Supporting the Soul of the City

Images courtesy of Bangers & Mash Ottawa Soul Music Festival. Feature image by JC Batista Photography.

It rose out of black America, dipped in gospel and spiced with the rhythm, flavoured by the blues. The beat was the bible and the prophets had names like Cooke, Burke and Redding. Their Queen was Aretha and their Godfather was James and their sound made the disciples dance. To African-Americans, the music evoked culture, a sense of pride as it moved from the pulpit and the pews into the streets, dance clubs and very core of an audience looking for something new to move them. No better word could be used to describe it.

It was simply Soul.

Chicago, New Orleans, Philly, Detroit and Memphis are some of the great soul cities. You can picture the wailing moans bleeding through smoky club walls and hovering over the rain drenched alleyways, songs for the streetlights and passers-by in the night. “Try A Little Tenderness”, they’ll tell you. “Let’s Get It On”, he’ll whisper. Maybe, she’ll reply, but only if you got a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada isn’t the first place people will bring up when discussing Soul. Hell, it’s probably not even the hundred and first place, but there’s a rhythmic rumbling happening in the capital shaking the halls, rattling the windows and wearing out dance shoes as quickly as a hot knife slices through a stick of butter. It’s smooth. It’s got groove. It’s waiting for you, baby. All you need to be is there.

“Though our city is often tied to jump blues on one end, and garage rock on the other, it’s undeniable that there’s an intense, fiery love for funky music in Ottawa,” says Garret Barr, somebody ready to catch and release the sweet Soul sounds of O-town in the city’s newest music festival.

Bangers & Mash isn’t just a British dish anymore. If Barr has his way, it’s going to be a butt-shaking collective of rhythm makers and their fans bringing the city soul scene to the forefront with 8 bands, 4 DJs, 2 venues and a whole lotta' music on March 18.

Mack & Ben

Barr will be the first to tell you that funky music is where his heart is. Playing base in his band Slack Bridges, he’s seen firsthand just how wild local crowds get for the genre. He's seen bands like Mack & Ben, The Hornettes, Mackenzie Rhythm Section and the SoulJazz Orchestra fill city dance floors in 2016. On the surface Ottawa may seem like a buttoned down city of conservative civil servants but, underneath, most of them are just waiting for the right beat to tear their ties off to.

“After seeing momentum build this past year, I feel like it’s a now-or-never moment to put it in the spotlight,” Barr tells Ottawa Life on why he choose probably the biggest year in the city’s history to add yet another event to the mix.

“We’re at a neat time in music where I feel the soul umbrella has opened up,” he says proceeding to list off names like Charles Bradley, Kendrick Lamar and the late Sharon Jones as he describes the scope of modern soul. He’s not just talking the classic influences. Those are obvious. Under that umbrella you’ll also find jazz piano, EDM style slow-builds, ‘80s drums and a whole lot of hip hop.

”For me, that means soul music means everything in that canon- the emotional, gritty and funky stuff that came before the samples, the stuff that used the samples, and the stuff coming out now which was inspired by both.”

Motown, R&B, funk, pop-soul, afrobeat are all included in the festival mix because if it’s in the name of soul music it’s in there.

While you’ll have to wait until March to catch the Bangers & Mash Festival shows at House of Targ and Black Squirrel Books & Café, Barr and his band as well the sibling half of Monday I Retire (who retired as a band this Monday…go figure), Mack & Ben, will be giving you just a taste of what’s to come this weekend. Slip into your groove shoes because in order to make March 18 the funkiest night of the year they’re having an all-out roof raising, booty shaking, hand clapping, toe tapping Funkraiser!

The two bands will be joined by CHUO’S Full Time Groove who'll be spinning classic soul cuts between acts. With all three of them appearing at the festival in March, it’s like a sneak peek to whet your appetite. Let's call it your soul sample plate, if you will.

“Our goal is to raise at least $600 towards the festival,” says Barr quick to add that, while there is no cover, anything guests can offer will be helpful with incentives to give even outside of the music you'll hear. Offers of $10 or more will have a chance to win some local prizes secure in the knowledge that their donations are going to a good cause.

“The festival is entirely volunteer-run with no additional funding and all profits going to artists, so all money fundraised will be going directly to pay artists at the festival,” Barr says. “If we can reach our goal, we can support our artists properly and make this a feasible festival to run in future years.”

The Bangers & Mash Soul Music Festival Funkraiser takes place Sunday, January 29 at the Record Centre between 3pm and 5pm. There isn’t much room in there so best turn up early or, like Martha and the Vandellas, you may just end up “Dancing in the Street”. Thankfully, on that January winter afternoon, you’ll have the hot tracks to keep you warm from the skin to the Soul!