Nova Scotia

'I am North Preston': How community, love shapes this singer's music

Keonté Beals, a young R&B singer from North Preston, N.S., shares how his community and the love he was surrounded by helps shape his music.

'Every single song and creation ... it starts from love,' says Keonté Beals

Keonté Beals's new album, KING, tackles the concepts of identity, the Black male experience, and letting go of stereotypes. (Declan O'Dowd)

Keonté Beals wants to make something clear: he isn't just from North Preston, and he doesn't just live in North Preston. 

He is North Preston.

The R&B singer, who hails from one of Canada's largest indigenous Black communities, credits his music to North Preston and the love that surrounded him while growing up.

"Every single song and creation, that's definitely the foundation of it. It starts from love," Beals told CBC's Mainstreet.

The 23-year-old recently released a new album, KING, which tackles the concepts of identity, the Black male experience, and letting go of stereotypes.

We spin a couple songs from "King" and Keonté joins host Jeff Douglas to talk about how growing up in North Preston, and in the local church, shaped his music and his character. 16:11

That includes stereotypes about his own tight-knit community, about 25 minutes northeast of peninsular Halifax. 

"When people think about North Preston, for the most part, they think about the most negative aspects," he said.

"When people come to me and they say those things, I test them with, 'Well, if that's true, then how do you look at me? Then how do you perceive me?'"

The goal of the album, said Beals, is to show people that it's OK to be vulnerable and show their weaknesses and insecurities.

"You know, it's crazy that humans naturally hide those things, and those things are what make us all unique and make us beautiful," he said.

Beals says his community helped shape both himself and his music. (Declan O'Dowd)

That lesson was imparted to him by his great-grandmother, who lived with him while he was growing up. Beals was raised in a large household and shared a room with four of his cousins. 

"It was filled with love. I felt that the whole time growing up," he said.

"It was … coming from that atmosphere that really shaped me and how I am today, how I see things today."

'The strength that we carry'

Beals first learned to sing in the choir of his local church, and he credits his gospel-inspired sound to that experience.

But gospel is more than just musical style for him. It also lends the ability to "connect with the listener on a deeper level, on a spiritual level."

"It doesn't matter what genre, either," he said. 

"When you have singers coming from different genres, but their background is gospel music, you still feel that same vibe, you still feel that same connection, and that's what makes it authentic."

Beals said that many of the people who hold negative views toward North Preston may not have visited the community or know much about it.

"I make sure to let everybody know that I am North Preston," he said. 

"I am definitely a living representation of what my people are and the strength that we carry."

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.

(CBC)

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With files from Mainstreet

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