Reflections and Dreams

This past week or so has been one of reflection….frequently positive and sometimes not so positive.

A week ago Saturday I attended the Secret Path concert commemorating both Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie, and witnessed how reconciliation can truly be reconciliACTION….in a very moving and positive tribute to both Chanie and Gord.

The next day I attended a funeral of a young Indigenous man, saw how devastating it was to his family and friends….yet also saw the healing that can occur when a community rallies around those in need….and for its own needs….a community that is more than just Indigenous or non-Indigenous….beyond class or racial barriers.

Yesterday I was part of the Davenportage, providing an Indigenous opening. Starting from Étienne Brûlé Park, teams carried canoes along the Davenport Trail. The trail runs north along the Humber River then turns east at Lambton Park on what used to be a sand bank. Further east the trail meets the ancient shoreline of Lake Iroquois and follows it east across Garrison and Taddle Creeks. The trail then follows Yellow Creek back to the Evergreen Brickworks, a short 16.5 km portage! The Davenportage is a walk through an incredible amount of Toronto history and geography. Michael Bumby, one of the organizers, concedes the route deviates somewhat from the original First Nations trail, due to modern development. But it still provides important lessons….especially connecting to the land. “Until you do it with your feet, you haven’t learned a lot about the land,” says Bumby. “That distance has not changed in 10,000 years. You can’t sense it in a car.”

In many ways these past few days have also been a time of reassessment….refocus….re-evaluation.

A group I am involved with have been working at trying to build a recording studio….plus other music industry related space (such as offices for artist development/management/promotion; production suites; song writing & rehearsal spaces)….plus possibly non-profit arts organizations. We have looked at lots of different spaces, including the Daniels building at Queens Quay and even the old Matador Ballroom.

The Matador Ballroom was of definite interest because of its iconic music history, all the great folks who played there….but also for its space with 18 ft ceilings and no columns and nearly 4000 sq. ft in the old ballroom. Unfortunately it was bought by three investors for $4.4 million last May who intend to build a condo development there. Literally tear the old Matador down and build condos with a possible commercial space that might pay homage to its musical legacy.

We did contact the current owners last July/August (I actually happened by there one weekend and saw nothing had been done with the space….finally tracked down the owners and actually sent an email “To Whom It May Concern” indicating possible interest in purchasing the building). To our surprise we actually got a response and began such a discussion….even getting an opportunity to extensively view the property. BUT there was never any indication of an acceptable price provided by the new owners….and while they indicated they would entertain an offer, we just couldn’t come up with a figure that would make sense. Not having to guess a figure to offer….and also build in the cost of equipping and outfitting such a space, not to mention the extensive renovation to bring the mechanical aspects up to spec.

We looked at several creative means to finance such a purchase: trying to finance part through private lenders or by mortgaging; having several potential investors partner on such a venture; using community bonds through Tapestry Community Capital (who had helped with an earlier attempt at saving the Matador); and any combination of these.

We looked at the possibility of a workers cooperative or even a non-profit studio. Our intention was to create a community hub for music and other arts.

We had a meeting this past Wednesday re: the Matador at which we gave a final ‘sales pitch’ as it were….but unfortunately the current owners have made plans to completely demolish the building and rebuild on the site with condos….possibly building in something acknowledging the Matador’s history….but 3 to 4 years from now….and while they would likely sell the whole building as is, their asking price would be far higher than it is worth. While the Matador is an incredible space, it is a huge undertaking….and realistically not worth the cost it would entail….with any purchase price well over $5.5 million….and it would still likely cost twice that to fully renovate and outfit properly.

It was nice to dream of saving such a space but the reality is that there is little or no need for a huge recording studio these days….not in these lean and mean days….and while we could have created smaller studios at the Matador with other spaces for performance arts etc… was just going to be too costly….and too time consuming….taking money and time when we could be doing what we really want to do.

AND sometimes one tries just too hard to do too much.

Besides, Joe Dunphy from Revolution Recording Studios told us that it was going to be a roller coaster of a ride just finding the right space….with highs….and lows….but that we would eventually find the right space….so make sure we enjoy the ride wherever it takes us.

SO, as for myself, I have re-evaluated my goals….decided to concentrate on what are priorities in my mind….focus….not try to do too much….or so much.

SO here are my priorities:

FIRST, to follow through with Make Music Matter and firm up plans on a possible partnership for a pilot project in an Indigenous community….healing through music…..maybe calling such a partnership IMPEL (Indigenous Music Producing Empowered Lives).

SECOND, find a suitable commercial studio space….not too big….big enough for one medium sized studio….and one smaller studio….plus a couple of production suites and couple of offices….looking at about 3000 sq.ft. in total….maybe bit more….but far from the 8000 sq.ft. that Matador had in total.

THIRD, to help some good friends get their latest recording completed.

FOURTH, to create an Indigenous record label/production/promotion business….to produce and promote Indigenous artists especially emerging artists….not to ‘compete’ with anyone else doing so….but provide a more cooperative and all inclusive approach than other approaches….never to ‘rip off’ artists….but to create a win/win for all involved.

I am working with some great friends….some very talented people….and am equally fortunate to be supported by other talented and good friends.

SO the dream lives on….just in a smaller version….with more focus….maybe with less folks directly involved….but still paddling forward on this journey. With the open end up and the pointed end forward. STUDIO JIIMAAN is still moving forward.


“Oh oh oh ya

I will sing for the ice to break
I will sing for the rivers to run
I will sing for the thaw to take
I will sing for the spring to come
Oh oh oh ya, for the spring to come

I will sing to free the lake
I will sing for the rain to run
I will sing for the seed to wake
I will sing for the spring to come

Oh I had a dream about spring coming right along
Oh about a nice way to ask them for a song
So I asked the mountain if she might wanna move me
She said tell the rivers to wake up the lake see
Rivers take it from sky into home base
And yellow belly hawks know how the kill tastes
Singing for the spring is like kissing pretty things
And change is like fire, change is like wings
Birch bark and maple and seas of black hair
Sing baby sing love fill the air

Oh oh oh ya
For the spring to come
Oh oh oh ya
For the spring to come”

“Spring To Come” by the band Digging Roots

This is one of my favourite songs by Digging Roots, an incredible Indigenous group….hell an incredible group period. I’m proud to count them as my friends.

Oh I had a dream….NO I have a dream….NO actually a group of us have a dream….a vision that we are working towards becoming much more than just a dream….very soon hopefully. But let me share a bit of what that dream is. A dream called STUDIO JIIMAAN.

STUDIO JIIMAAN will be a non-profit recording studio for music makers in Toronto. STUDIO JIIMAAN’s mission will be to remove the technical and social barriers between Toronto’s music makers and their creative visions through truly affordable music workspace and professional development programs. We envision a city where anyone can make and enjoy music.

Imagine a vibrant and equitable community where music makers are creatively fulfilled and music is an inherent part of what makes Toronto a great place to be. It’s possible…and hopefully we can make it happen.

The non-profit angle came out of a realization that no one really needs to own a studio, people just need access to one.
We want to create a space that is accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and we want to create a space that is a part of the community and gives back to the city. We will charge our clients to use the facility like any other studio but the rates will be subsidized by foundations/grants and individual donors who believe it’s important to cultivate a vibrant and creative scene in Toronto.
This is a way to allow artists to come in and use the facility at a price point that works for small/non-existent budgets while relying on other sources of funding to keep daily operations running.

Serving the Toronto area, our key to progress will be our business model: a non-profit studio founded to serve artists and labels, and the community by looking beyond the bottom line. STUDIO JIIMAAN will create a structure that not only greatly benefits artists, but also multitudes of freelance audio engineers and even other Toronto-area recording studios.

We believe that STUDIO JIIMAAN can host annually over 1,000 sessions between two studios, as there’s a definite demand that we hope to be filling (while still seeing new studios pop up and legacy studios stay in business).

In many ways, STUDIO JIIMAAN will forge its own path in the music business. Paddle its own canoe as it were.

Toronto is a vibrant city. Just like any city there is a very large and diverse music scene here but it’s not as much of a focal point as it could be, or a point of pride like it should be. Toronto is called a Music City, but an argument could be made against that.

At the moment, the biggest challenges we’re facing in Toronto are a lack of reputation and infrastructure coupled with high real-estate costs, all of which lead a lot of musicians to leave the city in search of places with more perceived opportunities.

Our mission as an organization is to create a sustainable and equitable music scene in Toronto, and we hope to provide a support structure for musicians that allows for more opportunities and a better awareness throughout the city of all the awesome music being made here.

OUR VISION: a city where everyone can make and enjoy music.

OUR MISSION: To remove the technical and social barriers between Toronto’s music makers and their creative visions through truly affordable music workspace and professional development programs.

We believe the musical arts are an important part of healthy communities: encompassing the values of co-creation, entrepreneurship, and youth/adult collaboration among others.

Vibrancy in the arts builds bridges between disparate communities and makes cities a more desirable place to live and work.


ACCESS. Music making is for everyone — no matter your gender, race, class, sexuality, or other status. We champion those with less access and we welcome all with radical hospitality.

WORK. Music makers are workers who should be fairly compensated. They deserve to control their own creative process and the use of their work.

COMMUNITY. No heroes, no assholes. The best music scenes thrive on mutual trust and respect. Every music maker deserves to learn, grow, and progress in a supportive community.


PATHWAYS. We’re building a hub where music makers of all walks can exchange ideas and grow their artistry together. Our house is your house – just show up, connect, and create.

BREAKING COMMUNITY SILOS. We champion those with less access. To complement the universal accessibility of our space we’ll make focused professional development investments in those makers who need it most. (NOTE: A silo mentality can occur when a team or department shares common tasks but derives their power and status from their group. They are less likely to share resources or ideas with other groups or welcome suggestions as to how they might improve. Collaboration in a business culture with silos among teams or departments will be limited, unless collaboration benefits the members of the department. In addition, the members of a silo tend to think alike. They get their power from association with their function and their shared technical knowledge.)

We will not be a label, but there are some similarities. Back in the day record labels sought out bands early in their careers and made a commitment to develop that talent. Today the story is very different. The few remaining labels look for well-packaged, profitable acts they can “partner” with.

At STUDIO JIIMAAN we will take an old school approach. We invest in musicians early in their careers with the predication of an eventual return — just not a financial one. The social/cultural return we’re after is at the core of our non-profit mission.

It’s not about ownership, it’s about access. There is a whole community of musicians that don’t need to own a studio, they just needed access to one. The non-profit model fits that perfectly.

Go up to almost any music recording studio owner and ask them the following two questions and you’ll probably get similar responses: 1) “Are you making a large profit?” – “No” 2) “Why are you doing this then?” – “I love the work and I think it’s important/has cultural and/or artistic value.” And there you have the most informal definition of a non-profit organization. So why not build a non-profit recording studio.

STUDIO JIIMAAN will likely be a 100% freelance studio, which means that we won’t have any staff engineers. We think it’s really important for artists to work with technical professionals that they get along with (both personally and musically) and so we will enforce that every client brings in their own engineer. We expect to have over a 1,000 gigs for freelancers every year happening in our facility, and we’ll price our studios in a way that leaves room for engineers to charge a reasonable rate for their services.

When clients need referrals we will be able to refer to those on our staff who are great engineers as well as other engineers on a roster of available engineers (but they will still negotiate their own rates and get paid directly by the client as a freelancer). We also expect to see a lot of engineers coming in from other studios around town.

We hope to see thousands of musicians/artists/engineers come through our doors every year so that it feels like we have a large community surrounding the work that that we do. We really value the face-to-face interaction that takes place in the recording studio and expect to see so many people coming out of the small home studios in their basements or bedrooms and start collaborating with others. The best music doesn’t get made in a vacuum, it usually takes a team.To us it will be about collaboration.

We expect to further contribute in two ways: through direct support to artists/musicians and through an effort to raise general awareness about the great music that is being made in our city. There is an obvious need for the programming we plan to have thousands of people take advantage of our studios. We want to give bands and engineers a reason they stay in Toronto instead of moving elsewhere.

We will also make an effort to engage music fans in Toronto and let them know that you don’t need to look too far to find good new music, that there’s actually lots being made all around you, right in Toronto. Raising the reputation and awareness of what’s happening here in Toronto is a long process but it only serves to make the city feel more like home for all of the musicians/artists that struggle to live and work here in Toronto.

We hope to partner with two other non-profits Make Music Matter and The Remix Project on some work with Indigenous communities. Much of these partnerships will be part of the social mandate of STUDIO JIIMAAN through its IMPEL program (IMPEL stands for Indigenous Music Producing Empowered Lives).

This is what Make Music Matter is about:

‘Make Music Matter uses the creative process as a therapeutic tool to help empower marginalized individuals and communities. Our innovative music therapy program, Healing in Harmony, centres around a locally-built recording studio on the grounds of a healing institution or community centre. Participants gather in the recording studio and work with a therapeutic team that includes a psychologist trained in music therapy and a professional music producer; patients are transformed into artists. The songs are then disseminated back to the local community through radio broadcasts, concerts, CD distribution, and social media, as tools to raise awareness and reduce stigma. In January 2018, we partnered with Warner Music Canada to launch Samothrace Records, a platform to celebrate the artists and reach wider audiences on a global scale. We are currently working with partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Turkey, to expand programming. We are also exploring opportunities to work with Canada’s aboriginal communities. At Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, our program has successfully integrated into the holistic treatment of survivors of sexual violence, with promising results in significantly reducing levels of anxiety and PTSD through its unique approach. “The program is creating a breakthrough in healing. We’re witnessing transformative change in the lives of women, children, their families, and vulnerable community members we serve. As survivors and patients transcend their suffering, we hear their voices anew, and together we are delivered to hope.” — Dr. Denis Mukwege, Founder and Medical Director of Panzi Hospital’

Make Music Matter has begun to work in Indigenous communities in Canada around sexual violence, using the same techniques proven in their work in Africa.

This is what The Remix Project is about:

‘The Remix Project was created in order to help level the playing field for young people from marginalized and under served communities. Our programs and services serve youth who are trying to enter into the creative industries or further their formal education. The Remix Project provides top-notch alternative, creative, educational programs, facilitators and facilities. Our mission is to help refine the raw talents of young people in order to help them find success as participants define it and on their own terms.

This includes programs in Recording Arts, Creative Arts and Business Arts. These programs offer training for up to 9 months. The Recording Arts Academy is the umbrella to the school of programs at The Remix Project primarily concerning recording and composing music. Whether a participant’s goals are entrepreneurial or more towards developing a career within an existing organization, The Recording Arts Academy is in place to support young people in finding success in fields related to their passions.’

Both of these organizations are very much in sync with what we hope to be able to do through IMPEL….and rather than re-invent the wheel why not form equitable partnerships where possible.

So why call a recording studio after a canoe? In Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language)? Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: birch bark canoe. Through STUDIO JIIMAAN we will be able to create a vessel that will take us on an incredible journey….allow others to participate in that journey and even take their own journeys.

It has been said: “To know where one is going, one must know from where one has come.” In doing so, it is also good to think in canoe terms: “When in doubt, keep the open end up, and the pointed end forward.” Or like the Telecaster just keep it simple.

We envision a studio space that reflects the canoe….the jiimaan….not just as a metaphor….but also incorporating some of its inherent designs….that we think can be useful to create an incredible acoustic space.

SO the name….the brand….STUDIO JIIMAAN….just makes sense.

Where will this be? We are working at getting an iconic music space….with fantastic room for a kiss ass studio. More on that to come soon….but for now dream with us as we work to bring this dream to reality.

Who are we? A group of like minded folks (many of whom are very talented….some real movers and shakers in the music industry) with a love for music….a desire to share that love of music….and to hopefully bring more music to this crazy old world….because music is truly the universal language….and if we fill the world with more music maybe we can create an abundance of positive energy to make this a better place for all of us.

(NOTE: Some of the ideas posted here were liberally borrowed from a very successful non-profit studio in the USA, The Recording Company in Boston, that we intend to pattern STUDIO JIIMAAN after. We share a common goal….common values….and a common vision.)

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Footprints In Time

On Friday, I was part of Indigenous people asked to walk across clay in moccasins to help eventually create a bronze cast of footprints that will honour footprints of our ancestors found over 100 years ago in Toronto, but then covered over by concrete as described below in the Toronto Star article from 2008.

This is one monument that I think needed to be done….and glad it will not be covered over by concrete….but rather be set in bronze….lasting for years to come….and maybe it will bring about a positive conversation of how long the ‘footprint’ of Indigenous people have been on this land. It will certainly be far better than those of dead politicians. Because we are still walking this land.

UPDATE!!!! Birch Bark Telecaster SOLD!!!!

Recently I received bad news. The hand surgery for my left hand I had hoped for has been cancelled as the arthritis in my left hand is far worse than originally diagnosed and surgery will not be able to remedy the situation.

SO I am selling off some of my guitars and amps….most that have hardly been played or used if at all due to my injury.

One of these was the birch bark Telecaster I had built by Jesse Brown of Brown Bear Guitars….called Wiigwaasi-Mukwa (Birch Bark Bear).

Her new home is with great friends and fabulous musicians, the Indigenous group Digging Roots….Raven will be putting her through her paces beginning at the Mariposa Folk Festival….and she will be travelling around the world….sharing our story and our vision musically. I couldn’t think of anybody better to have her….Raven is also of the Bear clan. An awesome guitarist, Raven played the bark Telecaster at the recent Luminato event Biziindan! for the first time. It was obvious Raven was the right person for such a special guitar….I am honoured he bought her and will play her regularly.

Birch Bark Telecaster

This is the birch bark Telecaster I had built by Jesse Brown of Brown Bear Guitars….showing its progression:


This is the finished product:


My birch bark Telecaster is finally done….miigwech (thank you) to Jesse Brown of Brown Bear Guitars for an incredible job….guess I’ll call her Wiigwaasi-Mukwa (Birch Bark Bear)

Build breakdown:

Birch bark top and back
Swamp ash body
Roasted birds eye maple neck/fretboard
Abalone inlays/side dots
Bone nut- cut for 10-46 strings
Abalone/chrome knobs
Gotoh locking tuners
Gotoh in tune vintage bridge
21 m/m nickel frets
Standard strap buttons
Black pickguard
Reverse control plate
Paper in oil capacitor
Pushpull coil splitting on tone knob
McNelly A2 sig bridge pickup, Cornucopia neck humbucker
Nice C shape neck profile
12” fretboard radius
1.675” nut width
Bear face and script headstock woodburned logos
Nitro lacquer finish

Jay Bell Redbird RIP

I was saddened to hear of the passing of my friend Jay Bell Redbird. Jay was an amazing artist….and a friend. I am honoured to have known him and to have worked with him on more than one occasion….

I remember first meeting Jay and hanging out at the Coloured Stone….having some great conversations about art….always admiring the images he could create….later taking part with him in an art show at the Skydome Pow Wow….eventually doing a mural project together at the First Nations School….but eventually losing touch except for occasionally bumping into each other now and then.

In recent years we had reconnected….even being part of the Thunderbird Marketplace at the Spring One Of A Kind Show together a few years back….later we would run into each other at shows….and community events…..he always made me laugh.

Jay was more grounded….very happy in his life….especially with Halina walking with him. He was a good man living a good life in a good way. Family was very important to him….he was very proud of Duke…..his sisters too….and his whole family….Jay loved his family.

He was creating some of his best work….his images stronger than ever.

Prayers and thoughts go out to Jay….his family….and friends….asemaa put down.