The president and chair of the African Nova Scotian Music Association (ASMNA) is retiring from his role after 21 years, but says there’s still work to do to get local Black artists noticed on bigger stages.
“I’m just trying to wean myself out a little bit and let somebody else be in charge,” Lou Gannon said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. “Every single place, business, whatever it is, always needs some new blood to make things change.”
Gannon said ANSMA recently received funding to hire an executive director, consultants, program staff, full-time administration staff, and to possibly lease a new office space.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the incident [killing of George Floyd] in the States that everything has gone Black all of a sudden, and everybody’s trying to show that they’re not on the other side, that they wanna help. But anyway, we were fortunate enough in September to get one of the grants that I put in for every year,” he said.
Gannon said a new chairperson was hired at a recent AGM who will take over his role. ANSMA will soon be advertising for the role of executive director.
Black artists continue to face barriers
ANSMA was founded in 1997 to advocate on behalf of Black Nova Scotian music artists.
Gannon said ANSMA was formed after a roundtable meeting hosted by the Black Business Initiative and various Black Nova Scotian music artists, including members of Four The Moment and Mark Riley.
“The reason that it got together was because for our artists that were out at the time … there were no awards for them,” Gannon said. “You had [East Coast Music Association awards] at the time because they started a couple years before that, but there was no genre of music or no awards for them, the Black artists, at their event.”
A board of directors was created and the association organized a showcase called Black Vibes, which still runs to this day as part of the annual ECMAs and Nova Scotia Music Week.
ANSMA held its first awards ceremony in 1999. It was there that Gannon, a former guitar player with a band called Free Stone, received a heritage award.
A couple of days later, he said he was asked to sit on ANSMA’s board of directors. Gannon eventually took on the role of president and chair of the board of directors and has served in the role ever since.
“Being a Black artist, we didn’t have all the opportunities,” Gannon said. “I mean right now Music Nova Scotia, they have an African Nova Scotian Award that we were involved in, the Bucky Adams Award, but those awards weren’t there.”
Gannon said ANSMA has an ongoing working relationship with Music Nova Scotia, but many Black artists continue to face barriers.
“The music industry is just like any other. It’s like education or employment. People are being passed over because of who they are, because of who they know, that kind of situation. It’s got nothing to do with quality and skill level,” Gannon said.
“I just came back from Sydney with Music Nova Scotia, and we did our Black Vibes show. Well, we sat and talked with those guys, and things worked out very well, and then when we got to the venue, well, the venue’s not a good venue. There’s always a little thing that ends up messing things up and [we’re] taking a step backwards.”
Local artists have talent for international stardom
In addition to Black Vibes and the ANSMA Awards, Gannon said ANSMA runs about 18 shows each year, including a Freedom Festival with HRM, and a show called Lift Every Voice with the Halifax Public Libraries.
They also conduct music industry training and a mentorship program for artists called Deeper Than Music, which is funded by the Association of Black Social Workers.
“The goal of ANSMA, besides the mandate, was to create a start that’s gonna be international,” Gannon said. “In the past, you had Four the Moment, you had Carson Downey, you had Jeremiah Sparks, you had Gary Beals, you had Jordan [Croucher]. And now there’s a new bunch starting out right now that are getting really good recognition.”
Though he said none of them are yet at “that Usher-level,” Gannon points to Black Nova Scotian music artists like Owen ‘O’Sound’ Lee, Reeny Smith, Keonté Beals, and Zamani Millar as artists who have the quality and skills to reach an international level of stardom.
“What I find most interesting is that the new modern artists nowadays are looking at their craft as a business. In my day it was a weekend gig or sort of a hobby,” Gannon said.
“The thing is trying to get our young people to understand that this could be a livelihood for them.”