Onyx Experience Filmmakers Explain How Love of Black Rock Music Made Them Strangers


TORONTO — Director Andrew Hamilton says his new concert film “The Onyx Experience” is not just a powerful celebration of Canada’s oft-underappreciated black rock music scene, but a reclaiming of a genre he’s been said it couldn’t be his.

The filmmaker remembers being an avid fan of rock and metal bands growing up in Markham, Ontario, but found that people around him often hated his tastes.

“In every space and every corner that I turned, everyone was there to tell me, ‘Hey, this is white music,'” he said.

“I had other black people like, ‘Oh man, why are you listening to this? And it made me sad because I was like, we don’t even know what’s ours. That’s how badly culture has hurt us.

Hamilton hopes “The Onyx Experience,” which debuted on CBC Gem last week, will help end black rock listener rejection by proving that black Canadian rock talent is alive and thriving.

Shot over two days, the “live concert art film” captures performances by pop-punk star Fefe Dobson, Polaris Prize-nominated band The OGBMs, and Juno-nominated Sate – daughter of the famous blues and jazz singer Salome Bey – who perform some of their best-known songs in an intimate setting without the presence of an audience.

Between each performance, the camera pans to a small group of black creators and other people of color, as they work to bring the show to fruition. They talk about their love of rock music and their hope that the film can serve as a catalyst for the next generation of black musicians who see themselves represented.

But without their determination to make the movie a reality, chances are “The Onyx Experience” would never have seen the light of day.

Executive producer and former record label talent scout David Cox says he started buying the film last year, thinking his idea would be a perfect fit for Canadian media companies which were then pledging to better support storytellers. black Canadians.

Instead, he found that enthusiasm wasn’t just stifled, it was virtually non-existent among people signing checks.

“It bothers me a bit that a lot of companies, when the murder of George Floyd happened, all had this epiphany: we need to make room for black voices because they haven’t been heard,” said Cox, who is also Sate’s manager. .

“I knocked on a lot of doors, and none of them came back (to say), ‘Yeah, let’s support this.'”

Despite securing financial aid from the music industry nonprofit Factor and additional funding from a distribution deal with CBC, Cox had to dip into his bank account to meet the 125,000 budget. $ of the movie. About $40,000 of that money came from his own “pocket of passion,” he said.

He hopes to recoup some of that investment through an ongoing crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo.

Cox said he hopes “The Onyx Experience” transcends its role as an entertaining concert film and ultimately “inspires the music industry to do better” with greater representation of Black Canadian artists and recognition that the he history of black rock music and its roots are often underestimated.

He cited classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones as some of the acts who credited lesser-known black musicians as their inspiration.

“Something Sate always told me was, ‘The first punk artists were black blues women,'” he added.

“They are the ones who have been so bold and reckless with their words… Talking about sex very openly; having the same kind of punk, radical opinion. They gave birth to him.

In the closing credits, the filmmakers decided to celebrate those who came before them by putting together a list of “every black rock artist we could think of,” in tribute to their pioneering roles.

The “Special Thanks” toast includes household names, such as BB King and Willow, alongside black musicians many probably haven’t heard of, including late Thin Lizzy bassist Phil Lynott and original Faith No More frontman Chuck Mosley.

“This is just the start of something bigger,” Cox said.

“Because I think we have to take our spotlight. We can’t expect people to give it to us.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 12, 2022.

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