Popular culture and its interaction with politics, activism and aid has been central to our identity as an organization. As we enter 2018, that interaction has become intense. There are important conversations taking place that we want to be a part of, which is why we are starting a series of stories and interviews under the banner: Culture Wars. This interview is the first in that series. Your feedback is important, so let us know what you think on Facebook.
The Scarborough hip hop artist, Tona Tencreddi, released his song War Child at the end of last year. We were intrigued. Last week we talked to him about how the song came about, and how the intersection of politics and culture impacts his work and the work of others.
Born in Ghana, Kwame Nantwi moved to Canada at an early age. He was given the name Tona because of his distinctive tone of voice. He became a MC at the age of nine, recorded his first EP in 2004, and in 2005 launched his own licensing company, Da District Entertainment, a tribute to his home district of Scarborough, which is where we caught up with him.
How did the track War Child come about – what inspired you to write it?
I wanted to write some music accompanied by some visuals to just celebrate black culture and commemorate a moment that was not centred around Black History Month. Some people would wait until around that time to do it but African culture is not a light switch for me, it’s my lineage so I live it everyday.
Where did the title come from?
The title was based around a time we didn’t have free speech. A time we was desecrated for speaking our mind and it’s just acknowledging the many battles and wars raged to give me the freedom to say whatever I want especially through music. I have to think about how I address people everyday being conscious not to offend them. Music is the one platform where I don’t care to think about who it offends…its just unapologetically authentic.
What is the main message in the lyrics?
Main message in it is to always stay consciously aware of what is happening around you. There has always been an imbalance with education opportunity, employment opportunity etc to the point in 2018 black people still feel displaced. It might be uncomfortable for those not affected by it when I speak on it, but I embrace all the challenges by not adopting a victims mentality and just confronting the issues. Not the time to be sugar coating anything.
It seems like Canada – and the Greater Toronto Area in particular – is witnessing a real boom in R&B and Hip Hop at the moment. Why do you think this is?
It’s never been a question about the talent. Canada has always been just as talented musically if not more talented than our counterparts. Now it’s just with the huge success stories of so many artist abroad, it has cast a bigger spotlight over our scene. We still are not owning our own talent that being said. The infrastructure for a Canadian artist to thrive simply does not exist.
Hip hop has always had a political edge – and your music is no different. Who from back in the day inspired you?
Definitely Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Dead Prez they all took that political edge and trail blazed through a industry that combatted it. They told their truth at all costs though, took all the risks in order to change the outcome.
Who inspires you now?
The Freedom Writers – we are collective of writers, producers and artists that have campaigned for more substance in our music. Not during any trends or because it was the most viable popular thing to do. Their work inspires me.
We are living at a time when politics and popular culture are intersecting more and more. When a reality TV President is tweeting abuse at athletes protesting police violence, you know that the boundary is pretty much gone. When artists and celebrities engage with issues and politics, what do you think are the positives and what are the risks?
While we exist in the business of making money in such capitalistic times, it’s just a different set of rules that have to be applied. When celebrities speak up they take the risk of alienating the same people that are providing them that money. Colin Kaepernick has been the perfect example of that. He traded in his millions of dollars to protest racial injustice against Black males…how can you put a price on a code of ethics like that? He actually ended up showing what systematic oppression looks like in professional football, so with those sacrifices come great reward. Musicians and celebrities who say nothing during times of turmoil will be forgotten. Legacy is forever. That’s all I care about leaving.