Maple music appreciation

There are certain things about the Great White North that I noticeably miss when I’m at home in California. The people. The familiarity of the Queen’s campus. Doughnuts from Tim Hortons. Colourful money. Seasons. Not having to listen to people make Canada jokes every five minutes.

At the end of this summer, though, I added a new item onto the list. It was refreshing to hear, as I cruised along the 401 from the Toronto airport to Kingston on my way back to Queen’s after a long summer, a song from Blue Rodeo’s newest album playing on the radio. Canadian music was something I didn’t realize how much I missed until I got to enjoy three hours of CRTC-approved entertainment.

I could complain for a ridiculous amount of time about the reasons why so many Canadian artists never make it past the 49th parallel and lament the ubiquitous nature of American culture, but the frustrated complaints of an ex-expatriated Canadian probably wouldn’t garner too much attention from anyone. Giving the musicians the attention they deserve within their own country, however, is a bit more plausible.

When I first heard about the CRTC guidelines for radio stations, I was confused. Why make radios play music that they might not normally choose to play? If the music was worth playing, radio stations would give it air time without being forced to do so, I thought.

It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize the importance of having such guidelines.

In other countries, local music has a very definitive sound, whether it be due to language, instruments or style, and is easily distinguishable from the influx of music coming from the U.S. Canada doesn’t have that luxury, and so we need some way to separate our music from that of the States. Encouraging air play of Canadian artists was the government’s answer to the threat of the overpowering American industry. While the CRTC guidelines limit the freedom of media outlets, they provide a way for the artists who don’t have the means to compete with the American labels to showcase their talent.

Most of my American friends have never heard of the Tragically Hip, The Trews, Leonard Cohen, Sarah Harmer, Paul Brandt or any of the other Canadian artists that I’m so fond of listening to. On the rare occasion that these bands venture down south, they play to crowds a fraction of the size of those they attract at home. While Great Big Sea plays to sold-out arenas of quasi-teeny bopper fans in Canada, in the U.S., dislocated Canadians and those interested in hearing “popular Celtic” music make up the modest crowds.

There are a number of Canadian musicians who have made a name for themselves south of the border, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of such artists giving up their Canadian identity in favour of American success. While it upsets me that many talented artists are unrecognized beyond our borders, I’m glad that they haven’t been discouraged by the lack of attention and that they have instead chosen to embrace their homeland, content with more local success.

It isn’t just about supporting Canadian artists—it’s about giving musicians the recognition they deserve, whether they’re well-known internationally, nationally or locally, and encouraging the creation of quality music amidst a world of indiscernible noise.

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