Stories From Home - Brooke Blackburn

Every week, we ask a different local artist to provide their unique perspective on the pandemic experience from a musician’s point of view. Through words, video and music, each musician will share their story, along with an audio or video sample of a recent project, and a link to purchase their music so that you can support their work.

This week, Brooke Blackburn discusses looking inward, learning about new technology, and the importance of Black history.

"Living through this time in history reaffirms my sense of self and my core motivations. Since the outset of the pandemic, I’ve continued doing what I do with increased focus and drive. I really enjoy being busy so, with the help of some dear people in my life, I upgraded my studio and have been writing and recording from home. This has therefore been a time for me to catch up on some ideas that I laid down before the pandemic, and to bring new ideas to fruition.

Before the pandemic, I was far less familiar with digital communications and the various ways in which independent musicians could broadcast their music. I was mostly used to CDs or music videos that were shot live at concerts. When the lockdown began, I launched myself into the present. I started doing Instagram live shows from my living room and found that people reacted with appreciation and gratitude. It was truly reaffirming to realize that so many people were thirsty for live music in any form possible.

After performing this way for about a month or so, I put a piece out as a clip and had a friend from Rome play overtop. I was so stunned by how well it turned out, that I needed to explore further in this new milieu. Many artists were putting out these multi-screen videos, so I decided to do the same for some music I had written prior to the lockdown.

It’s important to say that, in the music of both Blackburn and The Bentley Collective, there lies a core message stemming from the experiences my family and I have amassed, as we live as Black people in Toronto and Canada. A great deal of my writing centers on that heritage and how I exist in Toronto as a member of the Black community. Our heritage is actively documented through our music, and we continue to share it with the public. Myself and my brothers, making up the Blackburn Brothers, are legacy-driven musicians and songwriters. Our family history in Canada dates back to the early 1800s. Our ancestors came up through the Underground Railroad and settled in the northern part of the Bruce Peninsula (of southern Ontario). Being decedents of slaves that fled persecution and hatred enshrines a purpose in our work—one that we constantly reinforce.

In this era of stark racial division and resurgent white supremacy (largely, but not exclusively in the United States) it has never been more important to educate and re-establish the unwavering truth that love indeed conquers hate. No education without representation! People who see history as a march toward progress and equality have a loud message for those nostalgic for a dark, segregated past. We the people say: remember the past, don’t forget your roots, and march on to create a world where everyone is respected and not judged by their race or ethnicity. It is this message, this fight, that has been my steadfast focus during such a pivotal time.

It has been a new awakening for me with regards to video and online releases. Blackburn Brothers have teamed up with Bravo Niagara several times during the pandemic. Through their vision and our music contribution we collaborated on an 11 minute short film about the Freedom Seekers who came up through the Underground Railroad and crossed over the Niagara River into freedom, into Canada—a nation that had abolished slavery in 1834. These heroes escaped slavery in the United States prior to the writing of the American Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Bravo Niagara also asked me to write a song for an elder documentarian from the Niagara region named Wilma Morrison who passed from COVID-19 at a long-term care home. For this piece, we filmed in a church saved in part by the efforts of Wilma herself to classify the structure as a heritage site in Niagara Falls. Wilma was granted a degree from Brock University for her work in preservation of Black history in the region. Finally, also presented in partnership with Bravo Niagara, I performed a song I had written during COVID called “Freedom Train.” This song is as relevant today as it is to our past; in our groove based style of music the Blackburn Brothers help to propel that message into the present day."

Support Brooke by purchasing his music on Apple Music.

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