Arts·Q&A

This new hip hop track from Andrew Forde and Shad has a surprising connection to Glenn Gould

Inspired by Gould's classic doc The Idea of North, violinist Andrew Forde is telling a new story of Canada.

Inspired by Gould's classic doc The Idea of North, violinist Andrew Forde is telling a new story of Canada

Andrew Forde, left, and Shad in studio. (Ilich Mejia/submitted by Andrew Forde)

Toronto violinist Andrew Forde has shared the stage with Justin Bieber, Sting and Mary J. Blige, but these days, the artist he's most interested in is Glenn Gould.

The legendary pianist, composer, writer and broadcaster would have turned 85 this week — and to celebrate the late musician's birthday, Forde released a new song called "Branches."

Glenn made it cool to create work that forces people to dig deep.- Andrew Forde, musician

It combines the classical music that Gould was known for with the contemporary sound of hip hop. The song, which is a pulsating collaboration with Shad, is the first single from Forde's upcoming album, Ideas of North. A spin on Gould's 1967 radio documentary The Idea of North, Forde has brought together a diverse tapestry of voices to tell a re-imagined story of Canada. (A release date is still TBD.)

I spoke with Forde earlier this week via email about his connection to Gould and his collaboration process with Shad.

How has Glenn Gould shaped your own journey as an artist?

Fearlessness, and the irresistible appeal of individuality. Glenn is a part of a small group of people who fully committed to a life of self-expression and pioneered a resolutely distinct and individual voice.

When you hear a Gould recording, you know who you are listening to. He made me realize that no matter what I create, I do not want it to be mind-numbing or to copy the popular trends of the time. My work should feel familiar to the listener without being reductive.

Glenn made it "cool" to create work that forces people to dig deep, to learn about themselves [and] their beliefs and to question aspects of their psychology that they may have taken for granted.

You received access to Glenn Gould's entire catalogue for this project through the Glenn Gould Estate. What were some of the most interesting things you discovered there?

I didn't realize how prolific Gould was. I knew he produced hundreds of recordings, but I did not realize how much he did with radio and TV. I also did not realize how far beyond any artist of his time he was, at least in the classical genre.

"Branches" is a song written by both you and Shad. Take me step by step through that creation process.

Shad is one of the most thoughtful lyricists of all time. When I began composing the music, I knew in my mind that it would be for him. So it forced me to ensure that I created something good.

Once the music was done and recorded I sent it to Shad. He must have gotten annoyed by me because every two or three days I would send an updated version. Ultimately, I think that it is important for whoever is being featured on my music to feel uncomfortable, and stay on their toes.

Shad records "Branches," a new collaboration with Toronto composer Andrew Forde. (Photo: Illich Mejia/Courtesy of Andrew Forde)

I think it's quite clear that the Shad we hear on this song is nothing like the Shad of past. We get a very unique performance from him and it is due to the uniqueness of the music itself.  

I told him I saw it being a story told in three parts, like a concerto. The first movement is a treatise of the world around us; it is delivered as if a violin was performing the allegro moderato. The second is an intimate reflection of self, and where self fits in to the broader world. Here Shad goes off and traps. I had no idea it would end up working as well as it did.

The final movement is delivered as an allegro vivacissimo. His tone is pointed and fierce, but ends again as an allegro moderato, where we started off.

We discussed the philosophy of the track extensively, and what it was meant to conjure, what message we wanted to get across. Like Gould, Shad created a performance like we have never experienced from something so familiar as rap. It was unreal.

You've said that you wanted to explore a more diverse idea of Canada than Glenn Gould did when he released The Idea of North. Who was it important for you to include in this album? Why?

I do not want to give any spoilers, but we have amazing Indigenous artists, immigrants, first generations, country singers, Quebecois and generational Canadians. I have collaborated and continue to collaborate (the album is not done) with many artists who have a version of what it means to be Canadian [and] have never been asked that question.

I want to show the world that as diverse as Canada is [...] we all struggle with the same things.- Andrew Forde, musician

Like most people, I struggle with the notion of identity. I was born in Toronto to parents who arrived from the Caribbean; I grew up with a Chinese best friend; I learned from an Armenian violin teacher. I had to think about how I saw myself, and about how society saw me. The process of reconciling these two perspectives is ongoing.

I want to show the world that as diverse as Canada is, regardless of race, one's beliefs, sexual orientation, gender or abilities, that we all struggle with the same things and have no idea what we are doing. We are all just trying to figure it out and we need to be cohesive to ensure that we thrive as a society.

How do you think this album will impact the legacy and memory of Glenn Gould?

I am not naive enough to think that this album or any endeavour undertaken by anyone can impact the legacy of Glenn Gould. His legacy is a monument we all gain and continue to learn from. Instead, it is my hope that through Glenn's ideological guidance I create an experience that immediately resonates with a global audience and provokes a sustained curiosity to rediscover Glenn's humanizing work.

Watch a teaser for Andrew Forde's Ideas of North.

About the Author

Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays, watches too many movies and defends Beyonce against all haters. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.

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