Toronto music fans will get an opportunity to see Grammy-nominated US singer Andra Day perform at the Black Diamond Ball at The Design Exchange on February 26th, 2016. This gala event will cap off Black History Month Celebrations. Among the featured performers are some of Canada’s finest urban artists: Jully Black, Ray Robinson, Gary Beals, Carlos Morgan and Canadian hip hop legend, Maestro. We checked our vaults and found this gem!
“Greatness is not measured by where we stand but the direction in which we move.”
Wesley Williams sounded more like a philosopher than a hip-hop superstar during an acceptance speech for one of his many honours recently. Maestro as he is better known, shared his viewpoint during an interview to discuss his many achievements in the entertainment industry.
Though Maestro has managed to carve out an admirable career here in Canada he knows that most urban musicians have unfortunately, been less than successful in achieving this kind of respect from the mainstream music industry.
Williams is easily the most recognized and respected urban music performer in Canada. “I feel the love of people every where I go and I’m real proud of that,” he said humbly. The popular performer recently received a prestigious 2002 Harry Jerome Award, a first for a rap artist – for being “a pioneer in the hip-hop community, encouraging black youth and putting urban music in Canada on the map.” And this summer Maestro took home a coveted Special Achievement Award at the 4th Annual Canadian Urban Music Awards (UMAC) held July 31 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.
“To receive these kinds of awards from my own people, well, that just makes me feel so blessed.”
“Could this get any better!” The ecstatic Maestro continues, “To receive these kinds of awards from my own people, well, that just makes me feel so blessed.”
Born to Guyanese parents Wes Williams grew up in Toronto’s north end listening to reggae, jazz and soca music when at the tender age of 11 he heard Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper Delight” and never turned back. It was Maestro Fresh Wes who broke open the doors for Canadian hip-hop when he released “Let Your Backbone Slide” in 1989, a track that still stands as the biggest selling hip-hop single in Canada. Known today as simply “Maestro”, his debut album, Symphony in Effect broke double platinum in sales and landed him several Juno awards, receiving the first ever for rap/hip-hop music.
Maestro credits much of his popularity and marketability to a unique and bold style and believes he became a novelty with his many followers. “I came on stage in a tuxedo and bow-tie when most guys were trying to imitate all the masters.”
After the release of his second album the performer left Canada for a New York record deal and most thought he dropped out of the music business. When he returned to Toronto in 1998 Maestro released the well-received Built to Last album featuring a number of notable guest artists including crooner Glenn Lewis, another winner at the UMAC Award gala.
When his first album went platinum, it was one of only a few records by a black Canadian to do so. The situation for Canadian urban musicians continues to be a constant struggle for respect, but Maestro believes there is room for optimism.
“A lot has been accomplished in Toronto, but if you look at black music in Canada we have a long way to go”, explains Maestro. “They (the Canadian music industry) refuse to put their money behind urban musicians. Look at Glenn Lewis and how talented he is and successful he has become but he had to go to the U.S. to do it. That’s bullshit.”
Carlos Morgan, another multi-talented Juno award-winning R & B artist from Toronto knows only too well how tough it is for urban musicians here in Canada. Referring to Maestro as “an icon,” Morgan believes the issue comes down to “race and politics.”
“Music industry people in Canada don’t know or understand black music and its roots. They think consumers won’t buy music made by black people. But most successful performers are influenced and managed by the experts in black music. Gospel, rap, hip- hop, reggae, R & B, jazz, rock, even country is rooted in the black community.”
“”A lot has been accomplished in Toronto, but if you look at black music in Canada we have a long way to go”
But, both Maestro and Morgan sense a renewed spirit of cooperation within the urban music community, which they hope will be the key to their collective survival. And Canadian consumers are becoming more educated and conscious of their music purchases and the industry will inevitably be forced to catch up they believe.
In the meantime, Maestro who now manages his own career spends his days working on his long-term plan to be the “largest promoter of Canadian culture.” He has acted in a number of principal roles in movies as well as in the now cancelled Canadian series “Drop the Beat” and speaks to young people with Rubin “Hurricane” Carter about achieving their dreams. Maestro was invited recently to Parliament Hill to participate in an anti-racism conference, another first for a hip-hop artist.
The 34 year old rhymer recently released a new single cut with Saukrates entitled, “Hit ‘m With Another One” which is currently spinning on FLOW 93.5 but deflects talk about any future album plans.
“Right now, I’m concentrating on promoting urban music and culture in Canada.” Maestro ended the interview as he penned his autograph for one of his many fans. “I’m feeling totally hyped. Receiving the Harry Jerome honour and the UMAC award makes me feel very hopeful about the future of urban music in Canada.”