Celebrating the black artists of Montreal’s music scene
Montreal is home to a famous and vibrant music scene, which is indebted to black culture and music. Black musicians have made a major contribution to the local music community, especially in the field of Jazz in the 20th century and continues in all genres today. In honor of Black History Month, The McGill TribuneThe staff at Arts & Entertainment spotlight four remarkable black musicians from Montreal who made great music.
If Amy Winehouse and Snoh Aalegra had a “child voice” it would be Hanora. The texture of her voice is the aural equivalent of feeling silk and lace with a single wave of her hand. Engaged in a gracious and powerful vulnerability, Hanorah’s words could easily stand alone as poetry. Yet the lively tempo of his music does not succumb to the emotional gravity of his lyrics. Hanorah’s music, while seemingly rooted in the soul, isn’t limited to it either. “Long road,“ for example, with his steady, ambulatory rhythm and guitar instrumentals, he has the slightest pinch of country combined with a hybrid pop-soul voice. With an indomitable voice and poignant lyricism, Hanorah, without a doubt, should be on your playlist.
A longtime fan favorite of Montreal’s underground community, Zambian-born Backxwash should be on everyone’s radar, and for good reason. Win the Polaris Prize in 2020 for his album God got nothing to do with it, leave it out of it–by effectively securing the highest accolades offered to Canadian artists — Backxwash is indisputably at the forefront of not only hip-hop and rap, but also the very state of contemporary music production. By layering hard-hitting streams on topics ranging from gender identity, racism, and witchcraft to chirping industrial beats, Backxwash takes listeners into its beautifully gruesome world. Aside from being an extraordinary, once in a lifetime talent, Backxwash is also quite funny to Twitter, offering jokes on motivational speakers and knowledge in his wildly inventive creative process.
Harold “Steep” Wade (1918-1953)
Wade was a legendary Canadian jazz musician in the 1930s and 1940s, sharing his musical gifts on piano and saxophone. Born into a Montreal family reluctant to music, Wade combined his autodidact and his studies under Milton smythe to navigate successfully in the classical and jazz styles while in duel. He played the alto saxophone for Myron Sutton’s Canadian Ambassadors and later played the piano with Louis Metcalf International Group at Café St-Michel. As a member of Boptet by Wilkie Wilkinson, Wade helped create the earliest known bebop recordings in Canada. At Café St-Michel, Wade befriended and mentored a young Oscar Peterson, extending his own legacy in jazz through his mentee. Despite the racial tensions in post-depression era music affecting his trading and recording abilities, Wade’s deep dedication to music earned him respect as one of the greats of the growing jazz scene at Montreal.
If you’ve ever attended Igloofest, Osheaga, or a house party in the Milton-Parc neighborhood, there’s a good chance you’ve followed Kaytranada‘s beats. Born in Port-au-Prince and raised in Montreal, the DJ / producer and winner of the 2016 Polaris Prize has a warm and reserved sound signature, but always dancing. There are no dull moments on any of his two LPs, 99.9% and Bubba, and his 2013 Boiler room performance continue to live in infamy both as a stellar DJ set and as a fascinating documentation of the club’s social dynamics. While Kaytranada’s drum beats vary in complexity and tempo, their pitch sounds hollow and deep, giving the digitally produced dance floors an analog feel. Combined with airy and distorted synths, an ever-moving bassline, and killer vocal features, Kaytranada has mastered the perfect formula to produce Grade A Bops.