Sharing Black Joy and Culture in Times of Resistance and Conflict

Discussing Representation in Music, Montreal’s Response to the Black Lives Matter Movement

Graphic Joey Bruce

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that our presence be known and be somewhat consistent,” said Mags from Strange Froots, a queer Black collective based in Montreal.

The trio of musicians met during an initiative to host music workshops, but their encounter was the beginning of what became the band shortly after.

While media coverage has been zeroing in on protests and reporting on violence against Black people, Mags said Black communities shouldn’t solely be defined by the atrocities they are facing—their lives and culture should also be celebrated and acknowledged. “It’s often said that the artist is somebody who is meant to express what is going on with them, what is going on with their community. They’re the scribes of society,” said Mags.

At the end of June, Also Cool Mag—an online publication and events series—hosted Strange Froots’ first ever digital event to celebrate their sixth anniversary and bring together their audience. Malaika Astorga, co-founder of Also Cool Mag, explained that the Black artists they work with said it was important that they still have a platform to express themselves creatively and express joy despite the grimness of the events transpiring worldwide.

“Community is incredibly important and should not be taken for granted,” said Mags. “I think a lot of our attendees really appreciated having this kind of wholesome digital space.”

Mags highlighted the relaxed and cheerful nature of the event, where she, along with her bandmates SageS and Naïka Champaïgne, exchanged personal experiences with their audience throughout the evening, all while playing music, facilitating a more intimate connection with the audience.

Their band name, Strange Froots, is inspired by Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” about lynchings in the United States, combined with the spelling of Froot Loops. It’s a “very cute, very wholesome spin on what is a very dark and very serious and tragic part of our diasporic history,” said Mags.

When they started, the group aimed to bring women and femmes at the forefront of Montreal’s hip-hop scene to the youth—which Mags has observed to be predominantly white—and offer them a broader creative range to express their art.

“It’s often said that the artist is somebody who is meant to express what is going on with them, what is going on with their community. They’re the scribes of society.” — Mags

After establishing their presence and strengthening ties in the city’s queer community, the band noticed that most shows they played at were “still very white”—BIPOC didn’t have a strong footing.

Astorga agrees that despite the supportive environment of the music scene, it lacks representation of colour.

“There are not a lot of POC in the DIY music scene in general,” said Astorga, referring to the underground vein of Monteral’s music community of indie-rock and post-punk artists, which can be found performing at venues like Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rossa. “It’s something I’ve at least been working really hard to try and change.”

Although many in Montreal have been diligently working to educate and raise awareness about Black history and transgenerational struggles, Mags thought the response of many seemed performative, lacking genuine support for the cause.

“Black people are suffering at almost every possible level right now, as well as Indigenous people,” she said, “and having access to that art is something that kind of allows us to not only relate to the artist but kind of to take us away from the real world, even just a short amount of time,” said Mags.

Montreal-based rapper Backxwash was also disappointed with the inconsistent support as she found the movement was turned into a trend and trivialized with the use of social media.

“I think for people like us, our existence is inherently political no matter how you switch it, and that is not something that you can really escape or change,” said Backxwash. “So as an artist, I’m just going to continue talking about my experiences because my experiences are legitimately political,” she said.

For Backxwash, this movement presents an opportunity for all of those who benefit from Black music and artists to uplift their voices and create space for them in their communities.

Hosting events is only one branch of Also Cool’s undertaking to support the Black community. In an effort to make long-term and permanent changes to support the BLM movement, Also Cool reconfigured their resource page to give more visibility to Black businesses and people. Astorga describes this as “a more permanent place of learning and support,” putting an emphasis on supporting Black and Indigenous people through ways members of those communities have asked for, instead of assuming their needs.

“Even though the media kind of white washes who gets to make it on the radio, or who gets to make it on TV, you can still be extremely successful in being authentic and doing your art the way that you feel is best expressed,” said Mags. “And that has always been the most fulfilling part for me.”

That’s what’s always been their underlying fundamental goal—“being able to impart our experience on younger people.”