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Kardinal Offishall Gives Out Free Musical Instruments to Youth on Toronto's Queen West

To launch the SiriusXM Soundwaves MusiCounts Community Fund, the Canadian hip-hop musician and mogul hosts a pop-up Soundwaves music store on Dec. 5 that gives free music instruments and gear to children and teens under 16.

Kardinal Offishall

Kardinal Offishall

Courtesy SiriusXM

At 9 am on Dec. 5 at 1604 Queen Street West in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto, a sign announces the grand opening of a new music store called Soundwaves. Children and teenagers jam on guitars, keyboards, drums and mini-DJ sets. Canadian hip-hop icon and Def Jam record executive Kardinal Offishall shakes hands with the kids and gets in on the action, tinkering around on a high-pitched percussion instrument.

It’s a loud and lively scene for the opening of a new music store, but with a twist: everything here is free.


The Soundwaves store actually only exists for one day, a pop-up to announce the launch of the SiriusXM Soundwaves MusiCounts Community Fund. The Soundwaves store opened to the public in the afternoon, from 3-6 pm. Youth under 16 could enter, try out a musical instrument or piece of equipment, then walk out with it for free.

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The Soundwaves storeThe Soundwaves storeSiriusXM

Kardinal says the event is a tangible way to see the results of MusiCounts’ Soundwaves program, which makes musical instruments accessible to kids throughout the country.

“That’s something for me that is dope and something that I wanted to be a part of,” he tells Billboard Canada while kids from a Dufferin and Eglinton music program jam in the next room. “[The kids here now] are from five minutes down the street where I grew up at Oakwood and Vaughan. So it’s amazing to see people that look like me, people that come from places that I came from, can have access to these instruments.”

The Soundwaves program provides grants of up to $20,000 in instruments, equipment, and resources to support music education programs at the community level. It extends MusiCounts’ mission of music education beyond the classroom and is open to any not-for-profit community organization in Canada, especially those that don’t have full access to resources or gear.

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Kardinal compares it to the Fresh Arts program that he took part in in the ‘90s in Toronto, which planted the seeds for the influential community program The Remix Project. That filled in for formal music education for him in a lot of ways, he says, especially once funding was cut to music and after school programs.

“I didn’t really have access to many instruments at all [at school],” he says. “It’s like, 'you got three choices.’ I tried the saxophone, and I was terrible. Absolutely horrible.”

He later remembers he also played the ukulele briefly in grade three, but never got far beyond "Ukulele Man." Without formal theory training, most of his production is done by ear, but he’s hearing a lot of organic instrumentation mixed in with electronic elements of contemporary hip-hop. (Still, he says, don’t expect Kardinal to release a sax album like Andre 3000 did with the flute.) Getting kids access to music gear and education opens different lanes up to future generations, he says.

“What I didn't have access to and the things that I wasn't able to experience, a lot of these kids are going to be able to have that access through the partnership with SiriusXM and MusiCounts. You know what I mean?” says Kardinal. “I think that’s fire.”

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Kardinal Offishall presides over a jamKardinal Offishall presides over a jamSiriusXM

The Soundwaves pop-up runs from 3-6 pm at 1604 Queen West.

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