Four influential voices sound off on Toronto’s eclectic musical roots. (Plus tips on where to catch a great show!) 

Enlarging the hip-hop map

Ron Nelson, DJ, broadcaster, concert promoter and educator

The voice: Ron Nelson put Toronto on the hip-hop map, starting in the 1980s with Fantastic Voyage, his influential college radio show. The Toronto scene’s earliest and most ardent advocate, Nelson helped launch the careers of Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee and Rumble. He also lured future stars like Run DMC, Queen Latifah and LL Cool J to local venues, grooming local audiences for future homegrown talent like Drake, Kardinal Offishall and The Weeknd.

The music: “The first day I went to Ryerson [University], I walked to the radio station and got a job. They let me go because I was playing too much rap music. But I kept knocking on the door and two months later they gave me a show and said, ‘Now you can play the music you want.’ ”

“That was the beginning of Fantastic Voyage. It started as black urban, R&B, funk and rap. Eventually, as rap got more popular, it became hip-hop and I got credit for that being Canada’s first hip-hop show.”

“People listening to the show said, ‘We want to see these artists in concert” so I became a concert promoter. It was a very special, spiritually uplifting series of years where you could see the birth of a new kind of music that still exists to this day. 

Everyone is making hip-hop now. And I think Toronto is running the world in terms of urban music. We’ve got Drake, the #1 hip hop artist in the world; Justin Bieber, the #1 pop artist; the Weeknd, the #1 R&B artist — I could go on. It’s never been this good for Canada.”

Check out these Summer/Fall 2023 concerts:
Lil Durk (August 9, 2023), Budweiser Stage
Drake (October 5 & 7, 2023), Scotiabank Arena

Amplifying Indigenous voices 

Jarrett Martineau, former CBC radio host, co-founder of the RPM record label and event series

The voice: Indigenous music is surging alongside a new generation of artists charting new territory in hip-hop, R&B, electric pow wow, and traditional music. Martineau has been at the forefront of this wave via the weekly CBC radio program, Reclaimed and as a music producer and promoter.

The music: “Indigenous music is being pushed beyond old-school expectations about what it is supposed to sound like: people are doing every kind of genre imaginable. We’ve had significant success with artists like Tanya Tagak and A Tribe Called Red. They’ve opened the door for younger artists to step in.”

“In the span of a few short years, cultural institutions in the city have taken up the charge, prioritizing having these voices. The goal for me has always been to normalize our presence so it’s not an exceptional thing to have a crew of Indigenous artists — it’s something integrated into the culture of Toronto.”

Check out these Summer 2023 concerts:
Tkaronto Music Festival, (June 22–24, 2023), Stackt Marketplace
The Halluci Nation (June 30, 2023), Aga Khan Museum
Crystal Shawanda (July 1, 2023), Harbourfront Centre

Going for baroque

Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik’s Music Director Emerita

The voice: From niche ensemble to one of the world’s most lauded baroque orchestras, Tafelmusik’s rise was four decades in the making. At its helm? The late Jeanne Lamon, who joined the nascent orchestra as music director in 1981. For her 33 years of work developing Tafelmusik’s unique sound and vision — each of its 17 members is a historic-music specialist and plays period instruments — Lamon was honoured with the Order of Canada. 

The music: “When I started at Tafelmusik, some people thought baroque music on period instruments was a fad that would go the way of bell-bottom pants…Toronto is a rich city for classical music and offers everything from symphonic concerts to solo recitals by local and international stars. Toronto is especially rich in chamber music and period performance concerts.”

Check out these Fall 2023 concerts:
Tafelmusik Beethoven 4 & 5 (September 22–24, 2023), Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre
Tafelmusik Vive la Différence (October 13–15, 2023), Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre

Fusing brass, hip-hop and trap 

Chris Weatherstone, co-founder and former member, Bangerz Brass

The voice: For local performers Bangerz Brass, the whole city is a stage. The 12-piece hip-hop and trap brass band can be found sharing its big sound at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival to farmers’ markets to political rallies. 

The music: “Toronto is known for hip-hop but we saw a gap in live hip-hop. We’re a hip-hop band and we use unconventional instrumentation. Our mission is to represent Toronto's hip-hop culture in a new way. We take classics that people recognize from the ’90s all the way to now. We have four incredibly talented horn players in the band, and rappers [who] freestyle, and create new music off the old hits. It’s a bit of something familiar and a lot of something new and fresh.”

Check out these Summer 2023 concerts:
TD Toronto Jazz Festival (June 23 to July 2, 2023), various locations
Streetfest (July 27–29, 2023), Queen Street East