Veteran and Emerging Artists Honoured at African Nova Scotian Music Association Awards – Canada

Cyndi Cain performs at the African Nova Scotia Music Awards in Halifax on Saturday. (ADRIEN VECZAN / Staff)

Cyndi Cain performs at the African Nova Scotia Music Awards in Halifax on Saturday. (ADRIEN VECZAN / Staff)

A cultural past and the musical present both came alive at the 17th annual African Nova Scotian Music Association Awards Gala on Saturday night.

In a sold-out ballroom at Halifax’s World Trade and Convention Centre, ANSMA celebrated a year of musical achievement while also providing a festive finale to African Heritage Month, with co-host Charla Williams joking that the annual observation deserved some extra time in March since February had been such a lousy month weather-wise.

“And just wait, maybe we’ll take a bit of April too while we’re at it,” suggested Williams, once again sharing the dais with longtime ANSMA cohort Robert Upshaw.

The evening got off to an upbeat start with a gospel blast from the Sanctified Brothers, before 11-year-old Jody Upshaw delivered a stirring solo rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, often considered the black American national anthem.

The song seemed especially powerful on Saturday night, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Selma-to-Montgomery march led by Martin Luther King Jr., a feeling underlined by Jeremiah Sparks’s impassioned delivery of Sam Cooke’s civil rights ballad A Change Is Gonna Come.

The presentations began with the Black Business Initiative Industry Development Award, presented to the new program YECO (Youth Exploring Creative Outlets), run by Jason Bruce, a.k.a. hip-hop artist J-Bru, in association with TMG Entertainment’s recording facility on Barrington Street.

Just over a year old, YECO has had an enthusiastic response in its efforts to teach young hopefuls about making music, as well as the business side of the industry.

“It’s been amazing, one of our participants MAJE just won the Viola Desmond songwriting contest, which just goes to show we have some talented youth in the region,” said Bruce, who loves watching teen music fans interacting with seasoned professionals.

“The kids are overwhelmed at first when they see the studio, but by the third week they’re recording like pros. If you listened to MAJE’s group, Gentlemen Mafia, you’d never know they were 17 or 18 years old.”

ANSMA Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to the late Maurice Ruddick, also known as “the Singing Miner” and who had been trapped in the 1958 Springhill mine disaster, and Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame member Brent Williams.

Still active after over 55 years of making music, the Weymouth-area native has shared stages with Canada’s biggest country stars and recorded his own music in Nashville.

“It’s a crazy business, going from one thing to another, doing whatever takes you to another level, and that’s what I did, going from Nova Scotia to Toronto to Nashville,” said Williams after accepting the honour.

“It’s been a great ride, and I’d like to thank everyone who played with me, connected with me and played a part in helping me achieve this.”

Roots blues trio Ced, Marty & Dave poked fun at their ANSMA Rising Star Award win, considering the three of them have been playing around the city for years, and showed their grit with a performance of Key to the Highway earlier in the evening.

“We never thought we’d get this award…because we’re kinda old,” chuckled singer/guitarist Ced Upshaw, who just released the new CD To Our 3% with bandmates Marty Williams and Dave Skinner. “But better to get it now than next year.”

Audience approval was high for Keont’e Beals, the winner of ANSMA’s Emerging Artist Award, designated for a performer who has not yet released a recording.

That won’t be the case for long for the North Preston singer, currently working in the studio with his cousin, singer-songwriter Reeny Smith, on an album that he hopes to release in the fall.

“To me it means I’m dong something right, I’m accomplishing something,” said Beals, who felt his award was “a nice pat on the back,” to let him know the music community was there to support him.

Keeping things in the family, Reeny Smith also made a trip to the podium to accept the ANSMA Artist of the Year Award, both for her debut release I Am Reeny, and for the stunning quality of her performances. These include her gala rendition of her single Dream, with a full band and attention-demanding vocal powers that drive the inspirational message home.

“This is nothing but a reflection of God’s favour in somebody’s life,” said Smith onstage. “I’m so thankful to receive that, and this just the beginning, I’m so excited to see where it takes me next.”

Halifax gospel singer and a former member of the Canadian armed forces, Marcell Symonds was presented with the Marjorie Lindsay Pioneer Award, for his musical contributions over a 50-year career, which lately includes his new CD, Just a Closer Walk.

“It’s not about money, it’s not about awards,” said Symonds in his acceptance speech. “That’s nice, but when people ask me what makes it all worthwhile, I think of times like when I was singing at Windjammers basketball games and kids ran up to ask for autographs, or when I run into someone at the store and they tell me they’re glad I’m still singing.

“Those are the kinds of moments that mean so much to me.”

ANSMA past-president Ed Matwawana was the recipient of the association’s Heritage Award, for his contribution to bringing world music to Nova Scotia with his group Afro-Musica.

Originally from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Matwawana first assembled the group in the 1980s, with members from both sides of the Atlantic, playing a blend of African styles, but also presenting a side of his home he felt listeners weren’t experiencing.

“(Afro-Musica) became a place where people came to learn about African music and celebrate the continent, our African motherland,” said Matwawana.

“We didn’t see any positive stories about Africa in the media, and I wanted to spread a positive message, and share a little bit of the beauty of the continent with our audience.”

Saturday night’s gala was a briskly moving affair with many memorable musical highlights, including 2014 ANSMA Artist of the Year Cyndi Cain donning a 1940s-style dress to pay tribute to Nova Scotia civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond with the song Stand Up for the People. Halifax R&B sensation Jordan Croucher made reference to Martin Luther King Jr. in his single Live My Dream, while former Canadian Idol finalist Gary Beals delivered a soul-searing rendition of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

“It’s been 10 years since I graced this stage, I’m so happy to be back in Nova Scotia!” exclaimed Beals.

And going by the power of his performance, no one doubted him for a second.


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