Looking back at Shad's best moments on q
Amanda Parris pays tribute to the show's "magical connections and inspired conversations"
Last month, I was basking in the sun on the small Caribbean island of Grenada. Mangoes were plentiful, but Internet access was not. As a result, I heard the news that CBC Radio was replacing Shad as the host of q a few days later than everyone else. I spent a full afternoon scouring the web, reading the various stories that emerged following the announcement. When I was done, I was struck by a distinct sense that something was missing. Amidst the numerous articulations of what went wrong, what was missing was a description of what went right.
The steady decline in ratings following the departure of q's original host Jian Ghomeshi is a well-known and frequently-cited cause for Shad's dismissal. However, those numbers obscure the stories of individuals who became fans of q because of Shad. I was one of them.
In the past, I had stumbled onto sporadic segments of the show, but none left me compelled to listen regularly. It was not until I heard that Shad was taking over the high-profile hosting position that my interest in q was piqued. At the time, I didn't know Shad personally, but I was aware of him through his music and our mutual friends. I was intrigued by the fact that CBC Radio had decided to choose someone close to my age, someone who was African-Canadian and someone who was rooted in hip-hop to helm their flagship show on music, arts and cultural affairs. So I began to tune in. My partner did, too. Numerous friends and colleagues across the city all became listeners of q because of Shad. We would debrief topics on the show, send each other segments to check out and when I was invited to join the pop culture panels I would always receive numerous texts and tweets from friends and acquaintances who were tuned in. For some of us, Shad's presence was an affirmation that our perspectives were valued, and for the first time, we felt directly invited to become interested and invested in q.
For some of us, Shad's presence was an affirmation that our perspectives were valued, and for the first time, we felt directly invited to become interested and invested in q.- Amanda Parris
Tom Power, an exceptionally talented host previously featured on CBC Radio 2, will be taking over as host of q next month — and I truly think he's going to be great. Tom's experience, warm energy, natural curiosity and deep love of arts and culture will hopefully be the winning formula for a radio show that has been unfairly saddled with so much baggage.
However, before we begin this new journey with Tom, I wanted to dedicate this week's column to some of my favourite moments that occurred during Shad's tenure as host with q. As producers shifted the landscape of the show to reflect who he was, they were able to curate lineups that led to some magical connections and inspired conversations. Here are some of my favourites:
This one feels a little like cheating because I don't know if Saul Williams has ever given a bad interview in his life. However, beyond the always eloquent and powerfully passionate articulation of the poet, rapper and actor, I really enjoyed the way that this interview felt like a rolling conversation between two artists who truly appreciated one another's company. They both seemed to have a deep respect not only for each others' craft but also for the process by which they create and consider their art.
There are few people on Earth as fascinating as the legendary writer, poet, musician, artist and world traveller Patti Smith. Throughout this interview, Shad journeyed with Smith on her train of wandering but focused thought as she expounded on the importance of mindfulness and the magic of dreaming in a segment that left me inspired for days.
I've known Cola (drummer for the OBGMs) for almost a decade, so when I heard that the band were being featured on q, I was over the moon. To see this young local Toronto punk band get access to this national platform was amazing. I had a similar feeling when R&B singer Tanika Charles and Toronto band Wilde came on. The OBGMs' short interview with Shad perfectly captured their off-beat charisma and quirky charm — not to mention their performance.
For many Canadians, scientist David Suzuki sparks rock star levels of fandom. His programs were used in school, his posters would hang in our classrooms and his words are perceived as gospel. You can hear a little of that fandom in this interview with Shad, who seemed somewhat awed by his guest (as well he should be).
Panels have been a large part of q during Shad's tenure, and this one on a petition to ban rapper Action Bronson from performing at a public square in Toronto particularly stands out. Although the issues that inspired the ban address misogyny and violence against women, this conversation focused on the way these themes should be considered through a hip-hop lens — a tricky and delicate perspective to explore. Shad's guests were writers Rodrigo Bascunan and Anupa Mistry, both of whom have been documenting, reviewing and analyzing hip-hop culture for years; as a result, a conversation was facilitated between three individuals who are critical insiders invested in the culture. Many might have perceived this dialogue to be black and white, but this conversation was able to highlight the varying shades of grey that should also be considered.
This conversation between critically acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young and Shad explored numerous topics and issues rarely discussed in a public arena. Young's perspectives on the power of image makers and his particular focus on the ways technical aspects such as lighting, angles and shadows shape world views was fascinating — and Shad was clearly intrigued by all of it. The result was a rich intellectual exploration that I have referenced numerous times since first listening.
A discussion on sci-fi with one of the first Caribbean-Canadian sci-fi novelists to receive international recognition? Sign me up, please. I adore Nalo Hopkinson, and her description of sci-fi as a platform to imagine new possibilities for the future through a critical lens on the present sounded a little like conjuring spaces of freedom. This conversation with Shad is one of my absolute favourites from his time on the show because it inspired thought into the fantastical and the magical.
Director X is most popularly known as the multi-award winning visionary behind some of the most classic music videos of the past two decades. However, on this episode of q, he spoke primarily about his work on his first feature film Across the Line — a tough look at racism in Canada. The passion exuded by Director X during the interview on the silenced and unheard aspects of Canadian history was a wonderful and refreshing thing to witness. X's comfort with Shad emanated throughout the interview as he delved into his personal experiences and unapologetic stances.
Shad's conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz felt like a breakdown between worlds. A conversation that often occurs in the hallowed halls of academia was brought into a public platform. Diaz's passion for writing and the power of books is compelling, and Shad helped to guide the conversation in a way that was accessible and welcoming.
As a frequent guest on the weekly q pop culture panel, this is definitely a highly biased addition. However, the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics, from albums to award shows, cultural appropriation to celebrity obsession, was an interesting and lively feature. Although some of the debates would make my blood pressure boil, the conversations across diverse perspectives enabled moments of rich insight and often powerful commentary.
Honourary Mention: Machel Montano
This segment is a special addition because Shad was not actually hosting for this episode, but I include it because it occurred during his tenure and producers keep the interest of their hosts in mind when making pitches. In the Caribbean, Machel Montano is a legend that has no equal. He is undisputedly the biggest soca artist in the world, and he can pack stadiums and streets with people of every age, class and ethnicity. His appearance on q felt like a landmark moment of recognition for Caribbean culture in Canada.
Watch Amanda Parris on Exhibitionists Sunday at 4:30pm (5pm NT) on CBC TV.