TORONTO — Director Andrew Hamilton says his new musical, The Onyx Experience, is not only a poignant celebration of Canada’s underappreciated black rock scene, but a rehab for a musical genre he’s been told it couldn’t be of its own making.
The film maker remembers being a passionate rock and metal fan growing up in Markham, Ontario, but found that the people around him often brought down his tastes.
Everywhere and every corner I turned, he said, everyone there was waiting to say to me, ‘Hey, this is white music.’
“I’ve had other black people say to me, ‘Man, why are you listening to that?’ “And it made me sad because I was like, ‘We don’t even know what ours is. That’s how wrong the culture has made us’.”
Hamilton hopes that The Onyx Experience, which debuted on CBC Gem last week, will help stop black rock listeners from being driven out by proving that black Canadian rock’s talent is still alive and thriving.
Filmed over two days, the “Live Concert Art Film” depicts the performance of punk pop star Fefe Dobson, the Polaris Prize shortlisted band for the OGBMs and Juno-nominated Sate – the daughter of famous jazz and blues singer Salome Bay – performing some of their best. . Well-known songs in an intimate atmosphere without the presence of an audience.
Between each show, the camera pans to a small group of black creators, and other people of color, as they work to unify the show. They talk about their love of rock music and their hope that the film will act as a catalyst for the next generation of black musicians who see themselves as actors.
But without their determination to make the movie a reality, there’s a good chance the “Onyx Experiment” will never see the light of day.
Executive producer and former talent scout for the record company David Cox says he began shopping for the film last year, believing his idea would be a perfect fit for Canadian media companies that were then pledging to better support black Canadian storytellers.
Instead, he found, enthusiasm was not only muted, but practically non-existent among the people signing the checks.
“It kind of bothered me that a lot of companies, when the killing of George Floyd happened, they all had this appearance: We need to make room for black voices because they weren’t heard,” said Cox, who is also a director of Sate. .
“I knocked on a lot of doors, and none of them came back (to say), ‘Yeah, let’s support this.'”
Although he had some financial assistance from a nonprofit worker in the music industry and additional funding from a distribution deal with CBC, Cox had to draw on his bank account to meet the movie’s $125,000 budget. He said about $40,000 of that money came from his “emotion pocket”.
He hopes to recoup some of that investment through crowdfunding efforts underway at Indiegogo.
Cox said he hopes “The Onyx Experience” will transcend its role as an entertainment musical and end up “inspiring the music industry to do better” with more representation of black Canadian artists and acknowledgment that black rock’s history and roots are often undisputed.
He cited classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and the Rolling Stones as a few of the works that he credited lesser known black musicians as their inspiration.
He added, “The thing Sat always said to me was, ‘The first punk artists were black and blues women.'”
“They were those who were so bold and hasty with their words… they talked about sex very frankly; having the same kind of radical, evil opinion. They gave birth to it.”
In the closing credits, the filmmakers decided to celebrate those who came before them by running a list of “every black rock artist we could think of,” in recognition of their roles as pioneers.
The toast to “Special Thanks” includes some household names, such as BB King and Willow, along with black musicians many may not have heard of, including the late Thin Lizzy guitarist Phil Lynott and original actor Faith No More, Chuck Mosley.
“This is just the beginning of something bigger,” Cox said.
“Because I think we should shine a light on us. We can’t expect people to give it to us.”
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on June 12, 2022.
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