The Caribbean influence in Black music: An ADVANCE x JUNO Talks panel - The JUNO Awards
Watch The 2023 JUNO Awards Sunday, March 13

Last fall, we teamed up with ADVANCE for a conversation on the influence of Caribbean music in Canada. Host, Sharine Taylor was joined by panelists Dr.Jay, Wendy Jones and JUNO Award winner TÖME for a discussion on the intersection of music and community, the history of Caribbean music, and the cultural impact it has on popular music today.

Watch the panel on YouTube or read the transcript below.

 

Full Transcription – ADVANCE x JUNO Talks: Caribbean Influence in Black Music

 

Sharine Taylor
Welcome, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Sharine Taylor and I will be your host for today’s Advance and JUNO Talk. This installation will be focusing on the Caribbean influence in Black music.

Before we begin, however, I just want to engage in a land acknowledgment. So as today’s host, I recognize that I am on occupied land on the traditional land of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Mississauga of the New Credit, and Wendake-Nionwentsïo people. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. In order to engage in resistance and solidarity against injustices inflicted on Indigenous people, it is imperative we constantly engage in acts of decolonization. I would also like to take some time to recognize and acknowledge our ancestors, the divinities, and our connections with them. I know many of you will be joining us from different territories, so I implore you to practice mindfulness on how we use space and interrogate our collective connection to land. Again, thank you so much for joining us today.

I’m really excited to dive into today’s topic. As mentioned, my name is Sharine Taylor and I’m a music and culture writer and filmmaker. I’ll be your host for the first 45 minutes and the remaining 15 minutes of our time together I will open this floor for audience Q&A, So please hold on to your questions and closer to the 45 minutes mark, you’re free to send in your questions that you have for our panelists. But before we dive in, you have to get to know our panelists. So I’ll allow Wendy, Dr. Jay, and TÖME to introduce themselves. Well, I’ll begin with Dr. Jay first.

Dr. Jay
Good evening. Good afternoon. Good morning, depending on your time zone, but good afternoon for all of us here in Toronto. I would like to say hello. Thank you for having me as part of this panel. DJ, event producer, radio announcer for many decades. I’ve earned all of these silver whiskers you’re seeing here. Been doing this for a long time, and I love soca music. So that’s what I’m going to be here to talk about is the influence of soca and Caribbean music as a whole.

Sharine Taylor
Thank you for being here, Dr. Jay. Wendy, did you want to introduce yourself?

Wendy Jones
My name again is Wendy Jones, and I am known as Quintessa of the Bass Pan in Toronto. I am one of the last original bass players from the school program back in the 70s, but that makes me only about 30 and with a couple more years experience as we go along. But I called the Woman on the Bass and I earned that name because I’m the last original one. I’m the female band leader for Pan Fantasy Steel Orchestra. I’m a mom of two kids, a glamma. I’m a counselor, a social worker, I work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. And most of all, I am a promoter of the instrument, one of the last and the first instruments that has been invented in the 20th century. And that’s the Steel Orchestra. I’m the director of the Pan Arts Network, along with my brother Earl La Pierre Jr. who is a very close-knit friend of Dr. Jay’s and I’m also the co-director, director, band leader, pannist of Pan Fantasy Steel Band. So I got to carry a lot of hats, and I like planning events and getting my hands into everything. I’m an all rounder. So I’m here just to entertain and be the number one Steel Orchestra in Toronto.

Sharine Taylor
Awesome. Thank you for all that you do. That’s so incredible. Thank you for being here with us today as well. And TÖME, would you like to introduce yourself?

TÖME
Yes. Hello, everybody. I go by TÖME, and I’m an afrofusion JUNO award winning artist, and I’m here to speak on afrofusion music as well as the Caribbean influence that created my sound that everyone knows me for today. So I thank you guys so much for having me. And I’m excited to talk to you all today.

Sharine Taylor
Incredible. So we all know about the immeasurable power and influence of Caribbean music. I’m talking dancehall, soca, reggae, zouk, compas, reggaeton. They’ve all been so instrumental to the regional development, but also the development of pop culture and other music genres around the world. And that’s undeniable. So let’s get started. The first question I have for all of you are, what are each of your connections to the Caribbean, whether it be some heritage or anything like that? And how do you bring that into your work and the work that you do for your community?

TÖME
I can go ahead and start. And I’d say for myself, I’m not necessarily of Caribbean descent, I’m of Nigerian descent. I’m French Canadian. But being within the GTA and growing up in Ontario, generally speaking, the Caribbean community is very large. And so I grew up with a lot of Caribbeans. And so that definitely plays a big influence in the type of sound that I have today. And it actually is what really influenced the song that actually won me the JUNO, which was a reggae song. So the Caribbean influence for me was just kind of within my upbringing and the community that I surrounded myself with.

Sharine Taylor
For sure.

Wendy Jones
For me, I was born in Trinidad. So the Caribbean means a lot to me, number one. And being a Trinidadian born means a lot to me, too. And I learned the instrument here in Toronto. So that took away a different perspective, having to learn a lot of my roots here in Toronto because coming from Trinidad at a young age, you lose some of the culture. But now when I look back, I had to relearn the culture and integrate myself a lot for me by participating in the school programs that they have here. And that is where my learning experience about my culture started to grew me. And the learning perspective started in grade nine, grade eight – grade nine, and it hasn’t stopped. I’m still learning up until today. The calypso, soca all those things played an integral part in my growing up and learning about the culture and the ethics of culture. So I think for me, it’s helped me a lot because what I’m doing now, I needed all those little pieces of knowledge to tie into my life.

Sharine Taylor
Dr. Jay?

Dr. Jay
Yeah, for sure. I guess I’m a cross of both of the young ladies, and having that fusion and that background has really instilled a sense of – you know, the things that I used to be embarrassed about growing up is something that I ended up appreciating even more as I started to get older, if that makes sense. So I’ve told the story before where even from something as small as my parents taking me to school and Spirals playing loud, and I’m like, oh, gosh, she can’t just put on CFTR on the radio. Why do we have to play this louder with pelau in a thermos? And I used to be embarrassed about bringing that to school and then appreciating that as I got older. And I think that that’s something that has been important to me.

Sharine Taylor
No, I hear that fully as someone who is like a disaporic Jamaican. You know? First Gen. It’s always – everyday is like a lesson in tapping into our culture. And then with Toronto in particular, seeing the wealth of ways that Caribbean culture influences music but also influences the way that we live. And it seems that so that’s definitely something to kind of like, hold close and acknowledge and honor. How would each of you interpret the way that Caribbean music or like music from the Caribbean and the culture of the Caribbean has influenced Black music both locally and abroad as well?

Wendy Jones
Jay is in a lot of music, so that is big for him from a different perspective. And for me, it’s more of a steel band perspective. So the music we interpret, the music that they have, which is the so-called the calypso, and transpose it over to the steel pan instrument. An arranger takes that music and says, hey, this is a good piece of music for that. And sometimes the music, we don’t think it’s the right one, the right fit from the Caribbean, and yet still we use it. We have all genres of music.

And I think that’s the beauty of it for me with the steel pan instrument, we can take that music, dismantle it and put it to the steel drum. It’s like an orchestra. So we credit that. We take that. A lot of people took that for granted over the years because I want to say, Jay, maybe ten years ago they were saying soca music couldn’t be played on steel pan. It’s not the right kind of music. We showed them that we could take that soca music now and take a four chord song and put it to a steel pen and make a whole instrument orchestra out of that.

That is the beauty of it. When you look at the music, how you intertwine the Caribbean and the influence of the music from the Caribbean back to our instrument, I think that is for me, it is not a breakthrough for one thing, but a breakthrough for steel pan.

TÖME
I’d like to say that for me, the way I see the influence of Caribbean music and Black music, we’re looking at Black music as a whole and Black artists in every genre, from literally hip hop to jazz to blues to R&B to soul. The influence really, truly does come from the culture. And it starts back from our motherlands. And it starts back from the homelands of the Caribbean as well as even the motherland of Africa. And so to kind of see how a lot of the music that we hear nowadays, especially now, I feel like there’s a big influence of cultural music in the mainstream, which is a big success.

I feel for us, it’s a great thing to be able to hone in on because from Caribbeans to Africans alike, we’re able to now see our culture really brewing into the mainstream and being accepted as a sound of its own and being respected in the culture that it is. So for me personally, I feel like the influence of Caribbean music is so large and it has influenced and shaped a lot of artists that we hear nowadays that are well known in the mainstream, that are being recognized for the culture that they bring, the sound that they bring within the Caribbean or within Africa, within the diaspora, generally speaking. And it’s a beautiful thing to see that our culture is finally being heard.

Sharine Taylor
Dr. Jay do you have anything to add on to that?

Dr. Jay
Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with the sentiments expressed. I’m just trying to walk to a better service area. I realize it’s a little choppy so if I breathe heavy it’s because of all the wineing that I was doing this past week. But, yeah, I mean, it’s something where the music has evolved to such a place where it’s not as one dimensional as people thought from the sound wise. So now that sound can be applied and there are songs that the bass format might be afrobeats or, you know, that can now be applied to dancehall and that could now be applied to a groovy soca song. So I think the lines are so blurred now, but that’s a good thing because that just means the culture is expanding and reaching further places.

Sharine Taylor
Yeah. And then one thing I’m really excited about as well is that the people that are the vehicles for the culture, they have direct lineage. Right. And it’s less about like, oh, my God, it’s just somebody else being a vehicle for it. We’re seeing a wealth of artists literally within the past two or three years from the Caribbean being signed to these labels. And that’s so huge, right? It reminds me of the early 2010s when dancehall had sort of moved from the periphery and moved from those insular spaces and into pop cultures more. And we’re seeing it being super part of it, and people are really getting a taste for the culture. So I’m super excited about what that means for the region as well and for those artists.

But on that note, Wendy, I’m so happy that you’re here because we rarely ever make space for steel pan. And I’m so elated to have you here to be sharing your knowledge about that. So I guess for folks who might not be well versed or just even know about the history of the steel pan, can you share a little bit more about its history, maybe a little bit more about its place within Canada and any kind of moments that you identify where it sort of again moves from the peripheries into pop cultures purview.

Wendy Jones
I want to say, first of all, the steel pan instrument is the only instrument that has been invented in the 20th century. And that’s the first thing we got to take credit for. But it came out of the Caribbean, as we say, and everybody wants to take ownership. But what we say is its still from Trinidad. And when you look at the history and we reflect on it, we know that we had to deal with the resilience, rebellion, and the respect to get with that instrument, where it came from.

I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of steel plan in Canada. In Canada, what happened was back in the 60s, there was a group that left Trinidad, and when they left Trinidad, they went to Montreal actually, and they started played for the Expo. And some of these gentlemen stayed back and some of them went back to Trinidad. Now, the ones that stayed back, there was a gentleman that was called Sello Gomes, and I have to give credit to him also. He was one of the first men that was teaching steel pan programs in the schools here in Toronto. Sello also, along with later on, Earl La Pierre Senior. And Earl La Pierre Senior Panman pact – there were so many names that came after that they taught this program in the school system. I came out of the school system with Earl La Pierre Senior where that program was taught. Why? It was an accredited program.

Now, most of us go into a music program and it’s either you’re going to play a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet, or something along those lines. The general. I gravitated towards the cello, which was an instrument you had to play on violin. I wanted the violin. I didn’t have any more, so I had to take the cello. About two months later, I thought to myself, this is not what I want to do. This is not the sound that I wanted. And I went into a portable one day, and I saw a group of Caribbean West Indian Canadian children in a portable. And Mr. Earl La Pierre Senior was the teacher at the time, and he was teaching a program at Westview Centennial Secondary School and that is where my journey started. And I thought to myself, I want to do this. I want to play that bass. And the journey for me was now I can identify with an instrument that came from the Caribbean that I could gravitate towards.

I have never left that instrument, but what it helped me to do was to participate and grow within the culture of the steel pan. I went home and told my mother, listen, I’m going to be playing a bass. And my mother looked at me and said, no, you’re not going to be doing that. Why? Because in the Islands of Trinidad and Tobago, steel pan – women in pan was a no. It was a no-go. You were not allowed to play the steel pan, because it was a bajan thing. A bajan is a slang for somebody who would get in trouble and hang out on the streets and hang out in the pan yard. So it was always related to rebellion and fights and things like that. So it was a hard sell for me but I told my mom, this is something I really wanted to do. Now when we are represented here in Toronto, when we look at it, bands in Toronto have grown. The steel bands have grown from just school bands into community bands, not just Carnival or Caribana. It is now growing to programs and that is where the music piece is being taught here in Canada.

So we’ve undergone some cultural and ethical learning about this instrument over the years. It’s been 39 years plus. So Pan Fantasy Steel Band is like 34 years old. So I’m just throwing that out there. But these are things that we are looking at now with classes and workshops that we push forward with this music because we are educating and we are making sure that we dismantle all the beliefs that we had back in the day that you cannot play pan. Yes, you can. Steel pan is here, and everybody wants to play it. It is worldwide. It’s an instrument that we know we can accept into the mainstream music because it’s being used in mainstream. So I’m going to leave it at that.

Sharine Taylor
Oh, that’s so great. And I’m so happy that you brought in the point of I would say, like, part of the roots and understandings of steel as something that was like – a lot of the music in the Caribbean is scripted in a way where people see it as like, oh, my gosh, whatever. But it’s a music of resistance. And I think that’s so important. That aspect of resistance and how we embody that in our music is so much a part of Caribbean music-making tradition. So I’m really happy that you brought that history to the floor as well.

And Dr.Jay, we know with Carnival, parades and fetes and j’ouverts, they aren’t just parties, they’re not just celebrations, but they really are a means for people to experience home and tradition that comes from that intersection of music and community. And I guess as we work around the guidelines that we’ve been given for COVID-19, how has it impacted the kinds of events that you create and the spaces that you hold? And what do you think is the future of soca and how we engage with soca in these live spaces as we continue to work through COVID, but also as we begin to reimagine a world once it’s safe to gather?

Dr. Jay
Yeah, honestly, it’s extremely difficult and I think it’s going to become the new normal. Right. So at the end of the day, we have to practice social distancing, you know, the mask upon entry. Carnival and events and fetes are – it’s a feeling of togetherness we want to be around. It’s about being in close proximity, it’s about Carnival, its thousands upon thousands of a million people, whatever on the road. It’s very difficult to have that large scale and what people are accustomed to in this new world and new guidelines.

So having done a few key events, I’ve shied away from doing too many indoor events because there’s a lot of restrictions. We’re doing one this upcoming Saturday, but again, everybody has to buy a table and they have to be spaced out. We call it bubbling in your bubble. You can dance within your circle, but you can’t have everybody at the front of the stage getting it on, as we’re accustomed to. So what we’ve had to do on the large scale events such as Soca or Die, which we had one this past Saturday and then this past Monday and one Toronto Carnival weekend, we did one on the Friday.
We had to do those pods. So there was a thing that went viral in the UK at the beginning of the pandemic, where they had these, like, structured pods on risers where they can hold between six to eight, maybe ten people max. They were spaced out to 6ft apart to abide by the rules. So we worked with the venue up in Markham where we can install these and it costs a lot of money. It’s not difficult to do. And then, of course, you have to get insurance and all this stuff, it’s a headache and a half, but we did it. It worked out. Everybody had a good time.

And it’s funny because when we did this other event downtown, didn’t have the pods but had enough space that we just had to make sure we don’t cross a certain number in ticket sales in order to make sure. So you’re only selling like 40% of what it could really hold, which affects the type of entertainment you could afford it affects that type of thing. But we made sure we worked with it. Again, people have a good time. They’re like, oh, I love this venue even better than this other one you used.

So I just think it’s trying to get people to understand what we’re doing going forward because there’s a lot of miscommunication, a lot of assumptions that happen. And people are like, okay, so if I come in, does this mean I can’t dance at all? Nobody saying you can’t dance, but the whole pick up something and run with it. Make sure it’s your family member. Don’t just pick up a random person and run. Make sure it’s within your bubble. So I think right now people are beginning to understand that it is going to look different.

But I think the hardest thing is people are asking for a certain level of artists not to disrespect who we brought to Toronto so far. But they want the Michael Jackson of soca. They want the Beyoncé of soca. And it’s like, okay, listen, unless you’re willing to spend a Beyoncé type of price ticket, you’re going to get this other level right now. Right. And let’s understand what we’re working with and have a good time. Party responsibly, because this is going to be the new normal. Right. There’s no going back tomorrow to what we are accustomed to. Even when we look at these large sporting events, they’re saying upfront, we’re going to require proof of vaccination to even enter the building whether you work there or not.

So you kind of have to realize what’s coming and start to react and work in a proactive way in a sense, and say, okay, yes, we would like to sell more tickets, but we have to be safe. We have to work with the guidelines and make sure that everybody could go home and we don’t have any outbreak and we’re good.

Sharine Taylor
Yeah. There’s that aspect of community and music traditions in the Caribbean. There’s like this very communal aspect to it right outside of Carnival season. But like soca in Carnival season, it’s music that you fete to with your friends and it’s your family. That communal aspect is so important. So I’m happy that we recognize that. But also figuring out ways we can still practice community, but also make sure that when we can go back home to our own community safely in a way that doesn’t compromise anybody’s health. Right, exactly. Just a reminder for folks, if you do have any questions for the panelists, you can use the question feature and then we’ll get to it at the end.

TÖME, what I wanted to ask was how has the afrofusion music that you have been making been directly influenced – you sort of alluded to it at the top of our call, but maybe you can speak a little bit more about that connection that’s there and how the sounds from this region has influenced the kind of music that you create.

TÖME
Yeah, realistically afrobeats, afrofusion, and I mean, dancehall specifically, even soca, in a way, they’re very related to one another. Although the sounds are differentiated and their similarities, they’re obviously distinct from one another, but they influence each other. And so for someone like me who was born in Canada, raised in Ontario, where there’s a vast Caribbean community here, and also kind of really honing in on Afrobeats and really kind of diving forward into that fusion side of it because I’m not born in Africa, so I can’t necessarily copy the sound that is really from there. And that’s a very beautiful sound that you need to be within the culture to really play well.

So for me, it was very much being here and being around the Caribbean community and as well as just like the Canadian community, that allowed me to really fuse afrobeats in a way that made sense for me. So especially when I started afro R&B and a lot of different sounds that I could make, there was a lot of Caribbean influence in it, and I couldn’t necessarily tell you or pinpoint, like a certain artist or a certain sound that helped me kind of really create the sound that I made.

I truly was listening to a lot more afrobeats than anything else. However, when it came to “I Pray,” it was just a beat, and this was made by a Nigerian producer, and the beat is completely reggae roots, and it just kind of shows the fact that we all coexist with one another. There isn’t necessarily much difference between us, if anything, shows our unity and just the fact that the sounds they influence one another. And Caribbean music has always been a great influence on Africans as well as vice versa.

So for me, being here and kind of being literally surrounded by multiculturalism in every sense of the word, I was able to truly create the sound I made, and that was influenced by African, afrobeats, as well as Caribbean and Caribbean music. Dancehall specifically. And so I would say that it’s really part of the upbringing that I was surrounded by that allowed me to kind of play around with different sounds and really expand my knowledge of music and my knowledge with sound and create what I create now.

Sharine Taylor
Right. So I guess that’s like a good segue into my next question for all of you on the panel, which is how have you seen the region’s influence, I guess, transcend into the Caribbean diaspora itself or the Black diaspora? This is such an interesting question for me because I see so many artists of Caribbean diaspora or like, first and second generation folks who are finding really interesting ways to sort of blend the sounds of back home with these newer contemporary sounds where you don’t really abandon the sensibilities of either, but you sort of bring them to this really interesting music place. So I just wanted to sort of throw that question back to you all to see if you could, if there’s any particular moment that stands out or any artist that stands out where you’ve seen the diaspora take up those music practices and either retain them or create them into something new.

Wendy Jones
I think the influence of the steel pan in that mainstream piece of the diaspora, we have seen blending of that which as Jay said, like things like groovy soca, or they will bring a steel pan instrument on stage to accompany a soloist or a musician. I’ve had the opportunity also to mesh the two, where you have an opera singer from a culturally diverse background singing on stage with you, and she is able to take that music and make it hers. We’ve had orchestras take Caribbean music and mesh the two. So I think in the beats, when you’re listening to pop culture and things like that, we can take that music and transform it from a Caribbean.

I think Caribbeans do anything with music. When I say that, I mean, we just have the awe and the oomf and we can make it happen. We’ve developed so many things. And that’s the good thing about diversity. You take the cultural aspect of it and you mesh it. So when I look at soca music, I look at Caribbean music, all genres of music, dancehall music. And I think back of the days when you wouldn’t put a steel drum and I’m referring to the steel pan instrument into that mainstream music.

People were a little scared. And I think musicians now and pannists now are not afraid. They are not afraid. These young boys that are coming up now are hitting, we call them hitters, and they come out like strong. We have our own virtual events that we are seeing the growth of the meshing in the diaspora for right around the continent. And that is the amazing piece that gives us an opportunity to show our presence and to make sure that this instrument is being represented in all aspects.

So I think there’s a balance when we look at how the influence transcends it’s right across. Right across all types of music. And as my sister just said, when you look at beats – from the African beats that we listen to and you look at our heritage there, that is very important because a lot of soca music, too. You hear those beats in the music. And we have a joke going, Earl Junior and I think Justin Bieber has taken a lot of our music and put it into his music, and it’s real. This thing is real. Drake does the same. And, you know, there’s musicians out there who are just pumping it.

And when you hear it, there’s a crossover. And that crossover is very important because when you listen to it, you still have the African background. The beats are in the background. And that beats that we’re hearing right now is how we have moved forward in a positive way to take our music out into the full diaspora.

TÖME
Yeah. To sort of chime in on Wendy just said it’s very important that we really recognize, which is what I was mentioning before, the fact that our culture is starting to be respected for what it is. It’s no longer being kind of disguised as just the sound that they took and then kind of just made their own more so than actually giving respect where respect is due to those who created the sound.

And in terms of, like, that unison between this is what I was saying before is the fact that, like, dancehall and afrobeat, Caribbean music, generally speaking, and afrobeats are very relevant in one another. East African music is very similar to soca. And so it’s something that when I was saying before, it really started from the motherland, it started from our origins and kind of really people in the diaspora now, we embodied it and made it grow into something that now the mainstream can hear to a point where now we have someone like Justin Bieber remixing instead of taking a song and really making it his own and as many of them have done, just kind of taking the beat and making it their own. Now actually commemorating the artists behind these sounds and actually remixing or giving them their respect.

And a big, big thing for someone like me, who is a lot more involved within the Afrobeats in the African industry, like a song like “Essence.” Generally speaking with, like, WizKid and Tems and how Justin Bieber now came on that. That was a big thing for the culture because it was him really showing his respect for our culture. And Drake had done it before. However, Drake, I feel like, haven’t given the respect that Justin has given it. And so it’s very beautiful to see the fact that our culture is truly starting to be respected in every sense of the word. And this is just Black music, not just African, not afrobeats, not just Caribbean music, but just Black music as a whole and what our culture really has been able to do and how it has influenced sounds throughout centuries.

Dr. Jay
Yeah, 100%. And I think it’s perspective. Right. Because years back it would have looked like Justin Bieber made the song “Essence” relevant. But in this sense, “Essence” has made Justin Bieber relevant. Right. So it’s something where now you find the music and the culture has gotten to such a level that it is taking the forefront as opposed to that particular mainstream artist making the music as relevant, if that makes sense.

So even a song like “Sorry,” which I know Earl and I have spoken about before, Wendy talking about what he’s done. The producer is Diplo, who works with Major Lazer. At that time, he had a Trinidadian in Jillionaire, a Jamaican in Walshy Fire, part of his crew. He’s been to Trinidad who knows – bedroom stories. I’m not getting involved. Right. But I’m just saying that Diplo himself would have had a lot of connection and has been to Trinidad during Carnival, has seen this firsthand, sees how it could make his own festival show react in a certain way. They will now go and remix a soca, work with a Machel, work with a Bunji see how that reaction is, ends up working with a Mr.Killa from Grenada.

This is how it grows and grows and grows. And then, of course, when he’s working on his own original productions, of course, he’s going to take a little sample of this and work with that. But as everybody has mentioned, it ends up now where they’re trying to make it as authentic as possible because they know that is how it resonates. And the more authentic it is, the more credit that it is given to the originators. And I think that that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. And the perfect example is, as we just said, “Essence” and Justin Bieber, where years back, like I said, it would have been, wow, Justin Bieber made the song. But now people are saying, no, it’s “Essence” that is making Justin Bieber back in the mix again.

Wendy Jones
True.

Sharine Taylor
Yeah. And I think and this is something that has really been a talking point in the editorial work that I do is the more that we talk about, there’s like a lot of extraction in the Caribbean. Right? Like, a lot of people extract music, extract the culture, and don’t figure out the best way to give back or ways that are a little bit more material. So I think as we continue to see these exchanges of sounds or in some cases, like direct exploitation or extractions of sounds, there’s something to be said about the ethics of music making. That’s something that’s always been a question of mine. Right. Like, how do we ensure that we are not taking, which is very much the history of the Caribbean, right? How are we making sure that we’re not taking? And exchanging music in a way that feels a little bit more respectful and it has a little bit more of a climate of care around it? You know.

I mean, that’s a completely different conversation, but it is something to be considered as we begin to talk about what those dynamics look like. So the last question I have before we jump into our Q&A, which is very much in the same vein, what is your imagined future for Caribbean artists or the legacies of Caribbean music making tradition, especially as we think through curbing, coopting, appropriation, et cetera, but also in a way that honors our music making tradition and the global power and influence that it has historically had over time. And this is for all the folks on the panel.

Dr. Jay
TÖME, you want to go first?

TÖME
Well, I mean, I think that in terms of the Caribbean sound and Caribbean music, the future is extremely bright, and it’s already. Really oh, boy, I’m seeing my laptop’s going to die. Sorry, I’m charging it. But yes, I think the future is extremely bright, and I see a lot of progress already. Now, of course, there’s been appropriation of all sorts throughout the years. And I feel like, generally speaking, especially within the Canadian music and the Canadian market, there’s been an immense amount of recognition and respect and credit where credit is due to the culture and to the sound, you know what I mean? And I feel like this is really starting to transcend globally as well.

And I can only pray and hope that we’re going to be able to be fully seen as not necessarily an international sound, but just a sound that is well recognized and well respected within the mainstream and be just as respected and prominent as hip hop, R&B and all these other sounds are. And for me, personally, speaking as an afrofusion artist, I would only hope and pray that African music gets just as far within the Canadian market. Specifically, there’s a lot of recognition around Caribbean music.

I mean, we have a humongous community. However, it’s even to say that I would only hope that our future in African music, Afrobeats and the African community can also be recognized and be seen to the extent Caribbean music has received recognition, because we’re here, we’re very much alive and we’ve been working just as hard as well in our communities, within our food, within our music, within our culture. We’ve had Afrofest here for over 20 years with 20,000 people attending every year. Our culture is very prominent, too. And so that recognition would be my biggest hope in future that we are seeing and recognize and respected with our Caribbean peers because the sound is so similar, yet the recognition is very different.

And so I think that that’s something that for myself, I want to advocate a lot towards, because I see the future being so bright for our culture as an all in terms of Caribbean and African music, it’s so bright. And we are going to go so far, truly, we are truly starting to transcend and be heard on radio, be seen and heard in malls, heard in different stores, in different places everywhere.

We’re starting to be recognized. And it’s only going to get better from here because we’re truly starting to be respected in that light. And I can only hope that Caribbean music and Africa is not necessarily merged as one, but actually seen as two different cultures prominently taking over and being really respected for what they are. And that would be my say on that.

Dr. Jay
Yeah, I love it.

Wendy Jones
Good. Beautiful. I guess for me, I’ll keep it short. But for me, it’s the fact that steel pan music belongs on the world stage. That is my goal. And I’m myself and my co-executive director, which is Earl, that is one of the missions that we have that steel pan music will be on the world stage. And the reason for that is that we have seen the development in the steel pan movement in terms of education and the impact on a global stage. Globally, we know that countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, all over the world, US, Canada, all the Islands, this thing is taken off.

But this time we know for sure the last two years because of this pandemic, we have seen it take off in a different direction. And because of that, it has given everyone the opportunity to present the art form from a different platform. And we are now seeing a generation of young people just getting up and saying, hey, this is something I want to do. They’re not marginalized anymore. They have broken through to the steel pan community. They’re going into recording studios. They are now artists. This conventional, it’s not just one thing anymore.

It is a whole scope that we are looking at. So we have broken down and we have dismantled some of the old thinking that it’s only a steel pan can be played in the pan yard. It’s not just a pan yard. If we are not in the pan yard, we can’t operate. No, we have changed that mindset and it’s a whole mindset that has to be changed. The whole virtual world that’s out there, the icons in musicians.

When I look at the JUNO Awards, I’m going to use this as an example. I don’t see steel pan there and I have a problem with that. Why do I have a problem with that? Because we have amazing artists that need to be recognized. And when we see that happening, we know that we are on that platform. And this is why I’m saying for me, we need it on a world stage. When we were looking back and we were looking at X factor, we were hearing calypso, so we were all sitting there with soca. We were like, Whoa, what’s going on? Yes, this is amazing. It can’t be the same old thinking we have to balance in Canada what is culturally represented here.

And I think when we credit that to the Caribbean and look at what we bring to the table, we are not just bringing the only mainstream instruments that we have. We are bringing an instrument that is just as conventional as the other instruments. And so I’m hoping that here on out it is going to be an opportunity for young people to step up now and say, hey, I can use this instrument as a professional artist and be respected for it.

This is what we represent here in Canada, around the world, and we are going to use this instrument to move ourselves forward as musicians. And I think that is how I’m hoping and praying that I can be part of that channel and help young people. It’s a professional thing that they’re using it for now. I acknowledge that. And I think the Pan Arts Network, which is the organization I’m a part of, we acknowledge all the young people and we acknowledge the pioneers that came before us. So I’m hoping that as we move forward with these JUNOS, we go see some steel pan up on that stage at some point.

Dr. Jay
Yeah, 100 percent, 100 percent. We’re going to have to put a track with an afrobeats and a steel pan in it. But I think too for us and soca, it has always been this almost commercial radio carrot dangling in front of you. And it’s like no matter what soca attains, that carrot moves forward and you can never catch it.

And I’ve always tried to talk to artists and producers and say, listen, your music is global. Stop thinking that this is your goal. Right. Your goal isn’t necessarily a radio hit right now. Like your music is traveling. If I myself as a DJ, can DJ from Berlin, Germany, to Dubai to London, England, off of soca music. This is what they’re hiring me for. Whether I can play all genres or not, they’re hiring me to play soca and I’ve had that opportunity me, one. And I’m not the most popular DJ in the world. There are other guys who’ve traveled even further and there’s other people who aren’t as popular that are traveling and they’re taking it far as well.

I think once we get our stuff right on a Canadian front, though, I agree with what Wendy said and TÖME as well, where if we get that support here, because from Afrofest having that many people, obviously the Toronto Caribbean Carnival having so much people and support, we need new – like we cannot apply the old rules to this new world. Right. So this is a new thing going on. We have to stop using that as the benchmark. Because that yea is gone. Right. Bryan Adams, all due respect, but that’s what has been done. So now there’s a lot of new creators, a lot of new producers, and I think there’s a level of frustration because they don’t feel that support in our current ecosystem in Canada. Right.

So regardless of how popular, how much ground support we have, for me alone, my events can do more numbers than other people and other genres, but they would get the sponsorship money. They would get the choice of a venue or a concert hall, but they’re not getting the same numbers that a Wizid would get or a Machel Montano would get, or a Kes The Band would get. Or if we were to bring Duvone Stewart, a world class arranger, and put him in a certain place, he would do more than the Toronto Symphony did at driving, you know what I mean? So I think it’s just perspective in getting that support here because the people want to see it and I think the more people, the more eyes and ears they would realize how incredible what kind of level – musical level, like when you hear some of these steel pan arrangers, it’s insane what they do to music.

And I’ve only started to really listen to not just the afrobeat artists that have really blown up. I’ve started to delve into some different playlists and the music on that alone. TÖME, I’m sure you’re so inspired when you hear some of these sounds. It’s not just the Nigerian music that might be popping in certain aspects. There’s so many regions and sounds and levels that they go. And I just think that is also here in Canada – it’s just we don’t know. I don’t hear it. I wouldn’t know listening to local radio. So I think right now the Internet has made the world so close and Sharine I’m sure you see it, too. You listen to so much different music from all over the place. And what happens now is when we tune in locally, we don’t hear it, so we don’t listen to that. And then those stations don’t program for us because they feel we’re not listening. But you’re not giving it to us to listen.

Sharine Taylor
I hear that.

Dr. Jay
It’s a cycle, unfortunately. So I think if the JUNOS and with Advance getting behind it and things like this happening where it spreads that awareness that we’re here and we want to hear it, we want to support it. But if you’re not giving us this content, we’re not going to listen to everything else to get this one song an hour, right. It can’t work like that.

Wendy Jones
You have to change that. It’s like training the mind and training the thinking and the listening. As you said, DJs are out there and music is out there and they’re playing it. But what we’re hearing and what we’re absorbing is not what we’re putting out. We’re starting the point right now.

Sharine Taylor
In the interest of time, we have a few minutes left, and I want to get to some of these questions. So I’ll field them directly to the panelists. And then if you can just keep it short and sweet, that will be great.

Dr. Jay
Sorry.

Sharine Taylor
Somebody wants to know, Wendy, what resources can you share for when children or adults can go to learn how to play steel pan?

Wendy Jones
Well, right now a lot of the steel bands are shut down. My group is still up and running. We have programs in the community that run on Saturday where we teach. And I think my program is going to be running up and running at the end of the month where young people can come andand also the kids that we take is over the age of seven, the ones that can stay behind a pan. And they got a little bit of time frame discipline. Let’s go. And this is what it teaches them. And we will be up and running. We’ll be having something online and you can check in. But right now it be a pandemic to the regulation of social distancing. A lot of the steel bands are down, but you will find bands playing, soloists are playing. And in the near future, it is easy to check with the bands online.

Sharine Taylor
Right. Thanks so much. Patrice Mitchell wants to know, can we talk about how the intersection of culturally responsive music and community impacts mental health and the ability to heal from the pandemic? DJs on Twitch, pianists on YouTube helped us survive. And we’re so grateful when those things continue in the future, even after 100% capacity in person events are possible? And I’ll field that over to you, Dr. Jay, just because I feel like that’s in your wheelhouse.

Dr. Jay
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I can’t talk for everybody, obviously. But I do feel that the virtual events will stay. I think that there’s definitely a certain demographic of people that enjoy that entertainment from home. So whether it is on Twitch, IG Live, YouTube, whatever the medium is, or maybe there’s a new app that will come out. I believe that DJs will still continue to do that. Certain musicians will still continue to do that because people do enjoy it.

And I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve had some DMs of people saying they were battling depression and a certain live with a certain song at that right moment really help them out. So I think that is something that will continue to you’ll see it progress and people might start to invest more money in cameras and effects. But the basic of this one on one, like this Zoom thing isn’t dying. Like we’re going to have these panels, we’re going to connect to talk to the world. So I think that is the same way entertainment will go.

Wendy Jones
Yes, that’s true.

TÖME
I agree.

Sharine Taylor
We’re just two minutes away. So I’m just going to quickly summarize like some of the concerns just so folks are in the not concerns rather, but like questions that are being asked with regards to this. We’re talking about the future of afro diasporic music, the future of Caribbean music, the desire to want to see categories be more representative of the different types of Black diasporic communities that are here.

We’re seeing folks asking questions about expanding – about the desire to see Caribbean music not be watered down for pop culture consumption and for it to live in its fullness and then to have more categories that are better representative of the folks who are in it and for the music genres that exist at the moment. So again, I’m really so happy to have the opportunity to speak with you all today. This is really just such an incredible discussion. I also want to thank the folks at home for joining us. Thank you to Karen the Junior Awards in Advance for giving us space to have this discussion. This is the second webinar of Advanced in JUNO talk. So if you did enjoy it, please be sure to stay up to date to all the future webinars this fall again.

Sharine Taylor
I’m your host, Sharine and this is the Caribbean influence on Black music. Thank you again for joining us today and I hope you all enjoy the rest of your day.

Dr. Jay
Thank you for having us.

Wendy Jones
Thank you guys so much. Take care.

Sharine Taylor
Bye everybody. Bye.