par Erin Lowers
There are many reasons why music professionals end up in the music industry — sometimes it’s because they themselves are artists, and sometimes it’s because, in one way or another, music saved their lives, and sometimes, it’s because of the soundtracks they hear when thinking about life-changing moments.
In 2020, it’s safe to say that for many music professionals, especially Black music professionals, music was the soundtrack to a movement that awakened the world. In this moment, the demand for change and accountability across industries centered itself on socio-political anthems and emotionally-driven ballads. But this isn’t the first time music has been the backbone of political movements, nor is it the first time Vivian Barclay, General Manager of Warner Chappell Music Canada, has seen it in motion.
Raised in Jamaica, Barclay’s early interactions with music came at the hands of none other than the legendary Bob Marley.
“When you grow up in Jamaica you cannot escape Bob Marley, but, there are two versions of Marley: to tourists and the mainstream world, there are songs like “One Love”, but for most Jamaicans, Black people, people of colour and many disenfranchised people around the world, it’s “Redemption Song”, which uses the words of Marcus Garvey,” she explains. “I was eight years old when this song came out, so I suspect it did not really hit me till two years later when Bob Marley died, but the lyrics “these songs of freedom, redemption song” are an anthem for Black people everywhere and cemented for me the idea that songs can be the soundtrack to a movement. The simplicity of a simple acoustic song and a great melody is a quiet rallying cry to wake up, stand strong and stand firm.”
While Barclay notes that “Redemption Song” is “arguably one of the single best songs to come out of Jamaica,” it’s also an impactful song, which to her is music that not only transcends genres and eras but also has accessible and relatable lyrics and melodies.
“An evergreen song is a song people sing, cover, and sample for generations and that become the soundtracks of their various parts of their lives. This era we are in now is interesting, and I wonder how many songs will be considered timeless 25 years from now,” she questions.
If there is one thing we do know, it’s that Barclay is dedicated to finding out. After studying radio and television at Ryerson University, Barclay joined community radio station CKLN-FM in production before becoming a show host and eventually becoming the Program Director. She moved on to work for Toronto-based event and entertainment company, Jones & Jones Productions, and, under the wings of the late Denise Jones, a visionary for Reggae music in Canada, Barclay would learn how the music industry and activism could intersect. In 2001, she took that knowledge with her to Warner Chappell Music Canada where she joined the copyright department before being appointed General Manager in 2008.
As the only Black General Manager working in music in Canada, and the only woman General Manager in Canada, Barclay has met with her fair share of challenges, but she has never wavered. And of course, music, like Michael Kiwanuka’s “Black Man in a White World” and Jully Black’s “I Travelled,” carried her through this roller-coaster journey.
“I had just moved back to Canada to head up Warner Chappell here, and as the only Black woman in my position, I remember listening to “I Travelled” from its demo stage. It gave me goosebumps just knowing that Jully had written this song about her mother, who came to Canada and did domestic work (the story of many immigrant mothers) and left seven of her nine kids behind to make a new life in a new country. This song marked the journey her mom had been on to where she was when Jully wrote this song. The way the strings and choir were added was overwhelming, and it brought tears to my eyes to see the vision of the song realized,” she expressed.
“I had to sing these words to myself more than a few times to remind myself of the bigger journey: people like Jully’s mom, my mother, and many other women have made before me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jully perform this song live, where there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. These lyrics and the choir outro became a silent mantra: “They closed so many doors on me / So I climbed right in the window / ‘Cause as long as I can breathe I see / That my spirit is protecting me.”
The harrowing stories of the women who came before played an active role in Barclay’s dedication to opening doors for the generations that follow her. After lending her voice to many music industry boards and committees, including some at CMRRA, this past July, Barclay co-launched Advance: Canada’s Black Music Business Collective alongside a dedicated group of Black industry professionals seeking change.
“Advance was started this year as a response to the social movements around the police brutality in the United States and Black Out Tuesday, which was initially a music industry day to bring awareness to issue around Black issues both in society and in the music industry. We had been discussing the need for something like this here in Canada for a couple of years. There is a serious need for infrastructure around Black Music and Black people working in the music industry. I hope that Advance’s impact on the overall Canadian Music landscape will trickle down to all aspects, including music publishing,” she explains.
“Traditionally, people look at the front-facing gigs in Black music first, like artists, A&R, marketing, etc. But we need to start way earlier in presenting other areas such as music publishing, live music, etc., as career opportunities” Barclay continues.
After all, it was only a year ago that Maestro Fresh Wes’ seminal single “Let Your Backbone Slide” was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Not only was it a historic moment for Canadian rap, but it was also a moment Barclay recognizes as valuable for the Canadian music industry at large. While the Black music from the past is finally getting recognized in Canada, a new chapter in Black Canadian music has started. And fortunately for us, it is being helmed by voices like Barclay’s.
“Currently, there are not a lot of Black people working in music publishing, even though Black music and Black Songwriters/producers are very successful here in Canada and around the world. For me, I want the same thing for my part of the business as we want for all the people Black people working in music: the opportunity to have a voice and a say in how Black music is made, funded, and marketed, and to make decisions about our own music.”
#withIMPACT Music Publishers are the heart of our industry. In 2021, we’re highlighting eleven Music Publishers with impact. We’re also discussing songs. We acknowledge that there is not one measure that quantifies a song’s success, so, we’re discussing all the ways we can think of qualifies as impact – songs that started revolutions, launched movements, were the catalyst for change, started love stories or just plain inspired.
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