One of the nice things about this project has been the ways people have come forth to share their ideas and expertise. This past December, I received an email from researcher Noel Thomas who wanted to share an project he produced in 2018, a podcast mini-series about Montreal’s jazz history.
This miniseries is part of the larger Historians Recount podcast project, which Thomas co-produced with with other researchers, including our own organization’s (QAHN) Dr. Dorothy Williams—Canada’s foremost scholar of the history of Quebec’s Black community. You can access the four episodes at this link.
Montreal’s historic Black community in little Burgundy was the epicentre for jazz culture in Canada between the 1920s and 1970s with a healthy roster of venues like the legendary Rockhead’s Paradise. The memory of jazz music is still strong in the neighbourhood: giant murals on in the neighbourhood pay hommage to two of Canada’s foremost pianists, Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones who were both raised in the neighbourhood. Dr. Oliver Jones remains an active community member who is often seen attending neighbourhood events and supporting community initiatives; his annual golf tournament, for example, raises money for the Union United Church (Canada’s oldest Black congregation), Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre, and other organizations. A third massive mural pays hommage to Oscar’s sister, Daisy Peterson-Sweeney, who taught countless young musicians in the neighbourhood, including her brother and Oliver Jones. Daisy also helped found the Montreal Black Community Youth Choir (now known as the Montreal Jubilation Choir). Many feel she was as equally gifted as her brother.
Podcast producer Noel Thomas – originally from New York – arrived in Montreal near the tail-end of Montreal’s jazz heyday in the 1960s. He was captivated but what he saw and heard in the jazz scene. Over the years, he made recordings and conducted scores of interviews with our city’s jazz stalwarts. His podcast series weaves compelling interviews, narration, and music to tell the story of jazz in Montreal. I want to thank Noel for reaching out to our project. His mini-series helps tell of a vibrant and pivotal time in Montreal’s cultural history and of the essential contributions made by Quebec’s Black English-speaking community.
On December 20th, videographer Gordon Hashimoto and I headed down to the Caribbean Paradise restaurant on Newman Boulevard in Ville LaSalle to check out “Gift to You” – a youth hip-hop concert showcasing local high school and CEGEP performers. I’d learned about the concert a few days earlier from the Community Contact, a weekly paper serving Montreal’s Black and Caribbean communities. In a full-page spread, I saw that a familiar name was helping the students produce the show: Todd Smith. Todd is a colleague of a good friend and former bandmate. I’ll have a lot more to say about Todd in the future. But for now, you need to know that he is a hip-hop songwriter; radio DJ; community leader; event producer; and, since 2012, a youth mentor working within the Lester B. Pearson school board as an integration aide. A significant part of his work has involved mentoring elementary and high school youth in LaSalle and Verdun through music, dance, and self expression.
Today’s post will share a few of the videos from each performer at the concert. I caught up with Todd in an off-air studio at radio station CKVL 101.1 FM in Ville Lasalle where he gave me the backstory of this concert and his work with each of the youth performers. What follows is an edited version of our interview. (At the end of the post, there’s a link to a YouTube playlist with all the videos which Gordon Hashimoto helped produce)
Glenn: Let’s talk about the Gift to You concert. What’s the backstory? How did that come about?
Todd: That was a crazy concert and even crazier how it came about. Two months earlier, the show wasn’t even an idea in our minds yet. Tebby J and JX were the headliners for the show. I’ve known Tebby since he was eight years old at Orchard Elementary writing poems to girls. Always a gentleman. And he would always ask me my advice on his poems. As he got older he stayed connected with me. He plays football for the LaSalle Warriors, him and JX. Because that’s another thing about me, it’s not just the music that’s important to me. It’s really showing these kids, I’m there for you for whatever you’re doing, whether you’re playing football, hockey, soccer, or are a scholar. And Tebby is 16, turning 17 soon. Same for JX. I would see the two of them on the football field.
So fast forward to this year and Tebby becomes the student council president at LCCHS (LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School). And his teacher asked him who should DJ the school dance. And he suggested me. I get a call from his teacher asking whether I would be interested and I said, “Of course, I’d love to.” But before this, Tebby and JX are telling me that they are making their own music. So I say, “Let me hear your music.” It blew my mind. Just fantastic songs and I said to myself, “Ok, these guys have something.” So I suggested that they perform their own songs at the dance as well. “Perform your tracks. Your tracks are ready.” The night of the dance, the gym is going crazy. I have my DJ with me and the kids are wiling out. JX at one point grabs the mic and starts running around the gym while rapping his song. Everyone there starts following him around the gym. So it was that night last September that I said to myself, “We have to take this further. We have to do another show. We gotta showcase these kids.”
GP: You mentioned knowing JX through Tebby J, was he someone you knew through the youth programs at the schools?
TS: I worked with his older brother. JX was in Grade 7 at this time. But I always followed him too because he has so much charisma and flair. You saw this at the show. He’s a natural star. But really I got to know him through the Lasalle Warriors. He was voted fastest running back in Quebec. He was breaking records playing football. But he only started doing music a year ago.
TS: Yeah. So, that’s when I started talking to him. I was giving him props about his football and he said, “You know, the joke is Mr. Todd, I don’t even have the heart for football.” I said, “You’re the best in Quebec though, bro.” “I know, but that’s not my passion.” I asked, “What is your passion?” He answered, “Music. I always fooled with it but started doing it seriously a year ago.” So, I said, “Alright, you gotta hang with me, man. You gotta stay close. We gotta build.” So, that’s what happened. By the time that school dance came around, I was already close with JX.
TS: JX’s cousin was on the show as well, YVNG FINXSSA (pronounced “Young Finessa”). He’s the producer. So, he makes most of their beats. But JX and Tebby J, they’re actually solo artists. They’re not officially a group. But because they’re friends who grew up together and play football, they end up always doing music together.
GP: In terms of the music we’re hearing behind everything, was that all produced by YVNG FINXSSA?
TS: They had a couple songs produced by other young guys in Montreal and one or two songs were beats they found online. But most of their stuff is originals and all young producers. FINXSSA is a first year student at Dawson with Jess Malka too. So, is Wan, the other performer. These guys are like 18, 19 but making some serious music.
GP: Did Wan come up through your program as well?
TS: Wan went to LCCHS when I worked there in 2015 but I didn’t get to meet him. But he remembers me there and he ends up being very good friends with Tebby and JX. That’s how he came on the show. They were like, “We’re gonna call our boy, Wan. He’s a sick rapper.” So, I was like, “Sure, bring him on.” So, I met him at Dawson. I didn’t know him or FINXSSA before. But these guys were working together and Tebby says, “We’re bringing our boys in.” And I was all for it, man.
GP: Talk about Jess Malka. How did you get to know her?
TS: This story still touches me to this day. So, Jess Malka was a student at Beurling Academy while I was working there. I was actually working with two other incredible artists who were her friends. And I could always see Jess was trying to come around us and be where we were when I was working with them. If I was in the gym talking in the corner about music, I noticed she’d be in the gym just a bit further. So, I said, “What’s up with this, girl?” But she never would talk to me. So, finally, I went up to her, said, “How are you doing? My name’s Todd, I’m one of the aides here.” She’s like, “Yeah, I see you all the time. You open the gym at lunch for the kids.” I said, “What are you into? You’re always around but what’s up?” And she goes, “Not much, I play football, this-and-that.” I said, “You do any music?” because I always ask kids that. So, tells me, “Yeah, actually I write songs and I sing.” I was like, “Really?”
About three days later, I came to her art class and she showed me a song she wrote on her phone. And I said, “Wow, this looks really good. Would you mind singing this for me?” and I asked her teacher, “Can I step out of the class with Jess just for a minute?” So, we went in the hallway, just by the doorway, and she sings this song to me, Glenn, and I stood there. It felt like ten minutes but it was probably a good strong minute and I was like, “Wow, you wrote that?” She goes, “Yeah, I wrote that last night. Do you like it?” I said, “Jess, do I like it? This is a hit. I love it!” Her voice, her delivery, her cadence, her words – she’s a natural songwriter. The way she sang it in the hallway, I felt like I was at a show. This is a voice of gold, man. She already knew I was working with her two friends in the studio and she says, “I’m dying to come to the studio with you guys.” So, I said, “Come to the studio.” So, that ended up being my new trio, the three kids from Beurling. From that point on, Jess was hooked. She met my studio guy and started booking sessions on her own and has recorded about ten songs in less than four months. On fire, man.
GP: Tell me about Deshaund. That was a real treat.
TS: Man, Deshaund’s story, I only met him – our show was December 20th. I met Deshaund in November. So, I work with one of the behavior techs at LCCHS, Joanne Graham. Joanne does great work with the kids too and she went to the spring concert at LCCHS last year. Deshaund was in Grade 7 or 8. He was a new kid to the school, no one really knew about him. He’s quiet, very shy. But he put himself in the spring concert. So, he gets on the stage and he does a beatbox, like “The Human Beatbox” from Fat Boys. I wasn’t at the show but Joanne called me all excited from this show, “Todd, you gotta meet this kid! He’s bringing back beatboxing, like back in the day!” I say, “Joanne, slow down. Who?” She said, “This kid, Deshaund. He’s sick! He’s beatboxing. The kids are going crazy, you gotta meet him!”
So, it took me a few months with my schedule but I finally got a day to come see him in November last year. Joanne introduces us. So, I said, “Ms. Joanne told me all about you and what you do. It’s crazy! Who taught you that? Because young guys don’t know beatboxing” He says, “Oh my uncle, my father, they’re musicians. And they said if I want to beatbox go look up the Fat Boys on YouTube. They were doing the real human beatboxing so I learned from listening to them more and watching their videos.” And he’s perfected the art of beatboxing, man. And he came to the show and the rest is history. He’s part of the family now [laughs].
TS: So, once we all knew that we’re gonna do this show, I said “If we’re down, we gotta get serious. We gotta print tickets. We gotta make a flyer.” All that was done within about three weeks and these guys were on it. I took all the pictures of them and had my guy build the flyer, make the tickets and print them out. The tickets were a mini-version of the flyer. So, I remember the night I met the students at Caribbean Paradise and I said, “Alright guys, the flyers are ready and I got the tickets.” I gave them everything and their mouths dropped. I remember Tebby saying to me, “Mr. Todd, my face is on the ticket!” I said, “I know. You don’t like it?” He goes, “I love it.” But he’s like, “My face is on the ticket!” [laughs]. “I know, bro. This is serious.”
And what really floored them, Glenn, and I’m glad you got a copy of this, I reached out to Egbert Gaye at the Community Contact and he said, “Send me a little something and I’m gonna do something for you.” I get the Community Contact two weeks later. And we’re on the front page of this thing! It floored these students. Front page and full write-up about all of them. And they’re like, “Wow, we’re on the front page of a Montreal paper” They’re freaking out. So, just that, it put them at a higher level and made them realize, “Wow we are special. And we’re worth something and we have talent and we gotta take this serious.” It just put something in them to see that.
They named the show. I asked them, “Guys, what do you wanna call the show?” “Ahh gift …. A gift … Gift to You.” I said “Why that name?” thinking that, “Yeah, you are gonna share your gift to the people.” But they said it out of their mouth: “Us performing, we feel that we’re blessed and we wanna share our gift to the people. So, whoever is going to come watch us, this is our gift to them. So, Gift to You.” My goodness, it was outstanding.
GP: Can you talk about the importance of the Caribbean Paradise restaurant in the community?
TS: Hugely important. Yeah, so, I want to shout out Dan and Babita. They are the husband and wife owners of that place. They’ve been there about 35 to 40 years. And they’re a staple in the community in LaSalle. They’re booked Friday and Saturday every week. Older folks’ stuff, younger folks’ stuff, West Indian stuff, Polish stuff, weddings, shows, birthdays, baby showers. They are just open to anybody, no matter who you are, where you come from, what culture, what nationality, “come on in, and we’re gonna treat you like gold.” It’s amazing man. And the food is amazing.
It’s always a bit awkward to walk into a room full of strangers and start setting up tripods and recording gear. In early December, I was in West Quebec for a week, mostly driving up and down a short stretch of the Route 105 along the Gatineau River between Chelsea and Wakefield where there is a vibrant local music and arts scene. But on the Friday afternoon, I took a very circuitous detour to Shawville in the Pontiac region, first heading north along the Gatineau River through Low and Kazabazua and then west and south through the Pontiac backcountry arriving in town just as the sun had set on this Ottawa River community. As part of the larger Ottawa Valley region, the Pontiac is renowned for its older traditions of fiddle music, step dancing, and unaccompanied ballads like “The Chapeau Boys.” But I’d never spent much time on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.
In the weeks prior, I had been corresponding with Robert Wills, a musician from the area about the weekly “Hooley in the Hall” that happens every Friday night at Saint Paul’s Anglican church hall in Shawville. Mostly, I’d wanted to know if it would be okay to bring my recording gear and document the event for this project’s archival collection. Robert assured me the musicians were no strangers to being recorded, especially in the age of the smartphone camera, and there should be no problem. Robert described the event as an unpretentious and relaxed gathering of mostly amateur musicians who like to jam once a week and, despite his assurances, I still worried my gear might bring an awkward formality and make the musicians self-conscious.
I arrived half an hour early to introduce myself to musicians and organizers and ask their permission to record. As always, I let performers know that I’m happy to turn off the recorders when they perform. But the first two people I spoke to were totally unphased by my request and the volunteer emcee for the evening, Gerald Storing, even suggested what he figured would be the best place to put my video tripod. However, not all the musicians had arrived and I still figured there was a chance my gear would irk someone – performer or audience member.
I crossed the hall to set up my audio gear alongside the other wall, finding a place near the piano that wouldn’t obstruct the audience’s view. As I am setting up the audio recorder on the tripod, I see a woman walking quickly towards me in the corner of my eye. I can tell she has something to say and I prepare myself for a possibly tense encounter. I couldn’t have been more wrong and what the woman asked me, I think, says a lot about the spirit of the Hooley and what it means to the people there:
Could you please hurry setting up your equipment? That little girl over there is about to sing and we want you to record her.
Later in the evening, I was invited up to the mic to explain the project and why I wanted to record the Hooley. I reiterated to everyone that I wouldn’t share any of the video or audio without the explicit consent of the performers. One of the musicians nearby commented quizzically, “But why wouldn’t you share our music online? Everyone else would?”
The Hooley is all about sharing. It is the sort of event that breaks down typical barriers to participating in music in our communities. Anyone can be in this band. Most of the musicians sit huddled in a long line facing the audience at the foot of the stage; a few others sit facing them in the first row of the audience, in this way, blurring the typical distinction between audience and performer. Some have brought along their own small amps. There is only one person on stage — the man on the electric drum set, presumably because he needs the extra space. Everyone plays together all night and simply does their best to support whoever is leading each song or tune. After each performance, Gerald, the emcee sets up the mic for the next musician and passes them a few words of encouragement. Audience and fellow musicians sing along as enthusiastically as they like. And when the music stops, everyone claps, including the other musicians.
The Hooley is the kind of place where a child feels comfortable taking the mic and singing alternate verses of a country song with her mother; where a college-aged electric bass player practices laying down the bottom the whole evening; where older fiddle players get the whole room clapping to a traditional jig or reel. And no one thinks twice when a teenage girl seated next to her guitar teacher, launches into somewhat lyrically suggestive country hits like “Girl Crush” and “Love Me Like You Used To”; the other musicians, many of them her parents’ age or older follow the chords and a few even quietly join in on the refrain. You can tell that everyone there—audience and performer—are there to support and encourage her.
To my mind, the Hooley’s openness—to styles, instruments, eras, and ages— provides an example of how amateur music making can bring communities together. Being there that first Friday night in December, I had the sense that the bonds of community were being reinforced in real-time through the music. Chris Judd is a farmer and longtime community leader in the Pontiac. He is one of the people who started the Hooley and below I’ve asked him to share, in his own words, what the Hooley is all about.
“Hooley in the Hall” What is a Hooley? If you look Hooley up in a dictionary or on Google you will get many varied definitions. A Hooley could be a description of a drunken brawl; “brouhaha”; or just an old Irish word for a party, get-together, or celebration—usually with some lively music and singing and a place for friends to gather!
For several years many of us have traveled miles to music festivals from Chichester to Cape Breton and have discovered that some of the best music is played after the big organised event is over. When a group of impromptu musicians just sit in a circle and have fun taking turns playing whatever they really want to, the real music comes out! We often remembered our parents talking about house parties (every week at a different kitchen) where folks young and old would gather, talk, dance, and either play or listen to music provided by local musicians. These were occasions where young up-and-coming musicians could play or dance and also learn from the more experienced. There was usually a light lunch and tea or coffee (or more) that came with the kitchen party.
Most musical parties are now held in bars or other areas where under-age musicians cannot join in. This is where the idea of a “Hooley in the hall” came from. The church council of the local Anglican Church agreed to open the hall to a community musical get together on Friday nights. The ladies even agreed to provide a few drinks and light munchies; (so far I cannot persuade my wife to bake cookies or squares though).
The “Hooley” has been ongoing each Friday night since October 2015. There are usually twelve to twenty musicians and singers each Friday night. There have been twenty five different musicians, step dancers, and singers having fun together and entertaining an audience of appreciative music lovers that ranged from five or six to sixty people! There have been instruments as simple as a Jews harp and a tambourine to guitars, fiddles, and piano. Besides great musicians, step dancers, and singers that sing everything from blues to bluegrass, roots to hymns, old country songs to songs written locally and performed by local song writer-musicians. More than 160 musicians aged from eight to eighty have played the “Hooley” and so far there have been only a very appreciative audience, never run out of coffee, and NO brawls!
I’ll be giving a free workshop at Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) this coming Monday, January 20, 2019 from 6 – 8 pm. The Centre is located on the 10th floor of the Webster Library building on DeMaisonneuve Blvd.
This workshop will discuss archival theories and practices rooted in my experiences digitizing, creating, and sharing audiovisual heritage in Quebec’s English-speaking minority communities since 2010. I will introduce the idea of “proactive archiving” and look at projects that myself and other researchers and community activists have undertaken in order to engage communities through archival materials. Proactive archival projects envision archives and their collections not simply as passive repositories of “raw” research materials awaiting discovery, but rather as an active resource for contemporary cultural life in the communities whose culture is represented in the collections. This will be an interactive workshop so please feel free to bring and share your own experiences and ideas about how we might make archiving a more proactive force in our communities.
About Me: I’m a multi-instrumentalist and PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Memorial University (St. John’s, Newfoundland), living once again in Montreal. For the past decade I’ve has worked with the English-speaking minority of the Gaspé Coast to archive and make use of the musical heritage that community members shared through their personal home recordings made between the late 1950s and the early 2000s. This work resulted in two community-oriented blogs (websites) where this music is shared and discussed, and an ethnographic CD co-produced with fiddler and musicologist Laura Risk and the Douglas Community Centre in the eastern Gaspésie. My current project, “A Different Tune,” is sponsored by the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) and funded by Canadian Heritage. With the help of COHDS and a host of community partner organizations, I’m currently applying and adapting my proactive archival practices to work with other English-speaking communities in Quebec to similarly document, share, and strengthen community musical heritage. This work is motivated by my conviction that musical culture is a vital resource in the vitality and development of our communities.
You’ve reached the official blog of “A Different Tune: Musical Heritage in English-Speaking Quebec.” My name is Glenn Patterson, a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology who is managing this project for the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (http://qahn.org/ ). Our project has been generously funded through Canadian Heritage and their Cooperation with the Community Sector program. We are most grateful for their support.
This 15-month project will research, promote, connect, and share the music of the many communities who use English in daily life across the province of Quebec, from the Pontiac to the Gaspé Coast, and places in between and beyond. We believe that musical heritage is a powerful social force which promotes the vitality of our communities.
The first phase of the project consists of research documentation through oral history interviews with musicians, dancers, and stalwarts; field recordings of present-day musical culture; and digitization of the audio-visual musical heritage of these communities.
The second phase will consist of a series of twelve live events across the province showcasing the music and dance talents of our communities.
The project’s third phase and final phase will create a podcast series where listeners far and wide can get to know each other through our rich and diverse musical heritage.
Stay tuned! Restez à l’écoute!
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.
— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.