black music canada

Black music business collective fights for racial equality in Canada

It is fair to say that we, as a global community, are living through historic, unprecedented and incredibly trying times.

Between having to adapt to the idea of a new normal in response to the ongoing global pandemic, and the long-overdue shift in the conversation around Black Lives Matter and finally ending systemic racism following the recent tragic deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, and so many others, 2020 has been a heavy one to say the very least.

ADVANCE, Canada’s Black Music Business Collective, is leading that fight within the Canadian music business today.

Founded by Craig Mannix, an A&R; Manager at Sony Music Canada, entertainment lawyer Miro Oballa, and general manager of Warner Chappell Music Canada, Vivian Barclay, the newly formed Toronto-based non-profit organization says its purpose is to serve as “a unified front for Black people working within all sectors of the Canadian music industry.”

As a Black executive who has been working in Canadian music for 30 years, Mannix has experienced institutional racism first hand and says the music industry in this country still has work to do.

“I’ve been around a long time, and I was one of the first people in the Canadian music industry to have an urban music gig, but I still remember being in my early twenties and sitting down with the head of marketing for one of my first music jobs and basically having her say, ‘I don’t know why we've hired you.’

She then proceeded to throw a folder at me, so I opened it up and started reading this study by a research company that they had hired to determine the validity or importance of Black music in Canada."

“I wish I still had that report," says Mannix. "Based on this company's findings they effectively said that they didn’t think rap, hip-hop and R&B; were going to sell in this country to any great extent because there aren’t enough Black people here to support it.

“First of all, that’s like saying only Black people listen to Black music, and that’s clearly not the case otherwise rock and roll wouldn’t be where it is today.

But beyond that, and just to bring it full circle, that was said to me in the early ‘90s. A colleague of mine was basically told the same thing a few years ago only it was delivered as the music and the culture that we’ve grown up with and that we live and breathe is a fad.”

In addition to addressing the ongoing issues of racial inequality and the lack of inclusivity still present within the Canadian music industry, ADVANCE says its wider mission is to develop an infrastructure that not only supports the betterment, uplifting and retention of Black people in the music business but also creates conditions for their long-term success.

“These attitudes and these issues have been around as long as I’ve been in this business, so we need a full-scale change on everything from hiring practices to cultural awareness to education about racial sensitivity for employees.

"I’m not pointing the finger at any one particular person or company, but for the most part, if you talk to people of colour who have been working in the Canadian music industry, they've suffered a lot of transgressions over the years. Sometimes subtle, sometimes more direct, but a lot of the time people don’t even really understand that what they are doing is harmful or racist because it’s been so much in play that it's just become status quo. That’s the systemic aspect of it.”

Beyond the work we all must do as individuals, part of helping to dismantle the racist systems that we participate in each day is holding the corporate, private and government sectors accountable. ADVANCE says it plans to do so through four key areas: Advocacy, Mentorship, Community Outreach and Business Development and Entrepreneurship.

“Right now what we're doing behind the scenes is meeting with all of the music organizations and all of the governing bodies, and we’re educating and talking to them about how we can change things. We have to change people’s policies and the way they approach things across the board, and that includes everybody from the record labels, the streaming services, and the publishing companies to the landscape of radio. It’s gotta be a full-scale restructuring of the industry, and that is really our goal.”

Asked why it has taken us so long to recognize racism within the Canadian music industry at large, Mannix says it’s because of the way we go about it.

“Our racism in this country is never direct. Certainly not as direct or in your face as in America or Europe or other places like that, but Canadians are pretty damn good at institutionalized racism. In fact, we do that the best. It’s very quiet, behind the scenes and passive-aggressive. In Canada, we say, ‘Everybody gets a chance,’ and that’s how we play here. But, what we mean is white people in this industry get a chance.”

Earlier this month, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced that the city would be allocating $1.2 million in grants for Black youth specifically in the arts, culture and business sectors. Mannix says it’s a great start so long as the money is distributed properly.

“As the world continues to experience this awakening of sorts, it’s going to be very telling in these times to come because right now a lot of corporations and a lot of people are saying, ‘What do we do?’ ‘What do we do?’

"It’s very easy to throw money at people, but it’s gotta be strategic because there are good spends and there are bad spends, especially in philanthropy, and you’ve gotta make sure that you’re giving that money to the right place and the right people for the right reasons."

As they say, no man is an island unto himself, and Mannix says that ADVANCE knows it’s going to take the helping hand of many different Canadians to yield significant and impactful change.

“Right now, we’re maybe a month old, so we're moving on our feet, but we're focused and we realize that it’s not just going to be the Black community that is going to help evoke change. We need allies and people who are like, ‘Yeah, I’m down with this. I’m trying to help create structural change.’ That’s important.

"We're encouraging people to go to our website where they can fill out a form and tell us whether they want to be a member, an ally, what area of expertise they have and how they can contribute. Even if it's with ideas, people, companies, organizations, can reach out to us there and we will definitely get back to them so that we can create that dialogue."

Lead photo by

Matt Forsythe

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