Nova Scotia·Q&A

President of African Nova Scotian Music Association reflects on 20 years in role

The longtime president of the African Nova Scotian Music Association is stepping down after 20 years at the helm. 

Longtime president Lou Gannon is stepping down this year

Man with glasses at a microphone.
Lou Gannon became the association's president in 2003, six years after its inception. (Information Morning - NS/CBC)

The longtime president of the African Nova Scotian Music Association (ANSMA) is stepping down after 20 years at the helm. 

ANSMA formed in 1997, to help elevate Black talent in the province. Lou Gannon has been the association's president since 2003.

On Tuesday, Gannon spoke with CBC Radio's Portia Clark about his time as president — from the association's annual award show, to the work that has been done to give Black musicians more opportunities and the challenges they've faced.

Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

There must be countless shows and events you helped put on with ANSMA in your 20 years. What's one that stands out — that makes you glad to have been part of making it happen?

Well, there's not one but there's several. About three or four years before COVID, we were at the Rebecca Cohn [Auditorium in Halifax] and we had Cory Bowles in. Cory Bowles is a local actor —  I think he's out of Truro — but when he came down the stage, he came down as Black Panther and it was just unbelievable. The crowd went crazy when they saw him.

And along with Corey, we also, at that time, we had Mike Robinson. They were co-emcees. Mike is this ventriloquist that's traveled all over the world. The two of them together were a scream. We didn't even have to have a show. Those guys could have stayed up there for the 90-minute show and people would have been so happy. 

Tell us more about how and why ANSMA was formed?

There's a lot of talent around, young talent. You go to the churches here, any of the Black Baptist churches, and you'll hear people singing and playing [who are] just unbelievable. But way back, 20 some years ago, there weren't a lot of venues to play at. I mean, there were cover bands that played in the clubs and things, and most of them played in the black clubs around. 

At the same time, there were a lot of musicians that wanted to make it their career, like The Carson Downey Band and the Four the Moments, but the ECMAs [East Coast Music Awards] didn't have a venue. Music Nova Scotia didn't even exist at that time. 

Listen to Gannon's full interview on CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia:

Lou Gannon, the man who has led the African Nova Scotian Music Association for 20 years, is stepping down this year. ANSMA was formed in 1997 to help elevate Black talent in our province. We reach Lou Gannon to talk about the changes he's seen over those decades, and what's next.

So as a group they got together through [the Black Business Initative] and they brought a facilitator in from Toronto and they decided to form their own award show and their own Black live show, which even continues today, and so some artists would have a bigger stage to play on during the ECMAs, and we've been going ever since.

I gather it started in a kitchen and soon you're going to have offices and paid staff so that speaks to how far you've come. But are there obstacles that still stand in the way for artists of African heritage in terms of opportunities and space to play?

Well, one of the things is that there's a major change right now and it seems to be going the right direction — we have really good relationships with Music Nova Scotia and the ECMAs. Over the years, you know, things have taken to slowly moving forward but I think things are going forward for us guys.

And funny that you mentioned the kitchen because that's where we started from. When I first got involved with this there were five or six of us who were on the board for ANSMA that was formed at the round table a couple years before that and we were meeting in someone's kitchen for the first period of time. 

It's really strange because when I was asked to run for president, the two things that I had in my so-called campaign was that one, we had to get some space, and two, we had to find a staff person.

The staff person was only part time but we did find an office staff person which was housed on Gottingen Street and as you say, right now, we're looking in the new year to be hiring some people and actually moving into our own space somewhere, which is major, major steps.

Part of what ANSMA does is industry training and mentorship. I'm thinking of Gary Beals. You had some advice for him in his early days. 

Oh, well, the advice that Ed [Matwawana] and I gave Gary back in the day was not necessarily what we do today. What happened with Gary is that whenever we had our award shows, we had Gary on as one of the entertainers … and Gary was kind of shy. He wasn't a very outgoing person, but this particular time, we were rehearsing and Gary was up there singing with his eyes closed and we told him, you got to open your eyes.

And then when the show started, he was there singing on key, everything sounded wonderful, but his eyes were shut tight and we had to walk in front of Gary and tell him, "Open your eyes, open your eyes, open your eyes, Gary. We know you're singing to God but at the same time, you're singing to that audience in front of you," and there's 300 people in front of him. A little giggle came up but he didn't open his eyes. It was just strange to see someone with their eyes closed that tight.

You said that's not necessarily how it works now. I know the industry training is probably a little more formal, but that's an example of mentoring.

We have a program now called, It's Deeper Than Music, because they're trying to get the young people to understand that this music is a career if they want it. It's a mentoring program. We bring people in from across the country and our artists are allowed to pick their brains. They come and tell their story, pick their brains, just one-on-one conversations talking with these guys, what you need to do, what you know, what you need to have in place to be a professional entertainer and it works out good because even a lot of our our senior artists that have been doing it for awhile take these sessions on.

How are you feeling about your decades with ANSMA?

I feel very proud that the team that I had working with me, meaning the past board members and the staff that we have now and that's been around me for the last number of years, we've moved the measuring tape quite a bit. 

When I look back, seriously I look back at some of the things that we've done — 18, 19 shows a year all over the Maritimes — and where some of the artists are … it makes me feel very proud that I was part of it.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia

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