The New Year is off to a bad start in many aspects. Covid-19 security measures intensified during the holidays, and everyone was back into lockdown throughout the province. Well, it wasn’t really a lockdown because the malls were still open. Go figure!
I am mixed. My mom’s family is Québécois. Therefore, I follow what’s going on in Quebec regarding its history and culture, because I can relate to some of it. Very few things make me proud of the Québec side of my ancestry besides the fact that my grandfather Paul-Yves Labrecque would cross the Réservoir Gouin at the age of 13 with his sled dogs to deliver the mail.
Nonetheless, the stellar artists that Québec has created over the years make me proud of the other side of my heritage. From Richard Desjardins to Connaisseur Ticaso, Québec’s cultural scene never ceases to amaze me, especially because the province has seen many waves of immigration that have all contributed to the lyrical genius of its artists and poets.
In January 2022, we lost Don Harvey Fils-Aimé (aka Don Karnage) and Karim Ouellet, both of whom I knew personally. They brought so much to their community and the scene, so their passing was gut-wrenching, especially for Black communities.
Don Karnage was at the peak of his musical career in the late 1990s and early 2000s with his hip-hop albums Vice-versa and Bouge. He was an artist who also made significant contributions to Montréal-Nord as a teacher and a mentor. His Culture X organization provided free singing, writing and musical lessons to the youth of the impoverished neighbourhood. He gave so much love and energy to young people, because he firmly believed that the involvement of a community in the development of its children was crucial.
Karim Ouellet was known across the world for his music. In 2014, he won a Juno Award for best francophone album and most radio stations in the province played his songs on a regular basis. He was also a prominent figure in Quebec City where he gained popularity with his former collective Movèzerbe. Karim had a strong influence on the music scene while remaining accessible and generous with his time. He was currently working on a much-anticipated fourth album.
We have the duty of honouring their legacies and the imprint they’ve left on Québec. The province doesn’t usually honour artists of colour in its toponymy, which is unfortunate because many of them are contributing factors to Québec’s international popularity. I would love to walk in urban centres and see streets, parks and buildings named after them.
Music is what helped me make peace with my mixed heritage, and I’m sure it’s the case for many mixed kids out there. The idea that Québec culture is all white and francophone is fallacious; I hope the government acknowledges it by honouring the stories of people like Don and Karim.
Je t’écris ceci au bord du gouffre
On dit qu’on en sort plus fort quand on souffre
Quand on a mis du sel sur nos blessures
Témoin me soit le ciel
Quelle aventure (quelle aventure)
– Karim Ouellet