Canadian Musicians Respond to Trucker Convoy Protests

Cadence Weapon couldn’t help but chuckle at the DMs he was receiving about his viral police-and-protesters-themed tweet. On Jan. 31—as a convoy of anti-COVID mandate truckers congested traffic and commerce outside Canadian parliament in Ottawa—the rapper posted:

Most commenters were positive, but some sent Cadence defensive private Twitter messages decrying accusations of white privilege. He recalls writing back: “I didn’t even mention race” in his carefully worded initial Twitter thread. His judo-flip finish: “You read it and instantly went there, which is telling yourself that you see it too.”

“I didn’t even want to talk about it at first. But when I did and it resonated with people, it emphasized what we’re not seeing in the mainstream media.”

Despite any backlash or elbow-y discourse, Cadence couldn’t care less about the old cliche that musicians should “shut up and sing.” For him, “Who I am, and looking the way I look, I believe there’s no greater luxury than being able to choose when to be political and when not to,” says Cadence (who recently announced a deluxe, remix-rife version of his Polaris Prize-winning, scathingly socially conscious LP Parallel World). He adds: “People of colour don’t have a choice. So my way of getting back at that is being as well informed as I can. And speaking to things when the situation calls for it.”

That necessity wasn’t immediately apparent, or at least Cadence had some aversion to it, because the idea of “emotionally engaging” with those so diametrically opposed to his politics “just felt exhausting.” And yet, “I could see the double standard in action, as it’s happening,” as trucker after trucker parked their vehicles by parliament with little consequence, or even set up the type of encampments that homeless Torontonians erected last year, only to see them be swiftly torn down by police. Since then the convoy took root in Ottawa for weeks, spread across the country, bogged down the Canada-U.S. border and has been called a siege. Cadence says: “I didn’t even want to talk about it at first. But when I did and it resonated with people, it emphasized what we’re not seeing in the mainstream media.”

Indeed, as frustrating as the police response has been for Cadence and other onlookers, the MC is also irked by how “the media has been handling the convoys with kid gloves.” He goes on to mock the headlines and tones in some articles about the truckers: “Let’s find out how they feel. Let’s learn more about them”—a conciliatory angle too often lacking in Black Lives Matter or Indigenous protests. Cadence then exchanged some heated DMs with journalists, one of whom stressed the risks of reporting on volatile, media-adverse protestors, before pointing out that some reporters are under restrictions based on their publication’s mandate. “For you to question the media is hurtful” added that journalist. That prompted Cadence to describe the importance of, and right to be critical of the media “in our free society. Because I went to journalism school, and believe in journalism more than anyone else.”

“We haven’t forgotten how they always treat minorities in times like this.”

The importance of giving voice to such issues is equally apparent to rising East Coast rapper and producer Wolf Castle. While he has yet to post his thoughts about the protests, he did retweet a number of compelling points about them, including one by Progress Toronto activist Alejandra Bravo that says “I never ever want to hear another fucking word about encampments built by people without housing.”

Wolf Castle (who recently dropped a video for his song “Get Lit,” tells Complex Canada that musicians like he, Cadence Weapon, and others have power to speak to and for the people. Artists are different from, in his view, public servants and politicians because “they aren’t bound to playing it safe to keep their jobs, speaking delicately and carefully as to retain a political balance.” Instead, they can put forth their values, views, and feelings “from the heart—which is a superpower, and something that keeps the culture and a dialogue alive.”

Wolf Castle sitting outside at night
Image via Talon Simon

Cadence Weapon’s point, in his tweet, about Indigenous demonstrators facing far more punitive consequences for protesting pipelines set to be laid on their reserves especially struck a chord for Wolf Castle, who is Mi’kmaq from Pabineau First Nation. That’s because, since the anti-COVID mandate trucker convoy descended on Ottawa, he has been unsurprised “that the authorities would treat them differently.” And while it wasn’t unexpected in his view, it does “speak volumes about where the rest of us lie. We haven’t forgotten how they always treat minorities in times like this.”

Tanya Tagaq—a fellow Indigenous artist long acclaimed for her boundary-pushing lyrics and avant-garde music (so much so that The Guardian once called her Canada’s “polar punk that makes Bjork sound tame”)—also took to Twitter with her thoughts on the trucker convoy:

While she declined to be interviewed, Tagaq did point to the video for her song “Colonizer” from her recently released album Tongues in response to Complex’s questions about the trucker convoy. 

The COVID mandate-opposing demonstration has enjoyed a “huge difference in treatment” when compared to homeless encampments, Indigenous protests, Black Lives Matter marches, and more, according to New Brunswick rapper Stephen Hero, who called the Confederate Flags waving from some of those eighteen wheelers racist on Twitter. That they have been permitted to continue their “‘protest’” (which Hero put in quotation marks) without aggressive arrests highlights “the very real problem of what the police are really for, which is enforcing oppression and upholding capitalism,” says the MC.

Stephen Hero sitting down in a white hoodie
Image via Publicist

Hero has rapped about such issues for quite some time, especially on his recent LP Eat the Rich and his newly released singles “Slick” and “Fluoride.” Hero has an equally working-class outlook on entering such slippery discourses as an artist, saying it is important for musicians to “use your platform as best you can.” But he is quick to point how challenging that can be because “unfortunately we live under capitalism, which treats information the same way it treats food—as long as it’s profitable it doesn’t matter if it’s evenly distributed, healthy, or if it comes from and supports evil…  It’s important that we keep talking to each other, but it’s a raw and fatigued time, so that’s playing into the division.”

That point is not only seconded by Cadence (for whom Hero has opened at East Coast shows), but also furthered when he considers how artists of other genres are speaking out. Take Donovan Woods, an acclaimed Canadian folk musician that has had his songs covered by country stars like Tim McGraw. After once skewering Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford in 2018 on Twitter, a fan replied to Woods: “It’s cool to have a political opinion, but I’d advise you not to mix music and politics.” Such prior backlash hasn’t stopped Woods from captioning photos of convoy protest truckers on Twitter thusly:

Cadence says: “I do feel for somebody like Donovan, who may have a more left-leaning perspective, but the genre you’re in doesn’t, and is kind of stuck. But it’s important for people like him to speak out. We have opportunities as artists in this polarized society to change perceptions.” And yet, Cadence says it is by no means easy for socially conscious rappers in these situations. That’s because he says hip-hop “can be very conservative, especially in the way it intersects with capitalism. A lot of people don’t want to speak out and offend anyone who might buy their record. It goes back to the Michael Jordan quote: “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

And while Cadence feels aligned with the likes of Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Clash as an underground artist determined to speak truth to power, Donovan Woods agrees with the MCs point about corporations weighing down progressive artistry.

Donovan Woods in a blue cap
Image via Bree Fisher

“More and more of our leading artists are open about their dominant motivation being the gaining wealth. That was something we hated when I was a kid,” Woods says about the old “sell-out” pejorative that seems quaint as of late.

“When you have a platform you’re entitled to speak out. And people are entitled to have a positive or negative reaction to it.”

And yet, Woods (who just announced his next EP, Big Hurt Boy will be out March 18) points out, “Who among us doesn’t have some conservative fans?” He nevertheless loves how many in hip-hop—which he eagerly listens to the most outside of the folk scene he is a part of, and ranks Jay-Z among his favorite MCs—are “wonderfully, inherently political.” He bristles, meanwhile, at how some outside of his folk fanbase “lump me in” with country, especially as “the Canadian country music community’s response to the convoy has been a drag to see. There are some really wrong-headed leaders in that genre.”

Yes, polarization, misinformation, and corporations mire the discourse fans and musicians like Woods can have on social media. And yet, he has been heartened by fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young’s reaction to Spotify and the COVID misinformation notoriously spread by that streaming platform’s star podcaster Joe Rogan, noting that it “has moved the needle on that conversation.” Whether musicians and fans rally around the likes of Young, or are split in praising and criticizing Woods for lambasting convoy truckers online, Woods says: “When you have a platform you’re entitled to speak out. And people are entitled to have a positive or negative reaction to it. But I think you also have a responsibility to not lead people with confusion on your platform, and instead explain where you stand and what you believe in.”

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