go to Haiti and we also go to Cuba.
Afua: The Congo Square situation started happening earlier on when you had enslaved Haitians leaving Haiti with their owners during and after the Haitian revolution to Louisiana, for example, and some who stopped in Cuba and then went over to Louisiana.
Afua: So the beginning of this culture started in slavery.
Afua: And for us in Canada, where you are in the kitchen of Waterloo region was a site of settlement for Underground railroad travelers.
Afua: And they too brought their musical culture with them.
Afua: The creation of an indigenous portrait.
Afua: I had long roots way before I was born, but certainly by the it had come into its own.
Afua: And that's the poetry that we call dub poetry.
Afua: And I'm here to that tradition.
Afua: That's how I came up as a young person and engaging in poetry through people like the DJs and authors who began to combine words, spoken word with music.
Afua: Sure, many of them worked with musicians, which I did for a time in my life.
Afua: But others and I experimented with that and still do use their own voice and their own body with the word the sound, we call it the word sounds to create the spoken word.
Afua: And so I'm going to read some of my points for you this afternoon as part of my contribution to this festival.
Afua: Thank you very much.
Afua: Poem is called Child of Mine.
Afua: It's subtitled some blood loyalists, infants and babies, listed in general The Book of Negroes.
Afua: So when those black loyalists fought for the British in 1783 were leaving New York port, the Americans redone them to capture them and re enslave them.
Afua: And Guy Carleton, who was commander of the British forces in North America, he said, well, we had promised those men and their families who fought for us their freedom.
Afua: And so he commanded his subordinates to do this register everybody who goes on a ship bone for Eastern Canada, their names must be recorded.
Afua: So I'm looking through the register and I see children.
Afua: But some of the children have no names.
Afua: They're like Child of Venus.
Afua: So I just went through and wrote this point.
Afua: I remember those babies.
Afua: Some of them were like six months old.
Afua: The book will say Child of Venus, six months old, born behind British lines.
Afua: So they were born in freedom.
Afua: Child of Venus, child of Sarah, child of Hagar, child of Chloe, child of Peggy, child of Patty, child of Dinah, child of Thomas, child of Betsy, child of Mary, child of guinea, child of Few, child of Prince, child of Abigail, child of Warner, child of Cooper, child of Allen, child of Violet, child of David, child of Westcott, child of Willoughby, child of Effie, child of Caesar, child of Century, child of Isabella, child of Lucinda, child of Jupiter, child of Gambita, child of Campbell, child of Johnson, child of Watson, child of Williams, child of Bing, child of times oh, dear, sweet child of mine.
Afua: Thank you.
Sara: After Dr. Cooper's presentation, we took a moment to speak with Betty Anne Keller.
Betty Anne Keller: My name is Betty Anne Keller and I produced a film called Rock This Town, which is a social history of the music business here in Waterloo region, and a bit of a challenge for folks to understand and appreciate the value of live music in the cultural ecosystem in our community.
Betty: It's exciting for me because live music has always been very close to my heart in terms of my personal experiences.
Betty: And it's wonderful to be able to join with others and find your tribe and celebrate the music that's coming off the stage.
Betty: There's nothing like it.
Betty: And with the summer coming and the festival season starting, there's going to be so many opportunities to experience music within community, which is what it's all about for me.
Betty: I really believe that when people come together and have an emotional experience together in engagement with the arts, that it's a game changer for communities.
Betty: It creates a sense of belonging.
Betty: And the Mel Brown Festival in Symposium is a fantastic example of how music has been a tool to leverage the Black Lives Matter movement.
Betty: So I'm excited to be here today and to meet some new people and engage with old friends and can't wait to see what's going to happen next.
Sara: So we've just heard the Black Youth Music Showcase, facilitated by Jon Corbon at Maxwell's, which we'll get more into in part three of this series.
Marshall: We talked to Sam Navi, creator of Tricity Hiphop, and he's also the owner of Full Circle Foods.
Marshall: He shared with us some great insight into emerging youth in music.
Sara: And what's fun is you can hear Jon Corbin's beat in the background here.
Sam Nabi: So we're here at Maxwell's Music House.
Sam: I'm Sam Nabi, curator of Tricity Hip Hop.com.
Sam: I'm a local hiphop artist and we just heard John Corbin say that hip hop is power.
Sam: And I think that's so true.
Sam: Hip hop is a way that marginalized communities have been able to take back power, speak truth to power.
Sam: It's a very political genre and it's a very personal genre and I think what hip hop does best is merge those two realities.
Sam: So you have things going on in your life that you're connecting to the bigger picture, but you've also got your raw emotion coming through and hip hop is a great avenue for that where you're really able to say what's on your mind, what's on your heart, what's true to you, what's real to you.
Sam: So yeah, we just heard some amazing truths from high school students that went through the workshop with Jon Corbin and we're going to see a lot of more of that tonight at the Kitchenerr Public Library.
Sam: When we've got our Emerging Artists Showcase there were a lot of influential hip hop acts that came through Kitchen and Waterloo in the lot of grassroots hip hop that was happening here at that time too.
Sam: I have been part of a project documenting hip hop culture in Waterloo region and it was started a couple of years ago as part of a Waterly Region Arts Fund grant.
Sam: But I've been talking with DJs who were active in the scene in the late eighty s and there were a lot of venues that would host those acts.
Sam: Sadly, a lot of them have changed or no longer in existence, but where we are right now actually, Maxwell has always been a great supporter.
Sam: We have wonderful homegrown talent like Shad who just put out an incredible album and he came through Laurier and was supported by places like the radio station The Beat as well as independent music media like Echo.
Sam: And we need to remember what it takes to build a culture around music right now.
Sam: We have a lot of artists that are lacking that kind of institutional support.
Sam: There's not the same alternative weekly publications that will cover people who want to go out to see local music every weekend.
Sam: And so there's still a ton of talent in this region.
Sam: What I'm trying to do with Tricity hip hop and what we're trying to do with events like the Mel Brown Festival is bring that real world support for those artists and make sure that people in this city are able to build up and lift up artists that are essentially our neighbours.
Sam: So one of the very special things that's happening tonight as part of the Saturday night Mel Brown Festival show is we're actually having it at the Kitchener Public Library.
Sam: And having the library as a venue is a concept that when you tell people that this hip hop and R&B show is happening at the library, their eyebrows go up, they're curious and they're not quite sure what to expect.
Sam: But I was there this morning, they're setting the stage up.
Sam: They've completely transformed this front lobby with huge ceiling to floor glass walls into a really fantastic concert venue.
Sam: And I just have to give a big thank you to Nathan Stretch and everybody at the Kitchener Public Library because they've been our hosts for this festival, for this night of the festival.
Sam: And they've been part of the creative process the whole way.
Sam: So we have this emerging youth showcase and then we also continue the night with roots music.
Sam: We also have the Glenn Marai and the Mojo Train with some more blues.
Sam: And then we're finishing off the night with an incredible performer.
Sam: She just won the Juno Award for best rap album, first Woman to do so.
Sam: And a couple of years ago, she also won the Polaris Prize, first hip hop artist to do so.
Sam: We have Haviah Mighty closing out the night at the library and we're just so grateful to get an artist whose star is on the rise in such a spectacular way to be opening this idea of Kitchener Public Library as a music venue.
Sam: And once people step in the door, they're going to realize the power that that space can have and it's going to feel just right.
Sara: When we walked into the Kitchener Public Library on the evening of Saturday, May 28, upon entering the Reading Lounge, which is the space I normally use for quiet reflection reading, maybe drinking a coffee, letting the sun come in.
Sara: This was a full on ready to go concert venue.
Marshall: Yeah, nobody was shushed this evening.
Marshall: It was a night of blues, rock and funk, world, Afro, reggae and hiphop.
Marshall: So it kicks off with an emergent artist showcase.
Marshall: And as this amazing night built, it featured artists like Glen Moray and the Mojo Train, Akaya.
Marshall: And then the headliner Havaih Mighty.
Sam: Kicking us off tonight is the wonderfully talented DJ Elaquent.
Sam: Give it up for Elaquent.
Sara: We caught up with DJ Elaquent and told him we absolutely loved his set.
Elaquent: I appreciate that. What's up?
Elaquent: My name is Elaquent.
Elaquent: I am a beat maker, producer, whatever you want to call it, from Guelph, Ontario.
Elaquent: Never forget where it came from.
Elaquent: And we're out here at Kitchener Public Library.
Elaquent: There's tales.
Elaquent: There's tales for sure.
Elaquent: I mean, I came up the same way.
Elaquent: A lot of aspiring art producers try to make beats for an artist.
Elaquent: And at some point early in my career, I kind of got tired of trying to sort of do what other people wanted me to do as far as the sounds.
Elaquent: So I was really drawn to and influenced by the Los Angeles, like, beat making community, and they took a very more experimental sort of attitude towards it.
Elaquent: So I don't feel bound by structure, and I like to kind of build up to a crescendo.
Elaquent: And it's hard to sort of carry a song without vocals, necessarily.
Elaquent: So you just have to be a little more interesting and try different things.
Elaquent: Because I promise I do want to actually look at the crowd and then engage.
Elaquent: But the truth is, when I'm up there and I really just try to get lost in what I do and in the moment, and then sometimes I don't realize, Oh, crap.
Elaquent: I haven't actually looked up at anyone in the last minute or so. That's usually what it is.
Elaquent: I'm trying to get better at it, but it usually just me getting lost.
Elaquent: As far as the stage performance, I use a roll into SP 404 Mark Two that's like the newest one that just came out.
Elaquent: And without sounding too much like a nerd, basically I put my sounds into the little box and I can trigger them and utilize effects and so forth, and I can sort of blend and mix things into another.
Elaquent: So I just bought this piece a couple of months ago, but in some of my other sets, or they tell me I got 45 minutes as opposed to 20 or so.
Elaquent: Sometimes I'll actually get up there and do some live beat making, or I'll put a drum loop on and I'll just trigger the samples and do some fun stuff there.
Elaquent: But everything is always work in progress.
Marshall: We just saw a fantastic show performed by Muhleak, and we're here with him backstage now.
Muhleak: Yes, I’m Muhleak.
Muhleak: I should have stayed with 23 Dreams.
Muhleak: I mean, he's more of a rapper.
Muhleak: He's my engineer, too, to be honest.
Muhleak: He do everything.
Muhleak: But, yeah, like, for performing, I just dropped a tape, called In It to win it.
Muhleak: I make my art, I work hard on my music.
Muhleak: So hopefully it's nice to see a pay off every now and then.
Muhleak: I love performing.
Muhleak: I haven't performed, like, two years, to be honest.
Sara: At this point.
Sara: Here we refer to a moment of the show where a ceiling tile actually fell down.
Sara: Nobody was hurt or anything, but the ceiling tile in the venue actually came down.
Marshall: Yeah, he blew the roof off the place.
Muhleak: I didn't even know until they showed me, to be honest.
Muhleak: But hopefully I can do that every show.
Muhleak: You mean like, that's perfect.
Marshall: Sarah and I arrived quite early to the show with KP, and I got to hear Quentin Barnes as a sound check.
Marshall: And after hearing him I thought, wow, I can't wait for the set list.
Marshall: And he really delivered something special.
Marshall: But before he even hit the stage, he was up there supporting all the other acts, just dancing and grooving right in the front row and having the time of his life and look that way the whole evening.
Marshall: So we caught up with a backstage after his show.
Quinton Barnes: All right, my name is Quinton Barnes.
Quinton: I've been working on an album for the past year and a half called for the Love of Drugs all by myself.
Quinton: And it's coming out this fall.
Quinton: To finally be able to play the set live and see how people's perception is going to be, it's a relief to see that they responded.
Quinton: Well, actually, I'll speak about this one in particular because it just happened.
Quinton: I got out, I was nervous as h*** and then I was like, no, this is my music, I'm going to be in tune with it.
Quinton: I'm just going to perform as I would in my shower.
Quinton: Exactly right, yeah.
Quinton: Let's pretend this is the shower and everyone is just watching.
Quinton: So actually, the songs start from usually I start from the instrumental first, so I'll just go in and feel the need to create like instrumental.
Quinton: And I'll go in and make it and then I'll kind of sit with it and see what emotions it's inspiring me.
Quinton: And then I will write something based off of that.
Quinton: I spent a lot of time in the library because I grew up in kitchen.
Quinton: I was born here, so I spent all my time in the library.
Quinton: So being able to come here and perform the music, it feels like it's special.
Quinton: It's more than just a library show.
Quinton: It's like I grew up here, I gained knowledge here.
Quinton: I found some of my favorite books here.
Quinton: And now I'm coming back and sort of giving back, it feels like.
Quinton: I mean, I don't know if anyone loves the music, but I'm giving it anyways.
Sara: So we ran into a lot of people we haven't seen in a while.
Sara: Here's the founder of KW Junk music and community musician Mary Abdel-Malek Neil, and also local writer and artist Roshan James.
Mary Abdeul-Malek: I'm Mary Abdel-Malek Neil.
Mary: I'm a community musician here in KW.
Mary: I just recently released a record called I'm Who I Am.
Mary: And I'm here because I'm full support of the Mel Brown Music Festival & Symposium and what they’re trying to do here.
Mary: So I'm very excited to be here.
Mary: It's been a long time.
Mary: Through the [andemic, we've seen a lot of decline in our indie music scene here in Kw.
Mary: And having a concert and having symposium like this for this weekend and this concert is just like that revitalization that really kind of hopefully is the jumping point for us to really start building more and more stuff.
Mary: Like, we've lost a number of really great music venues here and hopefully this is just like a way of showing how community spaces like our libraries and working with our post secondary institutions, we can all come together and really build it back up in this town.
Roshan James: I'm Roshan James.
Roshan: I'm a local artist and poet musician.
Roshan: Maybe one day.
Roshan: So we're here to see Haviah Mighty perform.
Roshan: Ekyaya is also performing, which is amazing.
Roshan: So awesome local talent.
Roshan: The first time being out in a long time for us, this is like a great first date night for Patrick and I, and we're super stoked to be here.
Roshan: I feel like this library in particular has always looked to do things a little bit differently.
Marshall: Before the show even started, we saw KPL's Matt McKinnon working hard, running around.
Matt McKinnon: I don't know what I got.
Matt: How can I help?
Matt: Yeah, hi, I'm Matt McKinnon.
Matt: I'm the manager of events at Kitchener Public Library.
Matt: We're really proud of our reading launch space.
Matt: It's one of the highlights of the central libraries and it's extra special when we can turn it around for special concerts like this one.
Matt: It takes a lot of effort in that, but it's a really wonderful experience in the space, just in terms of sound and to see your local library turned into, like, a fun performance hall every once in a while.
Matt: Yeah, no, the part of being working at a library is being accessible to the community at large.
Matt: So we meet you sort of where you are at and having concerts like this in the space, as well as our regular library programming, where we highlight all sorts of local artists and musicians, it's really great and sort of rewarding for us.
Matt: And to put it out there in the community and be a part of the community and contribute in this way, we try to get rid of the notion that libraries are these musty old spaces with just being shushed in that they're very active living spaces.
Matt: And then, as you said, it's great.
Matt: We have all our wonderful collection here, but when you have a concert on, it makes for great acoustics as well, which is sort of a bonus of working at a library and hosting a concert.
Sara: Around mid show, we stopped by the Hefner Studio here.
Sara: We talked with Nathan Stretch and Mary Chevreau.
Mary Chevreau: Hi, I'm Mary Chevreau.
Mary: I'm the CEO of the Kitchener Public Library.
Nathan Stretch: And I'm Nathan Stretch and I'm the division manager of Community Development.
Mary: And we are here tonight for this amazing evening to celebrate Mel Brown, the Mel Brown Festival, and listen to the most incredible artists sing and perform in our beautiful library in the lounge, which has been transformed in an incredible performance venue.
Nathan: Yeah, I'm not going to pull any punches.
Nathan: We're here at the show and it's unreal.
Nathan: We got the books lit up, we got the lights off in the main lounge, and it's glorious.
Nathan: Before I work here at the library, I had the honor to come and see Jim Cuddy on the stage in the main space and it really inspired me.
Nathan: I didn't think that the library could do this, but also as a musician I've been in many midsized venues and I thought this is a special place, a special venue, and since I started working here, it just felt inevitable that we would do it again, that we would build on that beautiful experience just.
Mary: To sort of follow what Nathan was saying, really.
Mary: We're all about community and we're all about providing space for everybody in our community and outside of our community to make sure everyone is welcome.
Mary: But we're also about busting perceptions.
Mary: This library in particular is about breaking down those perceptions of what a library is and what we mean to everybody within our community.
Mary: We aren't that staid.
Mary: Sure, we are all about literacy, sure we have books in our library, but we are much more than that as we're standing in one of our smaller recording studios.
Mary: We're all about creating an opportunity for people to learn, to create, to grow and be people that they might not be able to be otherwise.
Nathan: Well, I'm here for a year and building off of a legacy of events, people and librarians and Mary and leadership who have done an amazing job of platforming artists just before they peak.
Nathan: Like just a preternatural ability to find those up and coming artists and bring them into the library early before they kind of hit the stratosphere.
Nathan: So this is another example of catching lighting in a bottle where Haviah Mighty is coming to the library, just after her Juno win.
Nathan: We are fans of her in the space.
Nathan: Carlos Morgan did an unreal job putting together this line up, but he also took our suggestion and reached out to Haviah Mighty and since we booked her, she put out a single with Shad.
Nathan: Like she won the Juno for the first woman to ever win the rap album or EP of the year and she's just continued to skyrocket.
Nathan: So we are so excited to have her here at this stage of the game.
Nathan: Maybe we'll never see her again, she may just be like far gone, but we are so excited to have her and she's lovely, she's amazing.
Nathan: Sound check was transcendent.
Sara: After Glenn Marais and the Mojo Trains performance, we have a really heartwarming conversation with him backstage.
Glenn: My name is Glenn Marais and I'm with the Mojo Train and we love to play live.
Glenn: We're a mix of blues, rock, reggae, funk, we try to fuse it all together.
Glenn: Some of them are distinct that way, but our live sort of mission is to take every show to highest level as we can and a lot of live interplay with the band is our goal, so we never try to play anything the same way.
Glenn: So that's sort of one of our things that we like to do.
Glenn: It was also jaw dropping.
Glenn: Like we came in for sound check and when you hear you're playing at the library, you get that expectation of what a library is going to be, right?
Glenn: So I wasn't even sure how big it would be.
Glenn: And then we walked in and we're all just like, wow.
Glenn: That's the only way to describe it's.
Glenn: A huge wow factor.
Glenn: The stage is epic.
Glenn: The sound crew was amazing.
Glenn: It's a world class festival and treatment from the beginning of talking to Glenn, to getting here, to everything, it's just been unbelievable.
Glenn: It's a role model of how festival should be, like, where you, as an artist, feel really valued, right?
Glenn: And then it allows you to go up there and do that, to go full bore like that, because you really had nothing to think about.
Glenn: Lee was my professor at Laurier for the Community Music Program, and that's where I met him.
Glenn: And it was through a friend of mine, who was in the program before me.
Glenn: And so, yeah, I remember everything.
Glenn: Like, when I first met Lee, it was pretty overwhelming because I hadn't been to university.
Glenn: It was on my bucket list to do and I was nerve wracking.
Glenn: But I remember he always says, I don't remember you saying himself, saying this, but he said to me at the end, like, you got to be brave, brash and bold, or you won't get anywhere here or in your music.
Glenn: And it changed the way I approached things.
Glenn: It was an epiphany moment.
Glenn: There was a lot of them throughout the course.
Glenn: It really did change my life, open up a lot of doors.
Glenn: So it's a huge influence.
Glenn: And we become friends, which is an added bonus.
Lee: So, Glenn, I think I mentioned to you before that Glenn was in the program and graduated.
Lee: There's a way to get in our program through alternate admission.
Lee: And that means if you can demonstrate some kind of life experience, that's an equivalency to an undergrad degree.
Lee: It's up to them to prove that, right?
Lee: So Glenn, our first meeting.
Lee: He's sitting beside my desk and he whips out three or four books that he's written on bullying in the classroom.
Lee: And they were illustrated books, they were classroom resources.
Lee: How did you do that?
Lee: He goes, well, because that's my passion right now.
Lee: Say my name was your thing and you were dealing with classroom bullying, your school bullying.
Lee: Well, you're writing books, you can come to our program.
Lee: And then I found out more about it.
Lee: So he's been a shining star as he carries that vision of equity and the invitation, the hospitality of making music together.
Lee: So one of my favorite guys, we.
Marshall: Asked Glenn to tell us a bit more about those children's books he created.
Glenn: There’s one called Songs in the Key of Character.
Glenn: And it's all about teaching children about equity and bullying through songs and activities.
Glenn: And then another one was Character Matters.
Glenn: And it was like all these different activities where kids based on the curriculum, where the teacher.
Glenn: The whole idea was open and go for teachers, right?
Glenn: So it was just doing through art and music and trying to get kids thinking outside the box.
Glenn: But the overarching message of all of it was to think of each other first, right?
Glenn: So that's kind of been like the mandate of when I'm working with schools, it's not the end product, it's not like the art at the end of it.
Glenn: It's what you do along the way.
Glenn: And that's been amazing to see how kids, some of them have never even heard this before, right?
Glenn: I worked with this drum group at a school in New Market and I'm teaching them respect, right?
Glenn: So the perspective I'm teaching them is like, you have to learn to love yourself first, but you'll never be able to respect yourself.
Glenn: So we start each class like we put our hand on our hearts and just say, send yourself some love right now.
Glenn: So this kid turned to me and he goes, I've never heard that before.
Glenn: And he's in grade five.
Glenn: And I'm like, You've never heard that.
Glenn: You should love yourself first.
Glenn: That's amazing to me.
Glenn: But it makes sense because you're taught that's selfish.
Glenn: But it's so cool when you present this stuff to kids, how they're open to it and embrace it.
Glenn: So that's been sort of a new path for me, is like working on wellness and healing and starting with yourself.
Glenn: So cool.
Glenn: We're really excited to go out there.
Glenn: It's overwhelming.
Glenn: I never take a thing like this for granted because we don't often get to play on a large stage with full production like that, with a broom full of people, like, so happy to see you.
Glenn: So yeah, it's going to sit with me for a while.
Glenn: It’s amazing.
Marshall: The Ekhaya performance was so incredible.
Marshall: I don't know if I've ever seen anything like this.
Marshall: The energy was so high both on stage and in the room, and it couldn't have been more synergy between a band and the audience that night.
Marshall: It was so awesome.
Marshall: And we had a chance to catch up with them after the show.
Ekhaya: My name is Ekhaya.
Ekhaya: I'm used to coming to the library to read, but this is like it feels like the perfect place to have something like this, where they bring so much beautiful energy and such a beautiful field.
Ekhaya: And to use the space to bring people together is just amazing.
Ekhaya: And just playing this festival for the Mel Brown Festival is amazing.
Ekhaya: I watched Mel Brown play.
Ekhaya: And that was the first time I really understood what blues was all about.
Ekhaya: I used to just listen to it in person, but when I saw Mel playing on stage, I was like, well, I had to go back and find all the blues catalog.
Ekhaya: I started listening.
Ekhaya: I love the blues.
Ekhaya: Just an interview.
Ekhaya: When I'm off stage, I'm normally pretty quiet, so when I go on stage, it's like the energy that I get coming from everybody that's dancing and you can see the happiness and that just drives me to a different level because it's a shared happiness and there's nothing better than just being in a space where you feel the energies about.
Ekhaya: I'm just here to enjoy and everybody is enjoying themselves.
Ekhaya: If we play first, we play last.
Ekhaya: It's exactly the same whether there are two people or 1000.
Ekhaya: Because when we walk on stage, it's not just we are not trying to entertain, we are playing.
Ekhaya: We actually enjoy playing music.
Ekhaya: So when we get the opportunity to play it and then share it with everybody else, it's just a bonus.
Ekhaya: But we're going to enjoy what we do on stage, whether there's one person.
Haviah Mighty: Hey, what's going on?
Haviah: I’m Haviah Mighty
Haviah: Just hopped off the stage at the Kitchener Public Library for the Mel Brown Music Festival.
Haviah: I think it's the first one, right?
Haviah: Absolutely incredible.
Haviah: I'm so excited to have headlined this.
Haviah: I can barely hear out of one ear, so I should tell you how amazing this stuff was.
Haviah: It was a lot of fun.
Haviah: Kitchen always comes with the energy.
Haviah: I didn't know what to expect coming to perform at the library, but I mean, it's a real venue in here, full packed room, and it was great to come fresh off of the Junos and have a little two week break and then kind of come back.
Haviah: It wasn't even two weeks, right?
Haviah: Have a little break and then come back to the stage here in Kitchener and yeah, just really rock out on stage for this festival.
Haviah: It's been a good time.
Haviah: I saw the mural during the soundtrack earlier and I was just like, wow, this looks really great.
Haviah: But I can only imagine for the audience what it looked like while the actual show was happening.
Haviah: For me, just seeing the crowd and how responsive they were, how engaged they were, the fact that they were singing along with the songs and just really with me, it just felt like a great moment.
Haviah: I'm asking everybody, Are we having a good night?
Haviah: And everyone's like, Yeah, that's the best feeling.
Marshall: I've interviewed many recording artists over the years, but there was something really special about Sara and I getting to talk to Haviah Mighty.
Marshall: It was almost midnight, I think, after the show, and there was only a handful of people left in the KPL.
Marshall: And it's such a great feeling after that whole night of incredible music.
Marshall: And anyways, it's night I won't ever forget.
Sara: Midnight might not seem late to most listeners, but for me and Marshall, it might as well be 03:00 AM.
Sara: We're early risers.
Sara: During Haviah's performance with DJ Dem Ones, we saw some really beautiful moments.
Sara: We saw Kitchener Public Library community development manager Nathan Stretch dancing and singing along right up at the front.
Sara: We saw a handshake between Haviah and Carlos Morgan at the side of the stage during the performance.
Sara: And also my two daughters and their friend were at the front of the stage losing their minds.
Sara: Live music is back.
Sara: They're dancing, they're jumping, they're singing along.
Sara: And here's where we ask Haviah about what that feels like to perform in front of young people and inspire them, it's amazing.
Haviah: I remember me being that person and not necessarily seeing things that were so off the cuff in my time.
Haviah: So I feel like it's really cool to be able to occupy space in a way where, yeah, I hope it looks different than what it looked like when I was growing up.
Haviah: And I hope that it just creates a narrative that there's expression in so many different ways and there's less boxes that we have to adhere to, less restrictions that we kind of have to be confined within.
Haviah: I hope that for them, they're just feeling that expansion and enjoying the moment as much as I'm sure I would have when I was the young one.
Haviah: It's hard to translate what it is translating as for somebody else, but it definitely feels like a very empowering thing to be able to not only be on a stage and talk about fun stuff, but also talk about impactful things and do it in a way where everybody in the room can be part of different communities but connect on this one message or multiple different messages in these different songs.
Haviah: That's probably the best thing is to take that moment and actually make a statement and then go back to party.
Haviah: That's the best part. I love it.
Marshall: Join us for episode three of the Mel Brown Music Festival and Symposium, where.
Sara: We'Ll be hearing from Jon Corbin talking about the Black Youth Music Showcase…
Jon Corbin: In the writing sessions, we talk about being willing to be bad.
Jon: We really have to abandon the idea of perfect performance.
Jon: So over the three weeks we've been sharing in progress.
Jon: And so have I.
Jon: Hey, I wrote this thing.
Jon: I would like to share it with you.
Jon: It is not perfect.
Jon: Here's where I'd like to go with it.
Jon: Performing in front of them and fumbling words to show you that that can happen.
Sara: We'll also visit the museum for the closing show, where we'll talk to Steve Strongman.
Steve Strongman: And I was very lucky to basically grow up listening to Mel.
Steve : And he really took me under his wing, like he did with so many people who's so incredibly generous with his time.
Steve : And I used to play with Mel from the time I was about 16 years old on and still I'm a professional musician, that's what I do.
Steve : And there's no way I'd be able to do it if it wasn't for.
Marshall: Now, we'll talk to Errol Blackwood.
Errol Blackwood: This is where I learned to play.
Errol: My first time in a stage was in Woodstock, actually.
Errol: But there was a band in Kitchener and a guy named Jackson Jones Band.
Errol: And so I followed them all around.
Errol: They couldn't get rid of me.
Sara: We get a few moments with Miss Angel Brown.
Miss Angel: He played the same way in the backyard on the River Bank House party.
Miss Angel: If he did on a big stage, the music was he put it out and he gave 150%.
Sara: And we'll share a performance by the Waterloo Region Mass Choir and hear from their director, Darren Hamilton.
Marshall: See you then.