Hamilton, Ont., may not yet be known as a hotbed for hip-hop, but with Lee Reed, Motëm and, now, Canadian Winter, it soon will be. Canadian Winter consists of energetic live instrumentation courtesy of DJ-producer J. Fevrier XIV, percussionist Kojo B., guitarist Jay Baggett and witty MC Kobi, a transplant from the U.K. town of Woking, in Surrey, who moved to Canada in 2008. They’ll perform at the ALL CAPS! Island Festival in Toronto on Sunday, Aug. 12, after a block party celebrating the 21st birthday of the Dr. Disc record store in their beloved Hamilton on Friday, Aug. 10.
“There’s some fantastic artists here, super talented people who’ve really come into their own over the last couple of years,” Kobi says when asked about the Hammer’s cultural caché. “People like Supa83, a producer who worked with us on our album, young cats like the Phorce. It’s really been a case of the timing being right. Maybe Hamilton wasn’t known for underground hip-hop, but I think the stars are aligning and we’re all managing to get our music out there.”
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Much of his exuberance for the burgeoning arts hub that is Hamilton stems from Kobi’s experience in the U.K. He describes his contemporaries here as humble and approachable in comparison.
“The scene in London is very cagey or clique-y and people get wary if you’re doing something outside of what they’re doing. Having come to Hamilton, which is a smaller city than London but has more talented people per capita than anywhere I’ve lived before, it was definitely a change of pace. To me, it has a scene the size of a big city with a small city mentality to it.”
With the world’s attention on London right now because of the Olympics, Kobi is somewhat conflicted about whether he’s happier to be here in Canada now or if he secretly desires to be in the thick of the action.
“My family were just over and we watched the opening ceremony and there are some parts that had me nostalgic and some where I was like, ‘I’m so glad I don’t have to put up with that.' I can’t imagine how hectic it must be in London right now.
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“I grew up just outside of there and spent my teenage years running around London, going to clubs. It’s changed a lot since then and I can only imagine how much it’s changed in the run-up to the Olympics. But by all accounts, everyone’s having a great time over there. Friends have been Instagramming pictures of events they’ve been to. A lot of beach volleyball, funny enough.”
Ah, sand and surf. It’s all Kobi could think about when he arrived in Canada and first faced our frigid temperatures. His uncle is television personality Jojo Chintoh and Kobi came here to help him work on a documentary series about black history. A fan of the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Slick Rick and Doom, he fell back into making music after hanging out with his cousin Kojo, a percussionist. One by one, a small circle of musicians gravitated towards each other and they just needed a name for their band.
“I used to complain about the cold a lot when I came here,” Kobi recalls. “The first couple of months was a real culture shock because it was autumn and it was still a little warm but by November, I was freezing. And when I complained about being cold to Canadians, they’d say, ‘Oh buddy, just wait till February.’ So the joke was, if we had a band we’d call it Canadian Winter and the album’d be called Just Wait Till February and then it kinda happened. So, again, it was the stars aligning.”
Canadian Winter will release a new EP – a precursor to a proper LP – on Aug. 21. It’s called Original 6, and NHL fans should not treat this as a coincidence.
“The first album was very much about me finding my feet in a new culture and dealing with the aspects of moving abroad,” Kobi explains. “The new EP is very much about the dynamic of being a part of a band but, in a general sense, it’s about four guys doing something they love in a recession, where it might not work out for them but they’re doing it any way. So, we called it Original Six because of the hockey theme and the first teams to join the league and it’s the idea of getting used to being part of a team essentially.”
Listen to "Ooh La La, Ah Oui Oui"
That sense of camaraderie and community is clearly hugely integral to Canadian Winter and their shows this week are emblematic of that. First up is a block party in Hamilton on Friday night to celebrate 21 years of Dr. Disc selling actual, tangible music to hungry consumers.
“I grew up in Woking as someone who shopped for vinyl religiously,” Kobi says. “Between the ages of 16 and 21, I spent my lunch money pretty much exclusively on records and cigarettes. To be able to come out here and help celebrate a record store that’s been going for 21 years is pretty awesome to me. I feel sentimentally attached to Dr. Disc because we played there last year as well and that was the first time my parents had ever seen me perform. And they didn’t hate it, which was surprising!”
On Sunday, Aug. 12, Canadian Winter makes a somewhat rare trek to Toronto Island for the musically diverse ALL CAPS! festival and Kobi is clearly psyched to be there.
“It’s a chance to try out some new stuff and also help people get acquainted with the older material. I’m also super hyped to play with the bands on the bill, like Maylee Todd. I caught her in Hamilton at a house party. I’m super excited to see OG Melody and Lioness and A Place to Bury Strangers just intrigues me. I’m a fan of all kinds of music so I’m super hyped for it, definitely.”
To hear this full conversation, you have two options. You can download an MP3 here if you just right-click and “Save target as.” Or to stream it, press play.
See Canadian Winter perform at a block party celebrating the 21st birthday of the Dr. Disc record store in Hamilton, Ont., on Friday, Aug. 10 and at the ALL CAPS! Island Festival in Toronto, Ont. on Sunday, Aug. 12.
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on Aug 10, 2012