On Friday, downtown Toronto welcomes a brand new music venue with a concert headlined by the Halluci Nation: the TD Music Hall.
On the fourth floor of the Allied Music Centre building that connects to the revitalized Massey Hall on Victoria Street, the state-of-the-art, 500-capacity hall will provide a much needed space for emerging Canadian and international talent.
The Halluci Nation’s Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas is certainly chuffed to be christening the room with his musical comrade, Tim “2oolman” Hill, Friday.
“I grew up in Toronto and it’s always special to come back, but the opportunity to play a new facility and the size of a room that’s really needed right now is an honour,” Thomas said. “There’s not enough 500-seater rooms around. To see a new one opening is important for the music scene in general.”
“A great city for music needs a myriad of great venues, and the need for small, sustainable spaces is higher now than ever before,” Allied Music Centre CEO Jesse Kumagai said in an email interview.
The hall offers an immersive audio system featuring 58 speakers, which Kumagai asserts will make music “sound exceptionally good from anywhere in the room.”
It also has “floor-to-ceiling windows at both ends, a sophisticated and geometric acoustic wall running the length of the room, double height ceiling and state-of-the-art production,” and will boast “the very best acoustics in the city,” Kumagai said.
“It’s modern and elegant, but without being ostentatious.”
TD Music Hall is part of the $186.5-million Massey Hall revitalization project, an endeavour that’s currently just three per cent short of its fundraising goal.
And the venue gets its first test when the Halluci Nation concludes the tour for its latest album, “One More Saturday Night,” before coming back with more of its infectious electronic pow wow-step sound later this year.
“We’ve got a lot of new music coming and we’re very creative right now,” said Hill recently via Zoom. “We’re in Los Angeles right now working on new music and we’re in a really creative space. We’re bringing that kind of energy to the show as well.”
Thomas said one of the Halluci Nation’s mandates is “to uphold where we came from and where we’re heading,” with “One More Saturday Night” “meant to close one cycle and move forward to start another.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re leaving everything behind,” he said, adding that music from when the duo was known as A Tribe Called Red will continue to be performed.
“So we have a really ambitious album planned that put us in a position where we stretched artistically as far as we could go. But we’re still creating dance for bangers at the same time.”
Thomas let it drop that some of the new music will feature Northern Cree, Alberta’s powwow and round dance drumming and singing group, continuing a collaborative tradition.
“We worked with them producing their most recent album and we took out of those recording sessions what we could draw from, so they’ll definitely be a big voice on this one for us,” Thomas said.
The duo is also likely to introduce some new voices into the recorded mix; in the past they’ve teamed up with Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, Yasiin Bey, Black Bear, Haviah Mighty, Chippewa Travelers and John Trudell.
Both Hill and Thomas say the essence of the Halluci Nation is collaboration, including keeping their ears to the ground for up-and-coming artists.
“It’s part of the reason why that name Halluci Nation has become our full-time name now,” Thomas said.
And it goes beyond the music, said Hill.
“I don’t really think we do anything that’s separate when it comes to the Halluci Nation. It’s always a group effort, right down to our management and other people that we collaborate with in music videos, and even our merch: it all ties in together and is all working parts. We would be nothing without those things.”
The group comes by its name thanks to the late Trudell — the influential Native American political activist, actor, musician, author, poet and former chairman of the American Indian Movement — thanks to a poem he bestowed on them.
“I can’t remember a point in my life where he wasn’t a voice that was around,” Thomas said. “I was raised in a house where my mom was part of the American Indian Movement in the ’70s and she introduced me to him, through playing his music and poetry.
“But it wasn’t until we were producing the ‘We Are the Halluci Nation’ album that we actually sat down and got to work together. He had written a poem that we were working with and, when we actually recorded it, he said, ‘Oh, I put on another little bit on there you might want to use,’ and it was the Halluci Nation poem.”
Hill said Trudell left a strong and lasting impression.
“He’s still meeting us, even though he’s not here anymore,” said Hill. “He left a lot of work for us to just look at, analyze, and actually practise and do it.”
The Halluci Nation kicks off a run of acts at the TD Music Hall, including three nights by Toronto’s Dylan Sinclair (Feb. 14 to 16); Forest Blakk (Feb. 18) and Nikki Yanofsky (March 3), with performers like Deerhoof, Ombiigizi, Elise LeGrow and Whitehorse scheduled over the next few months. (Check tdmusichall.mhrth.com for details.)
The International Indigenous Music Summit, Honey Jam, TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Lula Music and Arts Centre, Lulaworld and Small World Music festivals will also call TD Music Hall home. Other spaces will open at Allied Music Centre in the next few months including a new, as yet unnamed, 150-capacity community theatre and the Deane Cameron Recording Studio.
All in all, it sounds like opportunities for homegrown musicians will be multiplying in the very near future.
“Creating opportunities for Canadian artists is one of the founding principles of our organization and part of the basis of our charitable status,” said Kumagai. “So the opportunity to create a space that suits their needs is very much part of our motivation.”
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