It's easy to point fingers, but it's more difficult to uncover solutions. It's clear the ECMAs have areas for improvement.
The key is more mutual involvement and initiative from both the ECMA and the hip-hop community. It's a two way street.
An official ECMA "Hip-Hop" showcase is a wonderful suggestion provided by Halifax rapper Joe Buck. Unfortunately ECMA Artist Relations & Member Services Manager, Chanda Bissett, quickly points out that it's not financially possible.
"The ECMA produces a core group of "Official Showcases" and works with partner organizations (such as ANSMA) to create additional "partner" showcases for various genres. With the funding and resources we have, it is not possible for us to take on additional showcases for every genre without partner support."
Prior to 2009, a partner has typically stepped forward to organize a hip-hop showcase. Unfortunately, ECMA involvement has always been limited and they've failed to supply organizers with a list of artist who applied to perform on the hip-hop stage.
In 2007 and 2008, the organizers of the partnered hip-hop showcase were not aware ECMA applications had been submitted by artists to perform on their stage. As a result, the event often fails to showcase talents outside of the organizer's regional circle of connections.
The African Nova Scotia Music Association (ANSMA) does a great job of partnering with ECMA to produce its annual 'Black Vibes' stage. This stage does provide exposure for hip-hop artists, but unfortunately it is limited to Nova Scotia acts of African descent.
The 2007 ECMA festival in Halifax engaged the UMAC in preparing an urban seminar. The result was a packed room, and an encouraging step forward for ECMA involvement in hip-hop. But, Halifax is the biggest hip-hop town in Atlantic Canada, so it wasn't clear how such an initiative might be received in other cities.
Things went downhill in 2008 when UMAC was not involved. A lack of promotion surrounding the urban seminar in Fredericton resulted in poor attendance. In 2009, there was no such component. Ms Bissett agrees that "perhaps it is time to revive our UMAC Partnership for the conference and/or showcases."
Award Category - "Single" vs "Album"
In 2006, the ECMA award committee agreed to debut Rap/Hip-Hop as a 'Single Track' category to ensure the category could be filled with nominees. As a result, rap/hip-hop is one of only three awards categories (out of 32) that celebrate 'single track' instead of 'full album.' In each of the past four years the category has been filled to capacity, and 2010 might be a good time to convert the category from 'Single Track' to 'Full Album.'
Change to an ECMA category is always possible, but requires support from the genre's community. Chanda Bissett, ECMA Artist Relations & Member Services Manager, is keen on bringing forward suggestions to the awards and stages committees, but requires proper documentation. She provided the 'Loud' category, which debuted in 2009, as a great example.
"We heard from individuals in the ECMA community that we should recognize a 'Loud' category. They were required to provide a title and description for the category, and to compile a list of at least five artists willing to submit an eligible album for ECMA 2009" (released between June 1, 2008 and October 1, 2009).
"The ECMA office received this required documentation and it was forwarded to the awards committee. The awards committee approved the recommendation, and then forwarded it to the ECMA Board of Directors who provided the final approval."
In its first year, the 'Loud' category was a success. There were five albums nominated, and legendary Moncton band, Iron Giant, took home the inaugural award. So, while other categories like 'R&B/Soul,' 'World' and 'Instrumental' struggled in 2009, 'Rap/Hip-Hop' and 'Loud' were stronger than ever.
The good news is that ECMA Executive Director Steve Horne is receptive to new ideas and building on the hip-hop momentum. The review committees will be meeting in the coming months, so now is the best time to voice your opinion to ECMA Artist Relations & Member Services Manager, Chanda Bissett ( ecma at ecma.com ).
"The best way to voice your thoughts is to put them on paper. This works well because we have to run these ideas by several individuals. In the coming weeks our committees will be getting together again to review what worked, what didn't and what we'd like to change, add or remove for next year."
Hip-Hop is a hard sell in Corner Brook. A quick sweep of the city and surrounding areas uncovered no rap emcees within a three hour radius. DJ Slue's hometown of Gander is 3.5 hours away. Slue, of hiphophits.net, attempted to organize a hip-hop event at the ECMAs, but had no luck booking a venue in the small town of Corner Brook.
Atlantic Canada is characterized by its traditional and Celtic music, and progressively more so for its rock. These styles of music provide a more long standing fan base and revenue stream, as outlined in publications such as 'Long Tail.' Hip-hop, on the other hand, has been documented to peak early and is subject to the stereotype of being all about image, big cars, and money.
These genre stereotypes might still be providing some of the road blocks. Fortunately artists like Classified continue to prosper and are now achieving "long tail" success. Industry heads in Atlantic Canada have started to turn, as they realize such pigeonholing has been over generalized.
But hip-hop isn't the only genre struggling to grab its share of the musical focus. Celtic music has also been feeling the backseat effect in recent years. The MacGillivrays (Troy, Kendra and Sabra) are known as one of the most talented families of Celtic performers in Atlantic Canada. Sabra MacGillivray, who was the featured Celtic dancer at the end of the 2009 gala show, has been noticing a change.
"Over the past few years, we've seen the musical focus of the ECMA gala show shift slightly away from Celtic, to progressively put more emphasis on rock. This year we were the only Celtic act on the show. We're flattered and thankful, but it's becoming more difficult for traditional music to get the exposure it once did."
Hip-Hop Approach of other Music Award Festivals
On the other side of our country, the Western Canadian Music Awards (WCMA) celebrate music from Manitoba to British Columbia. The event manager of WCMAs, Robyn Stewart, attended this year's ECMA festival in Corner Brook. The two events share many similarities, but also several differences.
"We recognize the power that hip-hop has with the youth of today and that the number of great Western Canadian hip-hop artists far exceeds that which we engage and celebrate. So, we've been working with people like Will Strickland from the Urban Music Association of Canada (UMAC)."
"In Edmonton and Moose Jaw, Will worked hard to get people out of their basements and involved. Consequently, hip-hop at the WCMA has been gaining momentum including the addition of a Rap/Hip-Hop award category, separate from the traditional Urban Recording award and the inclusion of urban specific industry professionals as conference speakers."
Upcoming: Part 5 - Cape Breton in 2010 - Hip-Hop Suggestions
Chad Hatcher was nominated for a 2009 ECMA in the CBC Galaxie Rising Star category for his work with Classified on 'Tunnels & Pathways.' He made it to Corner Brook, but not without struggling to overcome the challenges.
"I'm a dad and I work a day job, so when it comes to attending these sorts of events, it takes some strategic planning especially when you're not making piles of cash from music yet."
"When I was nominated, I didn't know if I'd be able to make it to Corner Brook for the event, so I didn't book any other showcases. But I managed to make it, and I was shocked and thrilled when they asked me to perform at the pre-televised portion of the gala show."
Classified passed up the chance to showcase at this year's ECMA festival and feels other hardworking rap artists should be getting similar opportunities.
"They asked me to do one of the showcases, but I'm getting ready to go on a big tour (Europe with D12) and I wasn't nominated for anything, so I figured it was a good time to get in some family time since I just had a baby."
"I can't hate on the ECMAs though. They're definitely noticing us. I just think the artists that are working, touring and releasing good music should be getting more attention."
Of the nine artists nominated for a 2009 ECMA award in the Rap / Hip-Hop Single Track of the Year category, Halifax's Joe Buck was the only one who travelled to Corner Brook. The reason for the lack of hip-hop artists in attendance was laid out by Joe Buck.
"There just aren't many opportunities for hip-hop artists here. The director of the celtic festival from Glasgow isn't interested in my music. I even stood up at a seminar and asked if any of the panel members would consider working with a hip-hop artist. They were honest and said 'no.'"
Fortunately there were still opportunities. Thursday night, Buck took advantage of the open mic at The Backlot and earlier in the day he took part in the 'Export Readiness Training Pitching Workshop.' He was one of 3 artists at the session chosen to pitch to some of the top names in the industry.
"I met face-to-face with David Hayman of Vapor Music Group who has selected music for everyone from the Blue Jays to car & beer commercials."
In today's industry, Joe Buck's approach to the conference is the best possible for a hip-hop artist.
Upcoming: Part 4 - Why was Hip-Hop side-stepped in Corner Brook & Hip-Hop Approach of other Music Award Festivals Part 5 - Cape Breton in 2010 - Hip-Hop Suggestions
Hip-hop has been steadily gaining momentum this past decade and Atlantic Canada is no exception. The online voice sounded loud and strong as Classified won the inaugural 2009 ECMA Fans Choice Award.
Fredericton's Scotty & The Stars received a 2009 ECMA nomination in the Children's Recording of the Year category for their album 'Here We Go!' Band member, Andy Cotter, has been touring elementary schools in Atlantic Canada for the past month in support of the album and has seen directly the strength hip-hop has with youth.
"About half way through our show, I ask Scotty if he thinks anyone in the crowd has ever heard of hip-hop. The kids go nuts, and it has opened my eyes to how popular rap has grown. And we're working in some pretty rural schools."
Showcases for Hip-Hop artists at the 2009 ECMAs
The 2009 ECMA festival provided more than 200 showcase opportunities. Despite the popularity of rap, the genre only had one gala performer, zero official showcases and four partnered showcases.
The gala awards ceremony featured French Acadian rap group Radio Radio on the big screen. The fun vibe of this Moncton crew landed them performing at ADISQ (the French Junos) this past year.
Radio Radio are well known in Quebec, but their presence in Atlantic Canada still hasn't been established. In fact, one of the lead emcees is often mistaken in his NS hometown for a local folk singer. As a result, a lot of people were asking who those French guys were that rapped about Jacuzzis.
"We're not surprised people haven't heard of us, we perform mostly in Quebec."
Halifax's Hellafactz is a self-proclaimed hip-hop activist with the goal of promoting positivity, while having recorded with the likes of KRS-One and Edo G. Fresh off winning the 2008 ANSMA Upcoming Youth Award, he started off slow, but progressively increased the vibe. 'No Qwestion' was a touching dedication to his daughter.
The man, the myth, the legend, R$ $mooth made the trek to Corner Brook to DJ the event and surprised the crowd by taking to the mic on the Hellafactz's reggae-laden 'All We Can Do'. Veteran Halifax rapper Asia showcased the amazing multi-talented abilities that have been gaining her praise for nearly a decade, especially with her group Nu Gruv.
It's been nearly a decade since Moncton's Nayles first broke onto the scene as part of the group Element Kontrol. He spit the gritty tooth and nails raps for which he's become renown.
Brockway Biggs (myself) always has fun and this was no exception. He had the ladies shaking their cabooses and the fellas throwing their thumbs up, much to the delight of several delegates in attendance.
Upcoming: Part 3 - The Corner Brook Hip-Hop Struggle Part 4 - Why was Hip-Hop side-stepped in Corner Brook & Hip-Hop Approach of other Music Award Festivals Part 5 - Cape Breton in 2010 - Hip-Hop Suggestions
Every February, Atlantic Canadians come together to celebrate their musical past, present and future at the East Coast Music Association (ECMA) festival. This year's host city was Corner Brook, Newfoundland who provided a party nearly without parallel.
So where does hip-hop fit into an Atlantic Canadian music festival in a Newfoundland town of 20,000, where Rogers doesn't even provide cell phone service? The answer: It doesn't. The handful of hip-hop artists who made the trek struggled to find a place and break down barriers, much like the first settlers of this area.
Not so long ago, in 2005, the call went out for the creation of a Rap/Hip-Hop ECMA award category. Artists like fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, R&B singer Dutch Robinson and jazz artist Harvey Miller had been dominating the generic "Urban" category. That year, CBC provided regional coverage, which captured the doubts of ECMA executive director Steve Horne.
Fortunately, the board listened to the Atlantic Canadian hip-hop collective and the "Rap/Hip-Hop Single Recording of the Year" category debuted in 2006. The response was overwhelming and squashed the doubts of the ECMA board. After being overlooked for years, Enfield, NS rapper Classified finally garnered his deserved shine, winning the award in its first three years.
In 2009, Moncton/St. John's beat maker Hotbox won the Rap/Hip-Hop ECMA award for "The Main Event" featuring emcee Spesh K & DJ Y-Rush. Unfortunately none of them were able to make the trip to accept the award. Hotbox was busy with his full time teaching job in Moncton, Spesh K found himself in Toronto and Y-Rush had a DJ'ing gig in Halifax. It's a telling sign that the winds of change soon need to take shape.
Upcoming: Part 2 - Popularity of Hip-Hop in Atlantic Canada & Showcases for Hip-Hop artists at the 2009 ECMAs Part 3 - The Corner Brook Hip-Hop Struggle Part 4 - Why was Hip-Hop side-stepped in Corner Brook & Hip-Hop Approach of other Music Award Festivals Part 5 - Cape Breton in 2010 - Hip-Hop Suggestions
Day 4: DIY, telling fortunes, mackarel and Myles of awards
After a late Saturday night, including baking french fries at 5 am with the crew, I overslept and missed the Industry Awards ceremony. Boo, but with the busy day ahead, I was glad for the extra sleep.
My media accreditation this year has kept me much busier than usual, so I hadn't yet taken in any of the seminars geared at teaching artists about the industry. That all changed around 1 pm on Sunday as I checked out the DIY seminar. Someday, I hope they'll ask me to serve on one of these panels! :)
I also took in another seminar entitled 'Music Managers Forum' (MMF), which was quite informative. Panel members included: * Louis Thomas of Sonic, who manages Great Big Sea and others. * Brookes Diamond, who managed Rita MacNeil and others. * Millie Millgate of Australasian Performing Right Association. * Jordan Verzar of Top Shelf, based in Australia.
Afterwards, I chatted with Millie about Maya Jupiter leaving her post as host of Australia's most renown hip-hop radio show and moving to California to pursue her rap career. We also told me about the beef in the Australian scene between rappers who try to sound american instead of using their Australian accent.
I also chatted with Jordan Verzar about his interest in original sounds, particularly instrumental. When I mentioned Ryan Leblanc, Jordan agreed Ryan was the most impressive act he'd seen all weekend.
I'd worked up a good appetite, so I wandered West street, stopping at Jade Garden for my first real eat-out meal of the trip. The chinese food, particularly the rice after 4 days of potato, was refreshing. However, the fortunate cookie stated: "When in doubt, follow your heart." This struck a cord with me, as lately I've been struggling to figure out what my heart is saying. It feels as though my heart is pulling me in 3 separate and equally passionate directions: software developer / performing artist / marketer & promoter. But there aren't enough hours in each day to pursue all three to the degree of my drive. It can be very frustrating to have no choice but to pass up some amazing opportunities due to lack of time.
After the meal, I returned back to the pad. Clutch felt bad for eating the last of my hot dogs, so he offered to cook up some of the mackarel given to us by the owners of the Hillside Haven Housekeeping Suite. We had to google cooking instructions, but it turned out amazingly delicious!
As I finished the mackarel, I realized I was already late for the awards ceremony, so I made it up to the Pepsi Centre as quickly as possible.
As I walked into the media area, I ran into new acquaintance and all-round good guy Josh Hogan holding an ECMA award.
For the past two years Josh lobbied for the creation of the new "Loud Recording of the Year" category. So it was fitting he got to accept on behalf of the first ever winners, Moncton's Iron Giant.
Immediately afterward, another all-round good guy, Hotbox won the ECMA for Rap/Hip-Hop Single Track Recording of the Year. Unfortunately, as a full-time teacher, he couldn't make the ceremony. That marks 2 years in a row the rap winner hasn't been there to accept the award.
David Myles won folk recording of the year. Swift as ever, he made a funny joke after the presenter of the previous award for the "Konica Minolta Male Solo Recording of the Year" announced that "Konica Minolta" had won the award... haha. The actual winner was Matt Anderson.
I was surprised when Radio Radio took to stage on the televised portion of the gala awards show. This Moncton Acadian rap group spit their lively jacuzzi rap. Afterward I spoke with one of the members and mentioned how I'd heard their name, but that was the first time I had seen them perform. They weren't surprised, since they rarely perform outside of Quebec and France.
After the gala awards show, it took the convincing charm of Super Dude extraordinaire, Don Levandier, and his St. Andrews/Corner Brook friend Maria, to convince me to sacrifice more sleep and attend the Post awards party. Albeit brief, it was definitely worth it.
I had a great chat with Chad Hatcher about hip-hop, Classified and life. I finally met the 2009 Female Solo Recording Artist of the Year, Jill Barber for the first time, as we'd agreed to exchange CDs a few weeks back. As a side note, she graduated high school with my brother's fiance.
Whelan's Gate played host to the Music New Brunswick Stage for the weekend. Saturday night's lineup was eclectic, ranging from folk to instrumental, rap to french and finished with a killer lineup from Forward Music Group
2. Ryan Leblanc. This instrumentalist stood out as one of the top three most impressive performances of the weekend. This one-man wrecking crew showed off just how easy it can be to play harmonica, guitar and cajon (box drum) all at the same time. His talent earned him praise from Australian agent Jordan Verzar of Top Shelf, won him the 2009 ECMA award for World Recording, and landed him performing at the awards gala show.
3 & 4. I missed The Nuclear as I prepared for my set as Brockway Biggs, but most everyone in Atlantic Canada still knows me as Pimp Tea. As usual, I had a blast. Bones hooked me up with a candy ring, which added a nice new element. Girls were shaking their cabooses. The two fellas below had hype "yeows!" for 'Pinch Hitter' and good hand claps for 'Clap Your Hands'. And of course folks were throwing their thumbs up for 'Super Dude'. The few delegates who showed up all had positive things to say, which is always flattering.
Every year, I meet folks who've heard of me through my newsletters, but whom I've not yet met. One such person is Robyn of the Western Canada Music Awards (WCMA).
We had a great chat about the differences between the WCMAs and the ECMAs, in particular the perception that the WCMAs cover country music, which is incorrect. In fact, unlike the ECMAs, they've been working to improve their hip-hop content because they see the connection it currently has with younger crowds. The chat was interesting. As well, they've been moving to smaller cities as of late, such as Moose Jaw (2008), Brandon (2009), potentials for 2010 & 2011 include Kelowna and Whitehorse.
5. Nayles & Clutch (my roommates for the weekend) This NB veteran rapper first came on the scene as part of the group Element Kontrol. The set brought a tooth and nails rap performance.
7. Kevin McIntyre. This french rocker was nominated for a 2009 ECMA in the 'Enregistrement francophone etoiles galaxie radio-canada de l'anne'. The NB comradie was again in full effect, as Music NB director, Jean Surette (of Les Paiens) took to the drums, while Robin again provided bass.
8. The Slate Pacific. Unfortunately I missed them as I was chatting with Robyn from WCMA and catching up with the ECMA hip-hop contingent in Corner Brook: Nayles, Clutch and Joe Buck. It's really too bad because my Fredericton friends Zach and Heather are part of the band.
9. Grand Theft Bus. Okay, I'm bleary eyed... no more band descriptions... enjoy the pictures.
10. The Motorleague. Punk rock amazingness, the way it should be done. They had everyone on stage with them including James Boyle, Share's Zach Atkinson, bassist Robin and Josh Hogan. The pictures explain why I heart the Motorleague.
Day 3: Kids Music vs Rock meets Fiddling vs Vodka in ice
In the lobby of Greenwood Hotel, I ran into Fredericton family, Scott and Andy of the children's group Scotty and The Stars who also double as band members of my favourite jam band, Chillin Room. Another Fredericton friend was in the mix, as Courtney Steeves is currently calling Corner Brook home as she attends Grenfall college and working as assistant manager of The Blackthorn Stick Cafe
I quickly grabbed a shuttle with birthday boy Jamie Steel up to the Roots Stage. I unfortunately missed The Olympic Symphonium, but caught fiddling sensation Samantha Robichaud backed by Chris & Lynn of the Colepaugh Crew. There was something inspiring to see NB's best rock outfit connect with NB's best fiddler. The result was energetic, infectious and inventive.
Then I needed to get back to the pad to cook up some moose meat steaks, and prepare for a night of music at the NB stage. While waiting for the shuttle, I noticed a bottle of Vodka frozen in ice. Unfortunately, Tim Yerxa of The Playhouse confirmed it was empty.
I was late getting to the third and final day of the "Export Buyers Showcase." Nayles gave me a quick drive and I was lucky to catch the last couple songs from Bruce Guthro.
In between performers, they took time out to celebrate birthdays for manager extraordinaire, Bruce Morel, and Jamie Steel of Periwinkle Productions.
1. Bruce Guthro. This folk storyteller knows how to woo a crowd. His songs covered topics from the Blue Jays championship to his website's URL. He's living proof that less is more, ensuring the focus is on the story without distraction.
2. Kendra MacGillivray & Troy MacGillivray. This musical family is known most prominently for Kendra's fiddling ability and Troy's piano playing, but they're always ready to switch up instruments. Kendra was clearly nervous on the mic, but none of that showed in her instrumentation. The highlight had both siblings playing fiddle in unison.
3. David Myles. It seems not so long ago, in 2005, David phoned me to ask for advice on promoting his debut album. Now, in 2009, David Myles is riding a wave of international acclaim. His show has improved immensely since 2005, helped by his move from strictly folk to a more sultry jazz blues sound aided by his backing band, along with some Bruce Springsteen inspired rock. His comfort on stage and crowd interaction brought in the largest crowd of the whole showcase, and with good reason - he provided one of the most impressive performances of the series.
4. MIR. Their light pop sound seemed somewhat generic, but their success is nearly unparalled by any other band of their sort in Atlantic Canada.
And with that, the "Export Buyers Showcase" wrapped up. David Myles and Ennis stood out as the most impressive surprises of the series.