Dozens of emerging artists mixed with music industry bigwigs on Thursday at the second-ever Indigenous Music Conference in Winnipeg.
The conference is the brainchild of the folks at the Manito Ahbee Festival, and a chance to elevate Indigenous voices and art through collaboration with insiders, executives and the media.
Organizer Jacquie Black said it's one-of-a-kind in Canada.
"I was told that last year, when we had some panelists come in, and I was told, 'You know, this hasn't happened before,'" said Black. "To have people here to focus on Indigenous artists, they have the opportunity they may not have in their community."
The conference drew experts from as far away as New Zealand and reps from Sirius and Exclaim! Music.
Panels included tips on music management, touring and marketing. Jarrett Martineau came in from Toronto to talk promotion.
Martineau runs RevolutionsPerMinute, an Indigenous music platform, record label and artist collective, and will soon host a CBC show on Indigenous music.
He said the Indigenous music scene is distinct in that many of the musicians fit into the "emerging artist" category.
"Even if you've been at it for a long time, we don't have some of the same kind of pathways into the music industries so people really have a lot to learn, I think, about how to navigate it," said Martineau, pointing to Winnipeg-based artist William Prince, who spent 10 years creating music before releasing his first album.
"We don't have the same access to the music industry the way that a lot of other communities do … It's not [something] you can just jump right into in the way that a lot of other people who are coming from more privileged communities have the ability to do."
'We need more of what we do'
Martineau said Winnipeg, in particular, has a large, dedicated community that supports artists, but other areas of the country don't necessarily have that same level of support, meaning getting traction can be difficult.
And, he said, fractured relationships with the media can make it difficult to get recognition elsewhere.
"[RevolutionsPerMinute is] an Indigenous publication and an Indigenous platform. From my vantage point, we need more of what we do," he said. "There needs to be a proliferation of that in terms of spaces where Indigenous artists can go and can be supported by other Indigenous voices."
Martineau said there's been an increase in mainstream publications getting behind Indigenous artists, but even a few years ago the landscape was very different.
"If you get an article on Billboard or in some big music publication, it's going to put you in front of a whole other audience you wouldn't have a chance to be in front of," said Martineau.
'I've been seeing a change'
Tyrel Gnaille and Jordan Apetagon went to the conference Thursday to find out exactly how to approach publications like that.
Gnaille and Apetagon are hip hop artists based in Winnipeg, performing as Diilemma and J23 respectively, and as the duo 2AM.
Apetagon said they want to put their music out "more productively" and make connections with people in the industry. The biggest challenge the pair have faced, they said, is simply, "the people that say no."
Apetagon started at Studio 393, a youth-led arts studio in Winnipeg, and has performed across the city, including at a Manitoba Music showcase.
Gnaille, meanwhile, is focused on becoming an audio engineer and producing music.
"The hip hop community has been kind of closed off in the last few years but it's kind of opening," he said. "I've been seeing a change, which is good."
Organizer Jacquie Black said the goal is to get artists connected with each other and people in the industry.
"I'm already seeing connections being made, and that's what we're really hoping for — for collaborations and people making new relationships, and they're each supporting each other," she said.
"It just makes me really proud that there's such creativity in Indigenous communities, and I think it's high time it's being recognized."
A day full of panels and networking was scheduled to be capped with an Indigenous open mic hosted by Manitoba Music.
The Manito Ahbee Festival continues Friday with the Indigenous Music Awards and will run until Sunday.