On the heels of the June 9 world premiere of The Onyx Experience, a new live concert film that traces black rock music in Canada, the conversation around the pioneers of the genre north of the border is rightfully reignited.
The Onyx Experience, visible above and on CBC Music’s YouTube channel, questions the lack of black artists present in contemporary rock, despite the genre’s undeniable roots in the black community.
“I produced this film to celebrate and shine a light on black artists making rock music in Canada,” said David “Click” Cox, the film’s producer and Toronto-based music industry veteran. “There are not enough opportunities for black artists to be heard and seen.”
So where can a complex and dynamic genre like rock ‘n’ roll go? Back to its roots, in the hands of innovative black artists who are ready and willing to make some noise, we support.
Below, meet some of Canada’s most fearless new rock voices paving the way for the next generation of the genre.
Backxwash’s music is a tumultuous alarm – it tears you away from whatever you were doing before, demanding your full attention. Horrorcore, hip hop and industrial metal dominate the soundscape in which Backwash (aka Ashanti Mutinta) plays, creating music that is as chilling as it is uplifting. The Montreal and Ottawa-based artist received widespread acclaim after her album God has nothing to do with it, leave him out of it won the 2020 Polaris Music Prize.
This album found her rapping over samples of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin about gender, identity, her homosexuality and her upbringing in Zambia. The anger and frustration that emerge from Mutinta’s guttural raps are an expulsion of resentment and pain, the lyrics a much-needed cathartic release. As stated in her biography: “She allows herself to be angry.”
These genres lend themselves well to Mutinta’s mission, as explosive drums, relentless guitar riffs and searing synths clash fiercely with the raw desperation of his vocals.
Apart GHNTDWTLHOOI, Mutinta has released three more albums and a number of EPs, most recently I lay here with my rings and my dresses in 2021. Mutinta enlisted collaborators like Clipping., Ada Rook, Lauren Bousfield, Nowhere2Run and more to flesh out her sound in what she said revolver magazine she calls “extreme rap…it’s like industrial music [taken] at the top level.”
Existing at the intersection of hip hop and metal, Mutinta has carved out a special place for herself in the Canadian music scene, a place that has helped her gain fans around the world, leading to tours in Europe and the United States.
Cam Kahin is an artist on the verge of something special. The young man from Toronto has a singular sound: part alternative rock, part lo-fi, part experimental sludge.
Kahin is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who grew up on heavy doses of Muse, Cage the Elephant and Biffy Clyro. He started making music at the age of 12 and has continued to hone his skills ever since, most recently participating in the Soundstock Academy program for emerging black musicians in the GTA. Kahin released his first EP, let it flow in March, alongside his childhood hero, Nicolas Fournier, a highly respected engineer and mixer who worked with Muse and Biffy Clyro.
There’s a tension in his writing – that of a youngster confronting a world that doesn’t seem exactly made for him. As he sings about smoking too much weed, everyone around him needs “four, five pills to sleep” and is his worst enemy on his latest single “queen street“, the agonizing lyrics become an expert insight into the banality of life in your twenties.
Kahin’s music sounds hazy and coarse, and it’s in his live sets that the wild, guttural range of his voice really comes to life. He still has his legs, but his opening performance for Irish band Inhaler at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theater in April proved he can most certainly hold his own.
While Jasmyn Burke has been a staple of the Toronto indie-rock scene for over a decade now, the former Weaves singer is still keenly aware of the rarity of seeing women of color on stage. In an interview with Exclaim! recently, to promote his first solo album, In nature (out now), she said, “For me sometimes, especially being in music, I’m maybe the only woman of color playing a festival or [being] in a certain atmosphere. You see how some people are marginalized, you see how everyone has their own pain that they’ve been through that maybe makes them feel like they’re not part of something.”
In 2013, Burke’s band Weaves garnered international attention for their out-of-the-box rock that sounded like the value of a kitchen sink, drawing inspiration from acts ranging from Led Zeppelin to Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The group has released two critically acclaimed albums, the 2016 self-titled debut and 2017’s Wide-open, with former winner Weaves a nomination to the 2017 Polaris Music Prize shortlist. Their last single dropped in 2019, and shortly before the pandemic hit, Burke disbanded Weaves.
Now embarking on another transformation – before Weaves, Burke fronted another band called Rattail – Burke (who has moved to Hamilton now) is looking for a fresh start on In nature. Burke’s Comfort Zone still performs alongside songs built on rock foundations, but she also incorporates synth and dance elements into her new project. With each new era of Burke’s career, she vocally expresses doubts about pursuing music — and we’re glad that every step of the way, she’s continued to forge ahead.
Mississauga post-hardcore band Joncro have been making music “with a tropical twist” since 2015, as their bio puts it. This twist references guitarist/vocalist Daniel Wilson’s Jamaican heritage, which seeps deeply into the band’s identity, including their name, which is a patois for vulture, specifically the red-headed vultures who originated of the Americas. (The band is rounded out by drummer Matthew Mikuljan and bassist/keyboardist Kieran Christie.)
Their blend of experimental noise rock, garage rock and post-hardcore is infused with Wilson’s personal storytelling, which draws inspiration from Caribbean music, culture and mysticism as well as his own past childhood years. to live in Jamaica. For as much as Toronto gets the most glory from being a diverse and multicultural city, Wilson praised Mississauga in particular for its ability to accommodate people from different backgrounds and genders, often on one bill. In 2017, Wilson said Now Magazineto diversify both the rock and Toronto/Ontario scenes: “I see the need for diversity, but I’m also not afraid to add more. One of the first ways to increase our visibility is to not be afraid to say, ‘Hi, I’m here.'”
Last year, Joncro released his debut album, Richmond Stationvia Get Better Recordings.
“You can see me working twice as hard as my counterparts because that’s how I was created. I was born and raised in a white world. My uniform was in unison, and that’s how I was created. was that of self-loathing. The flaws in my hair and the power of those who paved the way before me are my reason for success. I will no longer smooth my complexion at the whim of your damned ignorance.
This is just a fraction of the extraordinary monologue that Kayla Fernandes, singer of Vagina Witchcraft and non-binary activist, delivered at a Black Lives Matter event in Winnipeg in response to the killings of black citizens by police officers in America North. A recording of the powerful speech, which was met with relentless roars from the crowd, is also the introduction to the band’s self-titled EP, nominated for the 2020 Polaris Music Prize – a ferocious six-song release that solidified the band from doom-metal as one that will rip through noise to spark change, both inside and outside the music scene. The band’s searing, reverb-soaked guitars and Fernandes’ explosive delivery are at the heart of their hardcore anthems, but it’s Vagina Witchcraft’s overpowering lyrics around anti-racism and sanity that will pave the way for the next wave. Canadian metal.