On the heels of the world premiere of The Onyx Experience, a new live concert film that traces Black rock music in Canada, the conversation around north-of-the-border genre trailblazers is rightfully reignited.
The Onyx Experience 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 doing rock music in Canada,” says the film’s producer and Toronto-based music industry veteran David “Click” Cox. “There are not enough opportunities for Black artists to be heard and seen.”
So where can a complex, dynamic genre like rock ‘n’ roll go from here? Back to its roots, in the hands of innovative Black artists who are ready and willing to make some noise, we argue.
Below, meet some of Canada’s most fearless new rock voices who are paving the way for the genre’s next generation.
Backxwash’s music is a riotous alarm — it snaps you out of anything you were doing before, demanding your undivided attention. Horrorcore, hip hop and industrial metal rule the sonic landscape Backwash (a.k.a. Ashanti Mutinta) plays in, creating music that is as bone-chilling as it is exhilarating. The Montreal- and Ottawa-based artist rose to widespread acclaim after her album God Has Nothing to do With This Leave Him Out of It won the 2020 Polaris Music Prize.
Existing at the intersection of hip hop and metal, Mutinta has carved a particular place for herself in Canada’s music scene, one that’s helped her gain fans worldwide, leading to tours in Europe and the United States.
Cam Kahin is an artist on the brink of something special. The Toronto-based up-and-comer has a singular sound: part alt-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 when he was 12 years old, and has been honing 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 Sink In in March, working alongside his childhood hero, Nicolas Fournier, a well-respected engineer and mixer who has worked with both Muse and Biffy Clyro.
While Jasmyn Burke has been a staple in the Toronto indie-rock scene for over a decade now, the former Weaves frontwoman is still very aware of how rare it is to see women of colour onstage. In an interview with Exclaim! recently, to promote her debut solo album, In the Wild (out now), she said: “For me, sometimes, especially being in music, I might be the only woman of colour playing a festival or [being] in a certain atmosphere. You see how certain people are marginalized, you see how everyone has their own pain that they’ve been through that maybe makes them feel like they are not part of something.”
Mississauga post-hardcore band Joncro has been making music “with a tropical twist” since 2015, as its bio reads. That twist refers to guitarist/singer Daniel Wilson’s Jamaican heritage, which seeps deeply into the band’s identity, including its name, which is patois for vulture, specifically turkey vultures that are native to the Americas. (The band is rounded out by drummer Matthew Mikuljan and bassist/keyboardist Kieran Christie.)
Last year, Joncro released its debut album, Richmond Station, via Get Better Records.
“You can watch me work twice as hard as my counterparts because this is how I was created. I was born and bred in a white world. My uniform was one of unison, and it was one of self-loathing. The kinks in my hair, and the power of those who paved the way before me, are my reason to succeed. I will no longer smooth out my complexion to suit your goddamn ignorance.”