I’ve been working with the Songwriter’s Association of Canada since last Fall. It’s a smaller but VERY influential NPO located in Toronto with connections to other Canadian music creator advocacy organizations. I was motivated to work with them once I found out about their nearly 40 year history and it’s founder Terry McManus. McManus, a longtime songwriter and educator founded the org to fight for the compensation of Canadian artists as songwriters.
Prior to the early 80s, Canadian songwriters didn’t receive royalties from their music. Terry McManus (one of the early influences for SOCAN among many other organizations founded in Canada,) along with other very influential people in Canada’s music industry, created an association that would move forward to develop and protect the creative, business and legal interests of Canadian music creators. ‘With over 1,000 current members, including 200+ professionals, S.A.C. offers a suite of invaluable digital services and provides education and community for songwriters, lyricists, beatmakers, sound designers, topliners, instrumentalists and song collaborators’.
Please read more benefits of S.A.C. as an organization and the value of obtaining a membership with them here. S.A.C. is undergoing a multitude of changes behind the scenes so stay connected to them across all socials. If you’ve followed any projects and work I’ve been doing over the last decade-I’m passionate about Canadian music and underground culture; especially musicians and artists that are often not seen or highlighted due to heavy competition and very limited chances for media exposure and discussion. I really enjoy this stuff and talking about the music!
For Black History Month this year, along with the Operations Coordinator (Natalie B) at S.A.C., we designed a four week panel where I dug through many of the artists I’ve loved and known for years! I’ve watched their careers grow and wanted to talk to them to find how they were ‘doing it’ in Canada. I also wanted to showcase what making Black Music and creative material was like pre-BLM 2020 while looking forward into the future. With another lockdown imposed after Christmas, it caused a blockage and dramatically changed the budget and programming style we were hoping for.
Even though it was harder to navigate the discussions, the transparency we had in these conversations were invaluable. I urge you- if you’ve got an hour at a time over the course of the next few weeks, listen in to what Black Music creators and writers have to say about the industry in Canada. The struggle isn’t over for any type of artist and creative globally, but what Black Music creators and writers had to say about jumping over hurdles to remain in the music, arts, culture sphere is admirable.
I had a great time putting this program together to showcase Black Canadian Creators and an even better time asking artists questions about topics rarely discussed on a public platform. Here’s the the link to the Songwriter’s Association of Canada (YouTube):
A little side note here: I’d like to thank all artists for joining me to discuss the industry in Canada. It’s through discussion, that greater insights are made and change is possible!
This is the last and most profound lesson I absorbed during my time in Japan. It’s something that I hadn’t expressed verbally but more so- an observation and a feeling. Whenever I do talk about Japan with folks who’ve never been to Asia, one of the many remarks made is that ‘it must’ve been a cultural shock to live there’ and although it sounds correct it isn’t. The culture shock hit me when I returned to Toronto. It took some time to process the difference and it also took time to flow again with what I’d known my whole life. For example: how to navigate where I was headed (on public transit and professionally) once I got back. I had to learn how to reject what people around me suggested I do.
Let me tell a story as I did with the first 3 travel stories for context. Every morning, when I first arrived to Osaka-I’d take the train to work. When you (a foreigner) arrives to Japan, you stand out (you’re not them.) It takes awhile to get used to, so the people around you seem like a blur because it’s a new environment. I’d head into the office (a whole multimedia centre) to teach English modules by webcam (pretty much what Zoom is like today!) *13 years ago we taught by webcam…..anyway during breaks, between classes, lunch hour, no show classes and finally at the end of the day- I’d sit around the centre talking to other instructors, operations staff and sometimes even the cleaning staff. Lemme focus on the cleaning staff. You know the saying we see often: “speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” I discovered comes from Albert Einstein. I think about that quote a lot but I think about it in reverse. It’s hard for me to explain this in a way that doesn’t sound short sighted.
As teaching staff in that office we did our best to keep it tidy and clean up after ourselves-it never seemed disrespectful against the cleaning staff. After seeing 2 cleaning staff members almost everyday and talking to them here and there within the office space; there’s an observation I made as I navigated the city for my next 2 years there. Folks in all areas of the society worked hard, happily and with purpose. Please click the link that follows later in this paragraph. I use the term ‘happily’ very carefully. I observed the way different societies placed types of work in categories and then I observed those that actually worked those jobs; they worked with a kind of esteem I’d never seen before. I also looked at (the way workers interacted with each other), the people in the cities they worked for as well as public exchanges and cultural interaction between them) It was different.
One night, I observed two city workers on my way back from a DJ gig, both were bowing to each other after their shifts. It was something I’d never seen before. I looked at the way a city like Toronto places heavy importance on the status of an individual whether it be the ‘look’ and ‘show’ of class, wealth, clout and/or intelligence or the outward keeping of appearances to exude (being worthy of respect solely based on luxury, materialism or race) and then the hush, hush nature of being support staff and/or performing ‘blue collar’ work. Here’s a very unique thing to keep in mind also: the education process is quite intense in Japan- so no matter what your future looks like, by the time you choose a career path (most young people would have studied ALOT.) Everyone is well learned and fierce with the books.
So let’s step away from my intricate observations for a moment. This is the transitional part of myself I want to share here: One morning I was on the train-a few months before I ended my contract and came home. The train was packed. Typically, you will see on TV around the world what Japanese urban centres look like during rush hour. I used to hold the bar tightly preventing myself from tipping over on to other passengers. As I stared out the window on the train I felt someone looking at me. I was so used to it by that time: being taller than most, having dreadlocks and then later a little afro (I chopped them off) and the the obvious just being black…..anyway
I looked to my right and then my left and saw a couple standing together both smiling and waving at me. For a second I thought they looked so familiar. They waved and greeted me. I then realized who they both were, dressed to the nines and headed to work. I didn’t recognize them because I’d only seen them in their work uniforms for almost three years. I didn’t know they were husband and wife-she had a beautiful Prada jacket, handbag and hat-he was decked out in a beautiful and VERY expensive suit. I don’t know why it hit me differently at that moment. But the resonance for me hit in waves and it said ‘it’s necessary to have self esteem with whatever you do-no need to be fake about that shit, provided it’s safe, legit and works for you, NEVER FEEL ASHAMED for where you are NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.’
I know it sounds like a judgement against them (the cleaning staff couple) for me seeing them dressed up and then later dressed for work-it wasn’t just seeing them at that very moment that made me think like this, but a series of events and observations of them at work that led me to embrace this message strongly. It prepared for the next decade in Toronto with no shortcuts. It was a culmination of things: I was headed back to Toronto with all types of plans for the way I wanted life to go and leaving the Canada I once knew and returning after sometime. This was a very much a ‘from the ground up‘ process. I’ve worked at many places to get by, to get through school again (Humber PR) and to literally, make it! And even when I was made to feel like what I was doing was beneath me at many intervals in the last decade; depending on where I was whether it be around certain groups, environments or classist circles that for some reason attempted to stamp that permanent mark of ‘less than’ on my back or forehead, I constantly reminded myself about what I had come to know after setting foot back in Toronto. I understood a resonance I described to you up top. Teachable moments are often more of a sense than anything else so please excuse how this message rolls out.
Looking back at the last 12-14 years, I realize there’s so much I had to learn by going through all types of experiences to get what I wanted and it wasn’t easy. I don’t think I would’ve had the grit I have today to sustain my goals if I hadn’t been through as much as I did. So after all this extra descriptive language and explanation, I formally re-discovered ikigai a few days ago. I also realized that what I’m trying to carefully explain here is ikigai in action. It’s definitely a strong cultural mindset. Even though I embraced hard work most of my life with diligence. I worked jobs in spaces and places I never thought I should or could do-THAT was my cultural shock. Here’s a paragraph that explains the concept and how it should ideally work:
‘Pride and camaraderie are more difficult to define and obtain. These two values are different in that they depend on each individual person’s character and needs. They arereliant on the relationship between the employee and his or her job (pride) and the relationship between the employee and his or her coworkers (camaraderie). What each person needs to be proud of their job is personal and unique and it’s crucial to ensure that everyone is in a role that satisfies their goals. The quality of relationships between coworkers depends on the personalities and different preferences each person has as well as the ability of the team to match them. Pride and camaraderie can be related back to the concept by ikigai when you think about appreciating others for their personal reason for being whilst valuing yourself for yours. This will create a harmonious work environment composed of successful individuals.’ See more about this concept.
Naturally, it was easier for me to work retail, wash n fold laundry service, cashier, bartending or server jobs after experiencing ikigai. No shame in the game-you learn a multitude of things and are exposed to dynamics you’d never see, know or understand otherwise. It’s humbling yes, it might even feel like punishment. But having a sense of pride, esteem and full comprehension of all angles of work makes you know shit very well. So, this wasn’t something I picked up in one trip-but over the course of my stay in Japan. It’s something that’ll always be a part of me. I know how to put in the elbow grease with no complaints-I know in my mind where I’d like to be. Lastly, I judge no one.
I had known so many Filipino friends from my childhood and never even imagined I would’ve found myself visiting there!
As I love the tropics anywhere around the world one year before the Easter holiday I swapped around my shifts for additional vacation time and took Mabuhay Airlines over to Manila! When you fly to other Asian countries while in Asia it’s very economical and at that point I needed time off. As I was there with my friend for almost a month I decided to really take the time to rest and rejuvenate but more importantly take in the history and cuisine. What I ended up learning and how I ended up learning this was ‘the culture shock’ Let me add this in for razzle dazzle: Black People should still be wearing sunscreen. But Black People also need tremendous amounts of sun for health reasons and as I almost 3 winters in Japan…the amount of sun required was taken in mostly on these trips I would go on! I was gifted a cute caftan from my good friend and aesthetician so I wore that over my bathing suit when I went on those many trips and I promised myself first thing in the morning I’d head to the beach everyday to get a head start on sunbathing and saltwater (you know it heals) You get to know the staff really when your stay is extended. Also keep in mind that you treat your reception and service staff and crew nice and hope they’ll be nice to you too right? I minded my biz as usual and every morning greet them and know them by first name basis. As I walk past the front desk for the 5th morning that week the guest services lady asked me the strangest question, she said ‘I noticed you go the beach every morning…’
Me: Yes, why not?
Her: Why would you want to be in the sun?
Me: Vacation. I had no idea where this conversation was headed yo…
Her:‘are you from here?’
Her: Is your Mom Filipino?
Me: No (but in my head I’m like do I look Filipino to you?)
Her: You shouldn’t be in the sun-you’ll too dark
Me: Too dark? What? (I’m Black.Hello,I’m Black!)
Her: I thought you were Filipino but because you keep going outside that’s why I’m asking you…..
Me: I don’t understand what you are saying,I’m Black (I’m African) and I’m from Canada living in Japan and both places in Winter get no sun so I can and will roast as much as possible.
Her: In this country we associate being darker with poverty and lower class
Me: But I don’t care what you associate it with, I’m Black (I need sun,I live for it!) I’m on vacation…..I bit my tongue on this (because I was gonna tip her well by the end of my trip!) My mind changed after this interaction though….. what I did say to her though was….and ‘my ‘darker skin’ got me travelling to many places and booking at THIS hotel you work at…..’ I was so confused about the conversation, the mindset (she held) and how people are/were conditioned and why didn’t I know about this at home? (Toronto) Made me realize how much colonization of any kind was sad and dangerous. Later on that day and week I was floored because her ratchet statements and questions led me on a little adventure thereafter… As I went into town and hit the beach I used to have children shyly walking behind me. Some asking for candy’ and others asking for USD. But one day a little kid with a tightly curled Afro and much coppery tanned skin ran up to me and said: you look like my Mom. Another reference to me being ‘Filipino’. I just tried not to act surprised when the child said this and was like really? Okayyyyy! A tour guide assigned to me upon my arrival at the airport asked if myself and my friend wanted to go further across the island and we both agreed that we’d love to! They took us fishing and we stopped mid-ocean for pictures and some history lessons…..Then they took us to the mountainous regions and now in one trip I learnt about the colonization of the country and it’s post effects and the Indigenous that to my knowledge has never been the true face for that country. They led us to the mountainous region weekly marketplace where Indigenous women with woven baskets, hats, rattan home decor, t-shirts and souvenirs gathered for tourists and city folk to purchase stuff. And I came face to face with these gorgeous women. And no lie…..we looked at each other with a kind of recognizance. At the time I had just cut off my dreadlocks so my fro was pretty tight and some of the women had the same hair and beautiful skin that the little boy had. It was a kind of mirror in a way and looking from a child’s eye, I realized that I really did look like them! It was fascinating for me because I learnt all the history I needed to truly understand in one week-starting at my morning appointment with the sun!
So what’s the lesson here? sometimes the roots are the most important parts even if they are buried, behind the scenes, silenced, hidden, removed or unknown
I was happy for the man that then and there is when he realized and understood his racism. He knew that colourism was tied to his self hate and he knew for sure that he projected that to others he felt were weaker than him. He introduced himself and sat down beside me to explain that he was an inventor and that he visits NYC twice a year to patent and present his inventions. He quickly followed with ‘I have a confession to make’ Lemme assure you before I continue that I didn’t know this man. He was waiting for his shuttle bus to La Guardia and asked to sit down beside me in the lounge. I hesitated as I was waiting for the time to pass before grabbing my bus at Penn Station and I noticed that he was eager to talk to me-as if he had something profound to say. He apologized before uttering his truths and talked about his upbringing.
As a young man he explained, he had the deepest hatred for Black People and that he once hated Black folks so much that he would have never sat beside one of us in any public place- buses, offices, classes, meetings and lobbies, like where we were at that very moment. For him to start a convo this way-took a lot out of me and to then sit quietly and listen to him speak HIS truth….and now looking back at who I am today is pretty wild…I have very little patience today.
He admitted that he was treated differently growing up because of his ‘Native’ roots-he was labelled ‘Indio’ at school and though he had ‘Spanish’ roots he did have darker skin. It was a very uncomfortable topic for him at those younger ages to the point where he rejected himself enough to embody that much distaste for someone like me.
Upon moving to the United States though-going to Law school and studying Civil Law and even after becoming a practicing lawyer and later a professor-he still retained the same racist mentality he adapted and maintained specifically against Black People. He was a middle aged man at this stage (November 2001 post 9/11 to be specific. This is the most important part of this lesson) when I was talking to him. At the time he further described that he was was old enough to still remember the Native tongue he studied and spoke fluently (by his Native Grandparents) in addition to Spanish. He was even given a Native name at birth.
He spoke one of the Mixtec dialects very well. He studied with elders before his coming of age and at age 25 he migrated to the United States and began assimilating and began forgetting who he was. He talked about going to law school. Becoming a lawyer, assimilating into the ‘dominant’ culture while working civil cases for his people (Hispanics and especially Mexicans,)all the while taking digs in many professional settings at African American people especially women-he gave me a very detailed description of his thought process and said he was very ashamed but felt it was important to tell someone like me about his innermost thoughts related to race relations and oppression. It dawned on me then also that NBPOC hold the most adversity towards Black People. And I had never fully understood that concept until I left Toronto because I had grown up in VERY multiethnic neighbourhoods most of my life where the common denominator was being first gen children of immigrants.
What would trigger all these moments of honesty in a hotel lobby in the middle of the financial district in NYC? I was about 23/24 years old at the time. It was November 2001 only 2 months after 9/11.As we waited for our shuttle buses in the lobby to catch flights and buses he was reflecting on his life that had flashed before his eyes as the flight he should’ve been on to San Francisco was flying through one of the skyscrapers that burned down that sombre day. He had initially been angry that the airline had cancelled his flight and that he had to wait around-but as he watched the news at the airport lounge; his life was spared and had he been gone he would’ve left behind three daughters and a wife.
So what am I getting at with this travel story 20+ years later? Simple. Don’t wait for a world altering occasion to change your biases. Don’t allow division by race, colour, country,class-pretty much all the shit that distracts us from why we’re here on this planet keep up the hatred and maligned ways on which we think or treat others. That clichéd but truthful statement that life is short during this age of COViD et al and is too much of a historically altering time that is begging us to shift whether we see or not. So the man thanked me for hearing him out. He thanked me for listening intently and apologized for having these types of thoughts towards someone like myself whom he didn’t know! So, that’s the story! He, FINALLY at 50+ years loves himself-took a good look in the mirror after that near death experience and was thankful for his life. He shook off the self hate and learnt to like, get to know and truly respect others. He realized how easy it was to see others as deserving of respect! I went home that evening thinking about where I had biases (not that kind of deep racial hatred though) and talking to this man made me appreciate being from Toronto!
for any of you that have followed this blog over the years, you might have known by now that I’ve travelled quite a bit. I have usually only talked about where I’ve been and the fun activities I’ve planned out. It dawned on me the other day though; that I’ve never talked about the deep learning I experienced on my travels. When I look back at older travel pics and what I felt about the places I went to over the years after leaving Toronto only once in my life and then later living in Japan-those experiences changed me. The other night I was flipping through old photo albums and very specific interactions with profound occurrences that shaped my mindset moving forward…I could only think of four really powerful stories.
I’ll share them here over the next four weeks and they are indeed packed with details that I probably would have never shared in general conversation with anyone. These experiences do speak to where the world is headed right now and why it’s important for humanity and society to get it together personally and culturally-so stay ready to read them! 🙂
I started my internship at Manning, Selvage & Lee on November 2nd 2009. I’m enjoying every minute of it! This internship is very different from what I expected in an internship. It’s a large company with an interactive setting. I’m working on the consumer care side. I’m learning the process and procedure of event planning, media relations and media monitoring for now. The one thing I have realized to be VERY important moving forward is building networks and relationships. Building networks enables you to be more productive on the job. Much more to come but just thought I’d update!