From clothes to hair products to music, Black Canadians had to go down south to get it. I still remember adding a wire hanger to my radio antenna, trying to tune into WBLK in Buffalo.
We have always dealt with being in the shadow of America's cultural footprint, driving many Black Canadians to get involved in media, fashion, and music to be the change we want to see.
In the spirit of seeing Black representation in the media and entertainment industry, the non-profit group ADVANCE, Canada's Black Music Business Collective, was formed to do just that by creating the conditions for advancement. It aims to address racial equality and inclusivity through advocacy, mentorship, and community outreach.
And one of the ways they're furthering this goal is through their recently launched weekly podcast AMPLIFY, narrated by award-winning writer, actress, radio host, and media personality, Jemeni. ByBlacks had the pleasure of chatting with two of the podcast guests, Randy Phipps, founder of RP Communications, and Jamelia Campbell, publicist for ADVANCE, about trying to break through in Canada's entertainment industry.
Phipps, who runs the full-service PR firm, manages publicity for legendary singer-songwriter and recent Canadian Music Hall of Fame Inductee Deborah Cox.
His journey began as a public servant in a "cushy" government job. But he was soon drawn into PR because his friends started a non-profit organization mentoring at-risk youth in Toronto. While volunteering on the non-profit board, Phipps tapped into his journalism skills and learned on the fly about all things PR.
“The number one tip,” he says about building business relationships and networking, “is going to events and making sure you're out there. Meet everyone you can. Because you never know who can connect you to your next opportunity. So, when you're at events, make sure you socialize. Make sure you introduce yourself. Make sure that you can explain what you do very cohesively.”
And that’s a topic, Jamelia Campbell, the first Black publicist at Sony Music Canada and the current full-time publicist for ADVANCE, knows all too well. She says it can’t be underestimated how much time and energy is spent learning the ropes of a new industry, especially if you don’t have mentors, support systems or a blueprint.
“I often hear from students or young people about gatekeeping and not being able to break into the industry and not understanding the steps into getting there,” she says.
“For me, this podcast is such a great resource for young people coming up in this industry and gaining an insight into how some people broke through. You have DJs, publicists, managers, and people from all walks of life, showing you how you can be involved in the music industry and how they developed and navigated their careers.”
“I wish I had this when I came up because back then and still to this day, I've never really had Black mentors. So, anything we can do to help give people a resource to help better themselves, help better their careers and help shape what they want to do and even what not to do. All of it matters, and it goes a long way.”
“All we can do to contribute to making sure that Black people have this information, the better because I think white people have had these resources, had these networks, had these community groups, had these social clubs for so long, and we're just trying to catch up. And I think ADVANCE is doing its part with AMPLIFY to bridge that gap.”
Phipps shares the same sentiment:
“I think what AMPLIFY is doing is giving a voice to the people behind the scenes because we play such a pivotal role in the careers of the people that we work with or we represent, and AMPLIFY is all about making sure that everyone is seen, everyone is visible, everyone is well represented.”
“I love what they're doing because they're sharing different stories of people that have a certain level of success to help inspire the next generation, and when you see someone that looks like yourself doing something that you want to do, that is a massive boost of inspiration for the people that are coming up.”
And the boost is well needed. Black Canadians in media and the arts can also offer a hereto unknown perspective whenever they enter a room. Their ideas and markets get routinely untapped because they’re unknown to the people running the show.
“Being a person of colour, I felt like it was adding another level they didn't have before,” says Phipps. “I saw it as an opportunity to ensure that more people of colour are in these spaces.”
“I have a certain visibility to a gap that the market I was functioning in didn't seem to recognize,” adds Campbell. “I was able to tap into certain avenues they had never been present in before, and I'm able to give them representation and visibility on platforms.”
Underrepresentation can no longer be business as usual. And it’s time the old guard understood the need for Black Canadians to see and hear themselves in the media. Unfortunately, we still see this lack of understanding when in 2022, a major Toronto urban radio station starts using a syndicated U.S. radio show to replace its local morning program. Such decisions only make audiences feel like strangers in their own homes when the perspectives on their local radio station don’t reflect their everyday experiences.
“I always say that the media landscape in Canada is not rich enough with Black voices. And I think we can sometimes scroll on Twitter or turn on the TV or go on whatever medium and feel like the market is saturated and they don't need something new, or we don't need to do another one of this,” says Campbell.
“But when it comes to proliferation, who is making a mark? What are the Canadian equivalents? Many questions pop up, and we have so much talent here; it's unbelievable. So, there's just such a need.”
If you’re considering entering Canada’s entertainment industry, tuning into the AMPLIFY podcast will give you the virtual mentorship you need. The current season, which has a mix of shows in French and English, hopes to help put more Black faces at the table by showing them the path that has been followed by those before them.
You can stream AMPLIFY every Thursday from September 29 on all podcast streaming platforms.