For two-time Juno-Awards nominee, best-selling author and Canadian Reggae Music award winner Jason Wilson, being a long-time resident of Whitchurch-Stouffville is only one of many accolades on a very long list of achievements. Connection to place within Toronto and stylistic fusion are at the forefront of his art – music that begins with a Reggae base and is then seasoned with various different flavours from jazz, folk, and sometimes even classical motifs.
Music has always been part of Wilson’s life, performing his first gig at the age of just 12 years old and playing his first nightclub at 14. Wilson obtained his Bachelor of Honours in History with a double minor in Music and Film before earning his master’s degree and PhD at the University of Guelph, where he currently teaches. From an early age his love for music and history have complemented each other as he shares that one field informs the other, and that roughly 90% of his music is informed by historical narrative – a cognizant and unique approach to catch the listener’s ear and explore stories from perspectives that exist outside of the expected form.
When creating his music, Wilson typically begins with the topic. “The topic comes to mind first and it has to be something that sings, one line that gets you going,” he shared. “Then comes the research for historical accuracy and, after that, the key that opens the door to everything else.” Wilson discussed with me that while themes may resonate quickly, putting melody to word can sometimes take a bit of time. For this example, take a listen to Keele Street, a song that appears in several films and television programs. “Keele Street became something of an anthem, and that one took about ten minutes to write while riding the Keele Street Bus to visit my parents. Other songs take months to create and don’t necessarily reach the same level of success, so the process can differ between songs.”
Celebration of place has been an underlying theme in the creation of Wilson’s music for a long time. “Place is much more than a building. It’s a memory and a myth maker. Place is crucial to memory, and sometimes it’s the only thing that binds us,” he shared. “It’s shared with everyone. We’re all here in this place together.” Illustrating Toronto as this meeting place, Wilson’s craft embodies real moments – love, friendships, when we work together – real life experiences. “It isn’t about telling other people’s stories” he told me, “it’s about finding where we intersect. We learn from other people and we mimic one another.”
Sumach Roots, Wilson’s 2020-released contemporary folk album, is an example of this intersection. Accompanied in performance by a top-flight cast of performers, Wilson’s album and stage performance “delves into the late 18th Century diaries of Elizabeth Simcoe, the impact of the Irish Famine, the great Toronto fires of 1902 and 1904, the construction of the CN Tower in the early 1970s, and other crucial moments that illuminate the host/ immigrant experience in Toronto.” A specific example is the album’s opening track We (feat. Gabe Gaudet), which is a musical rendition of a Land Acknowledgment, created and recorded collectively with the Indigenous community. This track is even used by schools in the Toronto area as an artistic approach to providing a Land Acknowledgment in their daily operations.
In our conversations, we also chatted about the COVID-19 Global Pandemic and the effects this has had on creating and performing music. “The pandemic has had a profound effect on musicians and music making,” Wilson testified. “I personally like to create in solitude before approaching my producer with an idea, but that’s not everyone’s approach, so that can be difficult. Performing is of course not the same, even though we’ve done some online events. Connecting with the audience is an incredible feeling.” The hardest part for Wilson by far has been not being able to rehearse with his band – “I’m looking forward to being able to do that again.” There is however a silver lining to all of this, as he shared that more down time means more time to create – Wilson currently has two projects on the go.
Jason Wilson’s new single Ready to be Loved featuring Carl Harvey is available now on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, Deezer and Bandcamp. This song explores the story of Denny, a 90,000-year-old Neanderthal-Denisovan fossil that was discovered in recent years in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, Russia.
For more information, please visit jasonwilsonmusic.com.