Meet the MusicWorks Panelists: Andrew Sannie, Carmen Omeasoo, Daniel Bennett, Tasha the Amazon

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We're kicking off the first session in our new Decipher hip hop professional development series on November 23 with a conversation about the relationship between hip hop and the larger industry with four Canadian hip hop artists with unique stories of success. What does it take to secure opportunities to move forward as an artist? How can we build the scene outwards in order to put Manitoba hip hop on the map beyond our borders? What resources are available to help artists grow their business and their brand? The Lytics' Andrew Sannie, Carmen Omeasoo aka Hellnback, Transit22's Daniel Bennett, and Tasha the Amazon will join moderator Alan Greyeyes to talk about ways to navigate the local, national, and international industry.

Andrew Sannie is a songwriter as well as a hip hop artist in Winnipeg-based rap group, The Lytics. He’s also a strong proponent for the arts, currently working for not-for-profits to further opportunities in recreation, leisure, arts, and culture for North End Winnipeg residents.

Hailing from the Samson Cree Nation, Carmen Omeasoo aka Hellnback is no stranger to the music industry. Earning nods as co-founder of Warparty and as part of acclaimed hip hop collective Team Rezofficial, Hellnback picked up an Indigenous Music Award in 2015 in recognition for his contribution to music and community while his album #FOE=Family Over Everything also won him new fans. He has collaborated with artists such as A Tribe Called Red, and most recently DJ Shub and Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and Mob Bounce for his second release off the new solo album titled, #1491.

Toronto’s Tasha the Amazon is an award-winning artist and music producer. Notorious for wild stage antics and warehouse parties shut down by police raids, her unconventional lyrics deal as much with partying and hood mischief as they do with anarchy and civil disobedience. VICE Magazine described her as "fearless and peerless". Billboard Magazine called her a buzzworthy “party starter”, and New York Magazine called her “legendary”. Armed with an electrifying stage show, her reputation has helped her build a movement from Toronto to NYC, Mexico City to London, and beyond.

Daniel Bennett aka Transit22 is an Independent Music Award winner and Western Canadian Music Award nominated rapper, a Calgary poet laureate finalist, and a winner of a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award. He has released six albums which have sold thousands of copies, and has collaborated with Rhymesayers recording artist Grieves, Sims of Doomtree, Astronautalis, Madchild of Swollen Members, and eight-time JUNO Award winner Jann Arden. Transit22 has toured as a headliner several times and has also supported tours of Canada, the United States, and Europe with Doomtree, Sage Francis, Swollen Members, Apathy & Celph Titled, Astronautalis, and Zion I, and has shared stages with internationally recognized names like Mac Miller, Tech N9ne, Murs, Hilltop Hoods, Dirty Heads, Down With Webster, Shad, and 54-40. Transit22 has been selected to showcase at prestigious festivals like SXSW, CMW, and BreakOut West, and has performed live in front of over 200,000 people with a stint as a featured artist on the Calgary Stampede main stage. He has received national media coverage including features on Global TV, CTV, CBC TV, Shaw TV, CBC Radio One, in Maclean's Magazine, and regular MuchMusic rotation of his music videos, which have also gotten substantial support online with over 1,000,000 views on YouTube. Transit22 also operates a free recording studio for youth in Calgary with the Boys & Girls Club.

Alan Greyeyes grew up in Winnipeg and is a member of the Peguis First Nation. He received a BA in Economics from Trent University and currently manages Manitoba Music’s Indigenous Music Development Program, where he’s worked since 2005. Alan chairs the Indigenous category for the JUNO Awards and the Aboriginal Music Manitoba board; he’s member of the Rap committee for the JUNO Awards, and Mayor's Indigenous Advisory Circle for the City of Winnipeg. Contact him to learn more about opportunities and resources dedicated to First Nation, Metis, and Inuit people in music along with information about Indigenous Music Development Program projects, which include the Indigenous Music Residency (formerly AMP Camp), Native America North, and Market Builder.

Get to know them better with our little Q+A...

If you could invite five famous or noted people (past or present) to dinner who would you choose?

Andrew: Bill Murray - 'cause Groundhogs day, I also ran in to him on a plane once at SXSW and he seems so crazy; Nina Simone - 'cause she’s bound to turn up; Jesus - 'cause I got mad questions; Tupac - someone’s gotta keep the drinks flowing; Bret “The Hitman” Hart - he’s a childhood hero.

Carmen: Kurt Cobain, Chester Bennington, Billy Swampy, Robin Williams, and my late mosom... Francis Omeasoo 

Daniel: Dennis Rodman, Jay-Z, Elon Musk, Bill Burr, and Lauryn Hill

Tasha: Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Cobain, Erica Badu, Thich Nhat Hahn, Dalai Lama

From your experience, what has been the most challenging thing to overcome as a hip hop artist?

Andrew: Getting the respect I feel I deserve in a country that (for the most part) still doesn’t take my kind of music seriously, despite the fact that hip hop — and urban music in general — dictate the direction of popular trends.

Carmen: To just be labelled a hip hop artist not a Native hip hop artist. I hate to say it but the reality is even though we have been rapping and in the culture since its inception, we still have to fight for our spot in this culture. We arguably as artists have had to make our own awards ceremonies to be in the categories we want to be in. We still have a long way as artists to grow. That is why its so huge that A Tribe Called Red and IsKwé and William Prince won in the categories they intended to be in.

Daniel: Adapting with the shifts of the culture. When I began rapping the artform was much more technical and you would gain your respect on how complex your rhymes/flow was. Now the genre has shifted and the fans care more about melody/character/energy within a song. The hardest part for me is staying current while still holding onto what makes my music unique.

Tasha: Keeping stamina high over the long run is the hardest thing. Success doesn't happen over night and you need to be able to re-motivate yourself when the going gets tough. It's definitely too much to handle alone, so keeping my team tight — keeping close to me only those people who I can lean on when motivation dips — is the most important thing.

What’s your hidden talent?

Andrew: Not sure I have one... I acted a little bit one I was younger, though I’m not sure I’d call that “hidden”, the movies are quite easy to find.

Carmen: Cooking and being a loving dad.

Daniel: I can kick above my head.

Tasha: I'm a classically-trained pianist. My secret favourite activity is sitting in my studio late at night, under black light, playing Chopin Nocturnes.

What is the best praise or advice you’ve received?

Andrew: My father is a strong proponent of hard work and is always reminding his kids that the only path to success is through hard work — some get luck, some struggle but we all need to work hard.

Carmen: "Stop f**king around and make some real moves." (Kardinal 95)

Daniel: That my music was honest and relatable.

Tasha: "If you don't own other people's praises, you don't need to own their criticisms either." 

Who was your role model when you were a child?

Andrew: Like I said, Bret Hart. That’s silly though, so I’m going to go with my parents, they’re amazing people.

Carmen: My oldest brother Bryan Omeasoo... he introduced me to hip hop.

Daniel: Michael Jordan.

Tasha: Batman... and Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes.

Connect with Andrew, Carmen, Daniel, and Tasha at DECIPHER on Nov 23

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