Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Canada Day Playlist: Artists Pick Their Favourite Canadian Albums of All Time (Exclaim! repost)

Kevin "Sipreano" Howes (Vancouver-based curator, reissue producer behind the Native North America compilation, blogger at Voluntary in Nature)
Album choice: The Black Tie Affair by Maestro Fresh Wes

As someone who has dedicated his life to the study and promotion of Canadian music, repping my favourite Canadian album is no easy task and something that will likely evolve with time as my notion of "nationhood" has. Let's just say that in these days of conservative politics where profit trumps people and the environment, The Nihilist Spasm Band's "No Canada" has been echoing through my brain with unfortunate regularity. While it would be easy to select a still pertinent record from before my era for this piece — albums like Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy - s/t (Birchmount, 1970), Beverly Copeland (CBC, 1970), Willie Dunn - s/t (Summus, 1971), Mashmakhan - The Family (Columbia, 1971), Doug Randle - Songs for the New Industrial State (CBC/Kanata, 1971), Contraction - s/t (Columbia, 1972), and Riverson (Columbia, 1973) all come to mind — I'd like to select something that I actually copped at the time of release, The Black Tie Affair by Maestro Fresh Wes. For those not in the sample-based rap loop, The Black Tie Affair was Maestro's follow-up to his Canadian game-changing debut LP, Symphony in Effect (featuring the all-time classic "Let Your Backbone Slide") and saw the Toronto-born/North York and Scarborough-raised rapper delve even deeper into truth, soul, and consciousness. Re-enlisting the production duties of brothers Anthony and Peter Davis (a.k.a. First Offense, known for their work on Symphony), as well as Main Source's K-Cut, the beats, bar a superfluous remix of "Private Symphony," suitable for bubble baths if nothing else, hit harder than hard with a noticeable jazz and funk influence. Leadoff single "Conductin' Thangs" saw Maestro pay tribute to his Guyanese/Caribbean heritage with an upbeat ska-inspired rhythm track along with his trademark fast rap style. While "V.I.P.'s Only" has a rare guest appearance from the legendary K-4CE, tracks like "Poetry is Black," "The Black Tie Affair" (featured on the essential John Bronski curated Cold Front compilation, also from '91), and "Watchin' Zeroes Grow," all provide ample food for thought. Still, it's "Nothin' At All" (featuring veteran Jamaica-Canadian vocalist George Banton) that struck a chord in my young mind and provided the source of much inspiration.

"Nothin' At All"

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm about to introduce
A smooth groove that I just produced
So don't dance or prance, move your head to the rhythm
As we scan this land that we live in is plagued with racism
C A N A D A, Canada I'm watchin' it decay everyday
Young minds are bein' mentally crushed
And mushed in, thanks to men like Rushton
And others who wanna smother the dream
Of a black-mind revolutionary regime
We gotta redeem ourselves from the chain
By removing all stains of the chain on the brain
We gotta roll with force
Cause the Klan also move in the Great White North
We gotta hurdle the system
Cause hate penetrates multiculturalism
Listen, I want an explanation
Why are Mohawk's bein' kicked out of their reservations
And bein' put in misery
You're stealin' their land to create sporting facilities
The Native man of the land is who you're killin'
And then got the nerve to celebrate Thanksgiving
Claiming every man is equal
I hate to see what y'all got planned for my people
I tell my brothers and sisters to read the signs
To open their eyes cause it's time
To get together, no time to stall
Cause without togetherness we got nothin' at all
Brother, brother
We got nothing at all
Nothing at all
Brother, my brother
We got nothing at all
Nothing at all
My first album, Symphony In Effect, went platinum
In Canada, that made me the first black one
To ever reach that goal
I even got offered a movie roll
I turned it down, I didn't wanna be no star
Portrayin' a nigga that dwells behind bars
They wanted me to act like a prisoner
That ain't positive at all, that's just givin' a
Negative image of black man, forget it
L.T.D. what did I tell 'em, "I ain't with it"
I'd rather work on my sound, and stay down
And move and groove with the underground
God gave me the gift to write
I shed light on the on the blind with a rhyme when I recite
A fresh poem on a page or stage or a story or glory
Not derogatory
I never walk the streets with my nose high
Frontin' like I'm so fly, I never pose high
Why, cause I made a little money
I'm still viewed as an S L A V E see
It doesn't matter how good you can rap jack
It doesn't matter how much money you stack
Cause your black, without knowledge of self you're trapped
And gonna fall
With nothin' at all
Brother, brother
We got nothing at all
Nothing at all
Brother, my brother
We got nothing at all
Nothing at all
Check it out
Third verse, how should I start this
I'll talk about my homie Egerton Marcus
A brother from Toronto who's goddamn great
Olympic middleweight, champ in '88
He excelled to the second highest level in Korea
Bringin' home a silver medal
Made the papers for a couple of days and that was it
Huh, the media wasn't sayin' shit
To keep it short and keep it simple and plain
If Egerton was white he'd be a household name
With commercials and endorsements, like Shawn O' Sullivan
Livin' large and everybody would be lovin' him
Well he's my brother so I give him recognition
I sell a lot of records so the kids are gonna listen
To all the boys and girls
Ben Johnson's still the fastest brother in the world
Don't let the media dictate, be pro black
Cause Jimmy Swaggart got his TV show back
Therefore, we as a race should support
Black achievement never let society distort
Your mind away from comprehension
Cross-cultural pride is what I'm tryin' to strengthen
And lengthen, I want you swingin' to my melody
Just last year the Miss Canada was ebony
To the blacks, the whites, yellow, and browns
Maestro Fresh-Wes is down
With everyone, but I must say loud
Like trash I'm black, and god dammit I'm proud
To be able to reach and teach while I cash checks
Tour all over the world and collect respect
In every area puttin' my fans in hysteria
Show 'em the black man was never inferior
Now everybody's gotta do this
So right about now I say peace to Lennox Lewis
Oscar Peterson and Salome Bey
Michee Mee and her phat DJ
L.A. Love, and my man K-4CE, and of course
My brother K-Cut from Main Source
Self Defence and Ebony MC
And the pimp of the microphone, HDV
First Offence and my man Mr. Metro
For bein' down with the Maes from the get go
With support from y'all there's now way I could fall
With nothin' at all
You know what I'm sayin
We got nothing at all
Nothing at all
Brother, brother
We got nothing at all
Nothing, nothing, nothing at all…

In today's streamlined digital age, it's almost impossible to think that a song and video like "Nothin' At All" would be televised on a national broadcaster, and it was for a short period thanks to MuchMusic, who prior to its current Much incarnation actually played music videos. Unfortunately, without a "Let Your Backbone Slide," The Black Tie Affair didn't fare as well as Symphony in Effect on the retail level and those in search of their next pop fix quickly forgot the album, which only reached 20 on the Canadian RPM charts. Perhaps that was the point. This one was for the heads. Almost 25 years after its release, I still find myself listening to The Black Tie Affair on the reg. Lyrics like "Cross-cultural pride is what I'm trying to strengthen," have informed my archival music work on projects like the six-album Jamaica-Toronto series and the more recent Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 compilation while references to artists like Salome Bey have actually made me investigate this trailblazing singer and activist. Check her out! Despite the theft and atrocities that this country was founded on, Canada is comprised of a wide range of people from all over the world. This is a good thing. Together with the Indigenous people of this land, we have a lot to share and learn from each other. Racism, as we know, is still front-page Canadian news in 2015. It's clear to see that an open and positive, however challenging or difficult, dialogue is needed to improve our relationships with each other. Music can certainly help with this. For artists courageous enough to take on social commentary in their craft, there is an opportunity to help foster unity and togetherness. With songs like "Nothin' At All," Maestro Fresh Wes did just that. This is why The Black Tie Affair is my favourite Canadian album. "Let's give it up for the Maestro!" PEACE

*Re-posted from http://exclaim.ca/Music/article/canada_day_playlist_artists_pick_their_favourite_canadian_albums_of_all_time/Page/5

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