The Toronto Music Experience Brings the City's Caribbean Music History to Life
The Sound of Rhythms & Resistance concert this Saturday (Nov. 4) will feature reggae musicians Jay Douglas, Nana McLean, Ammoye and more at TD Music Hall. It's part of a bigger project to bring a permanent music museum to Toronto.
The Toronto Music Experience (TME), a new non-profit promoting Toronto's music history, is hosting its first live performance this Saturday (Nov. 4).
The Sound of Rhythms & Resistance concert at TD Music Hall (part of the new expansion of Massey Hall) will feature performances from legendary Canadian reggae acts including Jay Douglas and Nana McLean, accompanying TME's ongoing Rhythms and Resistance exhibit about the history of Caribbean music in Toronto.
“We’re trying to connect the past with the present and tell some of the stories in a live performance way,” says Nicholas Jennings, a director on the TME board and longtime music journalist, of TME’s expansion into live music.
The Rhythms & Resistance exhibit opened in December 2021 at the Friar's Music Museum, which is located inside a Shoppers Drug Mart on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto where the legendary music venue Friar's Tavern once stood. Drawing on the legacies of artists like Lord Tanamo and Jackie Mittoo, the exhibit explores how Toronto became one of the world’s biggest sources of reggae music — second only to Kingston, Jamaica, TME argues.
TME has big plans beyond the exhibit, with the long-term goal of opening a sizeable brick-and-mortar facility. The organization emerged out of the Friar's Museum, which is helmed by the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Association. Organizers incorporated TME this year as a non-profit and are seeking charitable status.
“What we realized was that there’s an incredible amount of Toronto music history that is basically not being documented,” Jennings tells Billboard Canada. “We think that it’s time for Toronto to have a large-scale Toronto music museum, one that celebrates the deep rich history of music in this city.”
TME’s first two exhibits have sought to do that. The previous exhibit, “Toronto Sound,” opened at Friars in 2018 and highlighted artists like Ronnie Hawkins, Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould.
“Everyone that is involved,” Jennings says, “believes that it’s long overdue in the city.”
The board of directors includes journalist Del Cowie, promoter Derek Andrews, and artist manager Elaine Bomberry. TME also boasts a long list of supporters that features names like The Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page and Maestro Fresh Wes.
Jennings points out that many major cities have music museums, but while Toronto has museums dedicated to other subjects —including ceramics, natural history, and even a shoe museum — there’s nothing aside from Friars documenting the city’s music cultures.
“We don’t have a museum devoted to what is arguably Toronto’s biggest cultural phenomenon, it’s biggest international export,” Jennings says. “This is an untapped area for the city, and there is a need for it, because we’re losing some of these stories,” he continues, referring to the passing of legendary figures like Gordon Lightfoot and Robbie Robertson.
But TME’s vision isn’t just to relive the past. “Ultimately what TME believes in is a multi-purpose hub,” Jennings says, “that would basically bridge the past and the present through live performance and events held that connect contemporary artists with the legends that came before.”
This vision informed the programming for Saturday’s concert, which features a lineup bringing together classic reggae musicians and contemporary figures in Toronto’s scene. Jay Douglas and Nana McLean, who came to Toronto from Jamaica in the 60s and 70s, will perform alongside artists like Ammoye and teenage Juno-winner Kairo McLean. Roots reggae group The Human Rights will be the backing band and Carrie Mullings, daughter of reggae champion Karl Mullings, will host.
The night is just the first step towards what TME has planned for the future. “The success of the two exhibits that we’ve held at Friar's has shown us that there’s an appetite and a market for something more permanent,” Jennings says. “Something on a larger scale that tells more of the deep, deep diverse history of music in Toronto.”
“Some of the biggest artists in the world are all from Toronto — whether it’s Drake, or The Weeknd, Jesse Reyez, or Daniel Caesar,” Jennings adds. “If you look around Toronto, there’s no evidence of that. There’s no evidence that Toronto is this massive music hub.”