Music Places: Halifax, Nova Scotia

By Katerina Ivanova

Back in May, I visited the Atlantic province and conducted interviews and roundtables with stakeholders from Nova Scotia’s music ecosystem. More on the project can be found here: https://www.sounddiplomacy.com/nova-scotia

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In this blogpost, I’d like to talk about Nova Scotia*’s capital city, Halifax, and its rich urban music, both past and present. With a population of over 400,000 inhabitants, Halifax is the largest urban area in Atlantic Canada and is Canada’s 13th most populous city.

Although most may not regard Nova Scotia’s capital to be a historic Canadian music city comparable to the likes of Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, Halifax is home to many hidden musical gems. The city’s musical legacy is built upon many culture-bearers including Sloan, Joel Plaskett, Anne Murray, Holly Cole, Natalie MacMaster and Buck 65. Nowadays, Halifax is well known to Canadian musicians for its affordable living costs and collaborative culture.

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The city has a complex racial and social history. In 1946, Halifax-born businesswoman and activist, Viola Desmond, challenged racial segregation when she refused to leave the “whites-only” section of a local cinema. Fast-forward to over 70 years later, Desmond became the first Canadian woman to be featured on the 10 CAD banknote in 2018.

Much like elsewhere in North America, Halifax implemented urban renewal plans in the 1960s that displaced many African-Canadians from established settlements to government-subsidized urban residences, while “simultaneously undoing generations of identity and ownership” according to local music journalist Adria Young. More recently, the North-End neighbourhood, home to the descendants of many of the relocated African Nova Scotians, has become the eye-candy of property investors and regeneration efforts that have brought flashy condos and trendy new businesses to the area. With them, fears of gentrification and rising living costs threaten the livelihood of the neighbourhood.

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Despite the challenges, in particular the predominance of Halifax’s pop and rock scenes, the city has nurtured a strong and growing rap and hip-hop scene; spearheaded by working class, African Nova Scotian and Indigenous artists and audiences. Zamani, Reeny Smith, Corey Writes, Aquakultre, are some of the young artists making waves in Canada and beyond, alongside more well-known names such as Ghettosocks.

CKDU, the largest campus and community radio station in Atlantic Canada has been a culturally significant institution since 1985. The station hosts six different ‘hip-shop’ shows. $mooth groove$ showcases and interviews the best of the local and international scene and has been on air for over two decades. While a more recent show, Black Power Hour, blends conscious hip-hop and hosts discussions surrounding social, political and cultural issues pertaining to the communities of Black Nova Scotians in the province.

Hopscotch Halifax, a community and festival that was established 10 years ago, celebrates and showcases the best in local hip-hop talent; from dance to DJ's, graffiti and MC's. The festival team is passionate about including a number of all-age shows, free or at affordable prices to encourage young people to participate in the city’s music scenes.

902HipHop is a young company founded and managed by Melissa MacMaster. It creates opportunities for local hip-hop artists by providing services such as full-service artist management, music licensing and sync for TV & Film music placements. It represents a handpicked roster of talented local artists, such as Quake Matthews and MAJE.

The Remix Project, a Toronto headquartered organization that provides top-notch alternative, creative, educational programs, facilitators and facilities for young people from disadvantaged, marginalized and underserved communities recently held a two-day conference with panels, workshops culminating in a packed hip-hop showcase at one of Halifax’s most beloved live music clubs, The Marquee, that I was lucky enough to attend. The entire event was free for all 16-29 year olds who had applied in advance.

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Have a listen at this playlist of Nova Scotian rap, hip-hop & R’n’B artists, curated by Halifax producer Ghettosocks for Music Nova Scotia.

*Nova Scotia includes areas of the Mi'kmaq nation and it was home to the Mi'kmaq when European colonists arrived in the early 17th century. The province has the oldest African-Canadian community in Canada.

All photos by Katerina Ivanova, Sound Diplomacy