2 Black Juno nominees representing Saskatchewan share struggles, advice

Juno-nominees K-Anthony (left) and Dione Taylor (right), who are representing Saskatchewan this year, share their struggles and advice as Black musicians. Supplied

Both Toronto-based Dione Taylor and Jamaica native K-Anthony are proud of their Saskatchewan roots and the time they spent living on the Prairies.

The province is being solely represented by the two Black musicians with their nominated works for the upcoming Juno Awards.

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“I hope that this is the beginnings of something that’s not so crazy, thinking that Black people and Black musicians coming from Saskatchewan is such a strange idea, especially being recognized for our talents so I think that’s amazing,” Taylor said.

“I know as far as my family’s concerned … my parents emigrating from Jamaica as well, coming to Regina and Canada was a big step and very much an honour and a privilege to be able to move to a country with so much opportunity and so much promise.

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“That’s really incredible that both of us have reaped the benefits of all of our families moving to Canada and us taking advantage of the Canadian dream.”

The Regina-born singer first received a nod with her 2005 Juno-nominated Open Your Eyes for vocal jazz album of the year and is now vying for 2021 blues album of the year with Spirits in the Water.

Taylor said her Saskatchewan roots play a role in her musical style, which she coined “prairie blues.”

“Because I’m from Saskatchewan and because I’m Black, I wanted to write songs that are descriptive of the Black experience, from my perspective coming up in Canada and writing music and writing history as well around those songs,” she said.

“Learning Black history for myself right now has been really important, especially with the prairie blues … and being able to pass on that knowledge to the next generation is really important to me.

“As an artist, it feels really freeing to be able to write these songs about my ancestors and about historical people and situations and be able to hopefully inspire the next generation to write and sing.”

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Kevin Anthony Fowler, whose stage name is K-Anthony, was born and studied music in Jamaica before living in Yorkton, Sask., where his wife worked as a nurse and his son was born.

His first nomination ever, for contemporary Christian/gospel album of the year, comes after recording The Cure at Pulsworks Audio Arts in Saskatoon, and he shared the message of hope behind it.

“The mere fact that we are experiencing this whole lockdown, COVID (pandemic), we needed a cure … and music is one of the best cures,” K-Anthony said.

“Whether you’re going through a financial situation, whether you’re feeling lost. You might feel hopeless, suicidal, doesn’t matter. You could be even happy. Music tends to lift your spirit and give you optimism that nothing else can.”

The nominees shared the greatest struggles they faced as Black artists getting this point in their careers.

“Acceptance is one. It doesn’t always feel like a level playing field but being in Saskatchewan let me realize that you can conquer it,” K-Anthony said.

“For sure you will experience a difference because one, we’re culturally different, we’re different from skin tone but then the more people get to know you, if your message is potent and you have a common ground because we are all human and we have very similar experiences, you have nothing to fear but to embrace that.”

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Taylor said sometimes “there’s a misconception of that all Black people like hip-hop and all Black people like reggae.”

“It’s true to some form, in some sense, but that wasn’t my upbringing and that’s not what I am inside and there’s no disrespect to that,” Taylor said.

“As artists, we, of course, are going to evolve and change … It’s having the freedom to be able to be myself so that’s been a bit of a challenge but an interesting one, though, because it helps me to keep myself on my toes and also helps me to be true to who I am.”

SaskMusic operations manager Lorena Kelly said they were thrilled to see a couple of former Saskatchewanians earn Juno nominations this year and this is the first time two Black nominees are representing the province simultaneously.

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“It’s amazing both for the Black culture and recognition and I know the Junos … have been striving really hard, especially for the past couple of years, to increase the diversity in the awards show and to be more proactive about that inclusion,” Kelly said.

“Any time you see this level of recognition, it’s a really positive encouragement for others that they are welcome in those spaces.

“We know already that the music being created in the community is world-class and among the best. Some of the best artists in the world right now are from the Black community and we couldn’t be prouder of our local artists who are really starting to make inroads.”

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Both K-Anthony and Taylor had similar advice for other Black musicians in Saskatchewan – be yourself.

“Be yourself, be consistent with perfection in terms of production, sound quality. Making very good observation, what is happening in the industry itself and making certain different goals and objectives,” K-Anthony said.

“I would say be yourself and don’t follow what everyone else does. It’s really, really cool to be unique and always listen to that little voice that’s inside of you that says ‘keep going,’” Taylor said.

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These days, Taylor resides in Toronto but still misses a few things from the Land of the Living Skies.

“Probably most things I miss are the sunsets and the sunrise, the prairie sky, nothing is like that in the world that I’ve seen in my experience … and I miss the people too because the people from Saskatchewan are just generally generous with their time, love and energy,” Taylor said.

K-Anthony moved to the United States to explore a music opportunity but still considers Canada his home and intends to move back to Saskatchewan in the future.

Toronto’s The Weeknd leads all nominees with six nods ahead of the 2021 Juno Awards, which will be broadcast nationwide on May 16.

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