Quebec artists band together to confront systemic racism through music

·3 min read

If a global pandemic made the world stop in 2020, it also gave people time to reflect on the killings of unarmed Black people by police.

The death of George Floyd last spring in Minneapolis reverberated across the planet, and the discussion about systemic racism became unavoidable, including in Quebec.

For a collection of local artists, the timing seemed perfect to channel that conversation through art with the song and music video "Tout recommencer," which means "To start everything over" in English.

The music video, released last month, features brief dramatic reenactments, in reference to events such as the Oka Crisis and the Quebec City mosque shooting.

It also blends footage from one of last year's local protests against police brutality with staged scenes showing Black men encountering police and Black health-care workers tending to white COVID-19 patients before being taken away by authorities.

The mix of visuals is meant to show that systemic racism in Quebec is alive and well and has yet to be confronted.

"It's kind of our Bye Bye," said the music video's director Will Prosper, in reference to Radio-Canada's annual year-end sketch comedy show. "It's just to remind us, of all the struggles, all of the marches."

Three weeks after Floyd's death, a scathing report prompted Montréal Mayor Valérie Plante to acknowledge the systemic nature of racism within the city. Premier François Legault, however, repeatedly denied its existence in Quebec.

"Although we've faced all of these racist acts, what's going on? Can we start to have a conversation? Can we stop history from repeating itself?" said Prosper.

Maude Touchette
Maude Touchette

'It was like a form of art therapy'

Prosper, who's also a co-founder for the community group Hoodstock, enlisted beat-maker Rondo Brown to provide the musical backdrop for the project.

Brown went to work, tapping into his network of producers, culminating in a song that featured seven established artists, mostly mainstays in the city's hip hop scene: Sarahmée, Meryem Saci, Tizzo, Shreez, Rosalvo, Marco Volcy and Imposs.

"I felt honoured because, anytime I can use my platform to shed light on truth, I feel like I did my job," said Imposs, who raps the song's opening verse. "People are dancing [to this song]. It feels good, it feels right, it feels like unification but the subject matter still paints a sad part of our society."

The music video has racked up more than 50,000 views since its release.

At the time the song was being created, the police killings of Black people in the U.S. and the coronavirus were weighing on the minds of the collaborators, and the song gave everyone an outlet, according to Brown.

Maude Touchette
Maude Touchette

"I didn't really want to do this for the views, I just wanted to do this just so everybody could feel good, and it worked," Brown said. "It was like a form of art therapy, and everybody came and supported each other with everything that was going on."

The protests in Montreal against systemic racism continued well after George Floyd's death.

In 2020, a video capturing hospital staff hurling racist and degrading insults at Joyce Echaquan shortly before she died sparked outrage.

The death of Sheffield Matthews, a 41-year-old Black man shot and killed by Montreal police in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, also led to protest. Matthews was said to have been holding a knife at the time of the shooting.

"We want to show that, 'hey, there's a history in Quebec, let's look at the conversation, and let's have a dialogue," said Prosper.

"Art is a powerful tool, it's another way to reach the people."