More recognition for Black songs of struggle needed in Canada, says Edmonton singer

A local songwriter would like to see more recognition for Black songs of struggle in Canada.

Nuela Charles, a local singer-songwriter, wants to see more Canadian protest songs

Nuela Charles is an Edmonton-based singer-songwriter. (nuelacharles.com)

Today marks Juneteenth, an American national holiday that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. 

Songs of struggle have been the soundtrack of African-American culture and history for decades: Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" and many others.

But in Canada it's a different story. 

In a recent interview on the CBC program q, Canadian musician k-os asked where the songs of the moment are in Canada.

Edmonton singer-songwriter Nuela Charles has reflected on why there are less protest songs north of the border. Part of the reason, she says, is because Canada's Black artists tend to skew more toward pop music. This is seen as a more escapist genre than informative, she said, referring to Canadian artists like The Weeknd, Drake and Jessie Reyez.

"There are artists that do use their music to speak to truths and to reflect on real life," Charles said Friday on CBC's Radio Active

"But pop music is kind of an escape."

Local songs of protest

Charles insists though that Edmonton has its own ambassadors for protest songs.

"If we just look at Edmonton, which is just our local music industry, there's always been artists that have been speaking about our community," Charles said.

Local hip-hop group Politic Live, hip-hop MC Arlo Maverick and soul singer Karimah are some of the artists Charles said who haven't been afraid to use music to voice their realities in Canada.

"I think that's what we need right now," Charles added. "There are people doing that, but you just have to look a little bit harder for them."

Message in her music

Thousands gathered at the Alberta Legislature on June 5 for a demonstration against anti-black racism and police brutality. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Charles also chooses to send a message with her music. 

"I'm going to say what I want to say and use my art to say something," Charles said. 

That couldn't be more apparent than in the 2019 single "Power" off her album Melt. The track was written a few years ago when Charles was living in B.C. She wanted to make an anthem that could really say something.

"As a Black woman in the music industry, it's sometimes difficult to be heard. That's where it came from," she said. 

When Charles sees protests against anti-Black racism happening around the world, she thinks her music is a reflection of modern times and she's happy when it touches others.

"I'm really excited that people are listening," Charles said.

"Even if one person is touched by one of my songs, then that means I'm doing my job." 

Melt is currently nominated for a Juno Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album of the Year. The originally scheduled March 15, 2020 awards was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but are now set to take place online on June 29, 2020. The virtual ceremony can be viewed on CBC Gem.