Toronto has been in the music industry’s spotlight for some time now. Globally recognized artists such as Drake, The Weeknd and Tory Lanez all hail from Toronto and the surrounding area.
Despite this, some areas of the Greater Toronto Area, like Peel region’s Brampton and Mississauga, still have few opportunities for local acts to perform.
“Historically it’s harder for artists to gain recognition coming out of Peel region,” Ramar Smith says. “Often times in order to make it as a musician from the GTA you have to go to Toronto and rep Toronto.”
Smith is one of the production advisors of the Sauga City Music Fest (SCMF), which spotlights homegrown artists through film, panel discussions and music performances. The festival spans over a period of three days and includes several events that aim to show off the talents of local arts communities. Put on by IRIE Music Fest Incorporated, this festival is specifically designed as a platform for local Peel artists.
“This is an opportunity for artists to grow and rep their real roots,” Smith says.
Day one of the inaugural festival, held at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre last fall, featured several panel discussions on topics ranging from access to funding and alternate revenue streams for artists to civic and community engagement and building a culturally diverse music scene in Peel.
“For me. Brampton was like coming into myself a little bit more.”Haviah Mighty
Day featured special presentations of two feature films exploring the early years of hip-hop in Canada and the U.S.: Raisin’ Kane: A Rapumentary, which follows Juno-nominated Scarborough rap group Citizen Kane as they try to release their first full-length album and Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, which centres on freestyling and battle rap and contains raw footage of artists such as Mos Def and the late Biggie Smalls freestyling.
Day three brought SCMF to a close on a high note with the artist showcase. Performing artists included Noyz, Sheldon Sabastian, Renée Wynter, YESWAY, Liv Marie, S4G4 and 2019 Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty. The multi-level world-class theatre that seats 1,300 set the perfect tone for the evening’s events. The echo and reverberations of banging basslines, sultry vocals, raw and gritty rap, and boosted bass instrumentals could be heard throughout the theatre but paled in comparison to the array of applause that encapsulated the hall. The performers took complete advantage of the opportunity to show out for their cities and the crowd took notice.
“It was a great experience to feel like I am a part of history,” Sheldon Sabastian, a 26-year-old recording artist from Brampton, says. “This was my second performance as a solo artist so being out there in front of a crowd that I hadn’t been in front of before was great.”
Sabastian says there are a lot of talented artists who simply don’t get the opportunities they need to move their careers forward.
“Things like this create that opportunity for them to get out there…the opportunity is priceless; you can’t really pay for things like this. I hope that this stays for many years to come.”
For some artists it’s easier to abandon their ties to Brampton or Mississauga and opt instead to claim Toronto as their home base because of this lack of opportunity and support.
However, there has been a shift in this recently with the emergence of some artists from Peel being thrust into the limelight. There’s a growing list of artists from Peel embracing their local roots, including Tory Lanez, Alessia Cara, S4G4, Director X and PartyNextDoor.
“Brampton is where I was able to kind of have more artistic expression and freedom,” Mighty told this writer in a previous interview. “When I was growing up in Toronto, there was much more sheltering that was going on. The things around me, the environment, the violence that we were growing up in, and I guess society as a whole was just not very accepting. When I came to Brampton, in the school system I started to excel in my grades, multiculturalism was more apparent where I was growing up and I was able to identify with myself more by being able to socialize and focusing on school.”
The aforementioned Haviah Mighty, who was one of SCMF’s headliners, credits her Brampton roots with fostering her creativity.
In 2017 Mighty released an EP entitled Flower City paying homage to the city she says played a large part in shaping who she is today. The seven track EP plays off the name “Flower Town” commonly associated to Brampton for its large greenhouse industry.
“For me,” Mighty says, “Brampton was like coming into myself a little bit more.”
Photos © Keysha Watson + Urbanology Magazine