Tuesday, August 18, 2015

True NatCon Should Be CanCon with Soul

There is a reason that you know too many Tragically Hip songs. There is a reason I know way too many Prism songs. It is CanCon. CanCon is the percentage of Canadian music all radio stations licenced by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) must play and it is usually 35%. One out of every three songs on the radio.

The Canadian Content guidelines were introduced in 1968 and in the 1970's there was such a dearth of Canadian Music that I have only recently forgiven Burton Cummings. We suffered so that this generation could have Metric, Tegan and Sara, Arcade Fire and The Trews. It was a painful yet ultimately successful bit of social engineering.

Meanwhile south of the border it seemed Black Radio was supporting their own since always. Artists could develop a career and audience that could cross over into the mainstream. Today the mainstream is dominated by Black Artists.

What Canada needs is a NatCon system that is like CanCon and Black Radio. True NatCon should be CanCon with Soul.

There is a version that does exist now. All Type B Native Radio stations are required to play a percentage of Native artists and provide some kind of programming and even language. The required amount of NatCon can be as little as 2% and it is usually around 15% but some stations are only "encouraged" to play "current Aboriginal music." Some stations deal with their NatCon requirements in a manner similar to many Canadian radio stations in the 1970's by playing music in non prime hours or in specialty programming.

Despite minimal support from Canadian mainstream radio and support from Native radio stations that is spotty at best, Native music in Canada is groundbreaking and glorious. It deserves to be heard. It deserves to be in your head and in your car. All of it. The traditional music current and archival; contemporary music from Buffy Ste. Marie in the 1960's to Buffy Ste. Marie in 2015.

The required amount of Native/Indigenous music should be increased to 35% or more for all Type B Native radio stations and if you want to add the Soul on top of that then play more. There is so much incredible music that 24/7 should be the goal.

It is only in a greater commitment to the music by the people working at the stations and higher requirements by the CRTC that Native artists will make the breakthrough they deserve.

The gaming aspect is an important part of the equation. If a station gets the majority of its money from gaming it should be playing 100% NatCon as they are not really competing in the commercial radio market.

The exposure of the music to a wider audience will build listener awareness and loyalty to the artists, the music and the radio stations. If the artists are registered with SOCAN and the stations are up to date on paying fees and filling reports this would put a lot more revenue into the hands of music creators.

This would ensure that some of our most popular Native artists are getting paid and give emerging artists incentive to keep going.

But don't forget the soul. The DJ's and Programmers at the Native radio stations need to have that feeling that this music has to be shared and that this song is going save your life, this one will make you fall in love and this one will inspire the revolution and this one will shake your ass.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Aboriginal Voices Radio Silence

In a way, I was there at the beginning. It was 1988 and I was working at Sunday Morning for CBC in Toronto producing documentary radio for the nation. One night in the editing bays, there was a very large Native man editing tape in one of the plexi-glassed cubicles. It was audio editing the analog way, listening to tape with headphones on a reel to reel machine until you found your spot, marking the tape with a grease pencil and cutting it with a razor blade. I took the bay next to him. 

I did not know Gary Farmer from the stage although I knew of him and the success of Thomson Highway's Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing was all over Toronto.  PowWow Highway the movie that would make him an international star was not going to be released until 1989. We were two Native guys trying to get our work edited and ready for the national airwaves of CBC. It was a couple of nights in the late 1980's and I do not remember if he talked about Aboriginal Voices Radio but I know we talked about radio and getting our stories heard and being in control of the medium.

When Gary created a pilot episode of Aboriginal Voices Radio in the mid 1990's, he brought me in as talent and had James Cullingham our Executive Producer from CBC produce the show.  Gary and I would do other projects together but never radio. 

He used his great influence as a person and personality to put together the team that got radio licences in most of the major Canadian markets and Aboriginal Voices Radio Network was born. The first licence for Toronto was granted by the CRTC in 2000. Licences in Regina, Saskatoon, Montreal, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary would follow.

Then at some point in the mid-2000’s he was driven out of Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. I don't know how it happened, I broached the subject a few times with Gary but it was not something he would talk about. These days he continues to act on stage and screen as well as singing the blues with his band Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers.

In the years after Gary very little radio was made and the long lonely death spiral began. In 2009, AVRN lost their licenses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Montreal. Many began silent witness to the dream circling slowly inevitably into oblivion.

In 2012,  I offered to take on the AVRN operation in Edmonton. I had family there and had helped build a youth driven Native radio station in Winnipeg. I would go to work in programming and finding talent but also identify job training dollars and other sources of revenue to build the station. The offer was rebuffed. 

A year later, I read the CRTC warnings to AVRN online and sent a number of emails with concerns about the future of the network for the purpose of writing on this blog. On June 13, 2013 I received an email from Jamie Hill, President AVRN. 

“AVR is not at risk of failure at this time. Though I do believe it was at great risk of that in the distant past. When I became involved with AVR in 2004, AVR was about $1.8 million in debt, had very little money coming in, had not filed required financial statements with the CRTC and was thus in a state of non-compliance with conditions of licence, and was well past the CRTC policy maximum of 3 extension requests to get the stations on the air in 6 of its 7 cities. At that point AVR was at great risk of failure.”

I had queried about AVRN’s transparency.

“Also Miles, I would like to comment on your statement about a lack of information regarding AVR. As you are aware AVR operates in an extremely competitive business environment and must behave prudently as far as releasing information about its operations that other competitors could acquire and distort and attempt to use against AVR in Ottawa to advance themselves at the expense of AVR. I view this as AVR doing its best in undertaking sound business practices to ensure AVR's business survival. Rest assured there are numerous other broadcasters in Canada who would like to see AVR fail so they can have an opportunity to try to acquire AVR's radio licences - each of which would be worth tens of millions of dollars to a commercial broadcaster.”

I didn't know what to write and so I kept my silent vigil. 

In October of 2014, the station in Ottawa ceased broadcasting. 

According to Wikipedia, "In December 2014, AVR renamed itself to Voices Radio, as its scope expanded out of the aboriginal realm and more into music from mainstream artists, generally bent towards adult contemporary. In February 2015, Voices Radio began to air old time radio programs from the United States."

On June 25, 2015, The CRTC rescinded all the licenses of the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. 

The death of Aboriginal Voices was greeted with a murmur. There was a story on APTN and a few words here and there. I saw one post on facebook and nothing else. 

It should have been a beautiful thing - a place to share our music and our voices and it was wasted. Silence sings the dream dying.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Stoics and Sundance, Truth and Reconciliation (Part 1)

I was packing my bag for Sundance and I was going to take the two books. Both had something to teach me and that I wanted to share on my journey.

The first I picked out of our yard sale. It had been on the main shelf but as space was needed it made the trip from living room to back room to yard sale box in the shed. Essential works of Stoicism – Marcus Aurelius: To Himself, Epictetus: The Manual, Diogenes Laertius: Life of Zeno, Seneca: On Tranquility.

I had read some of it before but nothing that would suggest the text would live up to the author's introduction that the teachings of the Stoics, "left its mark on both the constitution of the Roman Empire, the teachings of Christianity and eventually it helped prepare the way for the French Revolution."

I started, of course, with Marcus Aurelius: To Himself. It was the movie Gladiator that put Marcus Aurelius back into the cultural ether and into my mind. I could see Russell Crowe shouting out the name as he led the Spartans in the movie 300. (I know. Two different movies but that’s the way it was Gerard Butler entered only in the afterthought of writing.)

To Himself is a list of teachings and philosophies that begins with giving thanks to his parents and grand and great grandparents and the many teachings they shared with him such as “To endure Freedom of Speech, and to have become intimate with philosophy and to have been a hearer.”

To "endure" freedom of speech. That is beautiful.

Epictetus: The Manual is a list of 53 things that one can do in order to live conforming with nature. 

“Of things some are in our power and some are not. In our power is the power of opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning away from a thing) and in a word, whatever are our own acts.”

I would post Epictetus quote about gossip.

“If a man has reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you do not make any defense to what was told to you but reply, “The man did not know the rest of my faults else he would not have mentioned these only.”

The goal of the Stoic was self-sufficiency autarky by conforming to Nature. I began to wonder if Stoic was accurately placed on the Native Americans by the settlers as a term that is close to  Warrior/Philosophers. That something true had been turned into a lie.

Why not? Everything that has been taught to me must be considered a lie. A resumption of presumption. Everything should be questioned. Everything is upside down.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had proven that a great conspiracy of silence hid Canada’s cultural genocide in the implementation of the Indian Residential School System. It is in every school and every history book - lies and deceit towards the willful elimination of Native people and their history.

It was a narrative that was divined soon after discovery and before the arrival really began. These people can not be human beings. They are not like us. They are less than us. 

In Myth of the Savage, Dr. Olive Patricia Dickason writes, “In 1513, a presentation to Pope Leo X had claimed of Amerindians, “they are our brothers.” But there were others who were not so sure, and from the very first, opinion was sharply divided on the subject. As spiritual conformation was considered to be all-important, it was immediately asked why Amerindians had not been informed about the Christian God, Pope Alexander’s bulls notwithstanding, there were those, even in the church, who held that the answer lay in the fact that Amerindians were brute beasts and incapable of learning the mysteries of the faith.”

So began the “Wild Man” period in which tales of cannibals covered in hair and communicating in grunts, dog headed men and other bizarre tales became acknowledged truth. Dickason notes that the reality to early explorers was jarring, “As Claude observed, “In truth, I expected to find fierce beasts, men totally rustic, rude and savage (as we call them), but I found that to be far from reality. Instead I have never encountered any people with such perfection of their natural senses, whether exterior or interior, and I have never heard of a nation which excels them in this.”

There was another book that had my mind and unlike Dickason's beautifully illustrated coffee table size book this was pocket size and one I could easily carry with me. I had discovered it by accident when the book was used as a prop at a wedding. The pages were painted shut and the cover had a faux pearl design and the words "The Kiss" in a tasteful font. I got bored and peeled open the book.

 The Story of ModernScience Vol 8 – Bettering the Race is part of a ten volume set published in 1923 by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York and London. The book celebrated the new school of anthropology as “the science of man in all his relations”. Although fitting in all his relations into the brotherhood of man was as difficult for the scientist as for the religious fundamentalist.

“There are writers of the present day,” says Dr. Pritchard, writing about the year 1840, “who maintain the offspring of the primitive Mosaic pair did not comprehend the uncivilized inhabitants of the remote regions: and that the Negroes, Hottentots, Eskimoes, and Australians are not in fact men in the full sense of that term, or beings endowed with like mental faculties as ourselves.”

The book pointed to the debate on the origin of the species and “associated with this question of the origin of mankind as a whole was the allied question as to the origin of the so-called Aryan Race.”

Its scientific recommendations on bettering the race include “judicious inbreeding” which the royal family is held as the example. 

It was with these teachings and the accompanying perceptions and interpretations weighing upon my mind, the text of Bettering the Race in my bag and The Essentialism of Stoicism in my hand, I headed to Sundance. 


Friday, May 1, 2015

Coming out in Canada

We stopped at Tim Horton's after dropping our daughter off at Western University in London, ON one morning in January. I was short about 15 cents for my order. I cancelled the muffin that I did not need and which I thought was on sale.  The server asked if I had a status card. Which never happens in this part of the world. I said, "I don't have one". She began to share that she had recently helped a friend of hers get a status card. I told her that I could get a status card but I chose not to have one. She seemed to think that I was put off by the paperwork, I assured her I was not. I asked why her friend did not have status, "was she adopted out, a lot of people have been adopted out of their communities". She said no, her friend's family came from Manitoba when she was young and then recently she decided voice trailed off, she did not have the words. I said, "She Came Out". "Yes, that's it", she said.
"Well it can be harder to come out as Native than to come out in the other sense, after all, this is Canada." She paused and then her hand went to her eyes with the napkin she was to give to me. "Oh my god, that's so true...I never thought about it like that." She wiped her tears and pulled her self together. I offered my apologies, "I did not mean to ruin your day", I said. She said it was "Ok". I told her I was Metis Nation, "you know Louis Riel's People", and that is why I did not have a status card. She was pleased that I had shared and she smiled brightly and told me to have a good day. It wasn't until later that I thought about my dark haired server and how people sometimes say "my friend" when they tell stories about themselves.