The past few months have left many feeling helpless. During the first half of 2020 it was the Coronavirus, COVID-19, dominating news coverage, as it kept various parts of the world’s population in some state of sheltering-in-place. Then came the U.S Memorial Day murder of African American George Floyd, who suffocated under the knee of a white police officer. By the next morning, the U.S. had erupted in Black Lives Matter protests, a sustained effort that’s now affecting everything from laws to media, sports, and controversial monuments.
To the amazement of many, the protests spread beyond America’s borders around the world, creating a fast-moving reckoning that’s still in its infancy. That reckoning is also affecting Canada, where we, too, are looking at how everything from racialized policing to non-diverse media rooms reflect our own inequality. Producer/Songwriters Nahum, Waves, ILLNGHT, Kory Adams, Jacob Wilkinson-Smith (aka mybestfriendJACOB), and Teddi Jones knew right away that they had to contribute to this movement by doing what they do best: music.
The sextet formed the core of music-makers that created the Stronger Together Sample Pack. (A sample pack is a set of original music files, or “stems,” that are purchased by beat-makers and producers, who then use them to create their own music. Like a miniature music-library package.) And 100% of the proceeds are going to 70-plus community bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizers.
“It was a team effort,” explains mybestfriendJACOB. “I initially put the idea out to the group, but several of the members were feeling the same way. I think as a community, we were wondering how we could all contribute, how we could all participate in the protests from abroad. We are spread across the world [ILLNGHT: Paris, France. Teddi Jones: Vancouver. Nahum: Markham, ON. Waves and Kory Adams: Toronto. mybestfriendJACOB: Nova Scotia.]. The sample pack felt natural. Something we all knew how to get done, and if we just switched our energies slightly, we could have a real impact.”
The process varied from producer to producer, but all felt an emotional investment in bringing their best work to the table. “What I really love most about the pack is that it gave us a chance to express our emotions in a positive, and musical, way,” says mybestfriendJACOB. “We were able to take those emotions out in the songwriting process. We all felt frustrated and angry, and the music created reflects those feelings. For me personally the image of George Floyd with a knee on his neck is burned into my memory. It’s an image that makes me feel extremely angry and sad. So, my writing process was therapeutic, and allowed me to express those emotions while also helping in the fight for equality.”
The team got to work immediately, says Teddi Jones, producing and compiling music samples for the pack – the proceeds from which go directly to organizations fighting for justice and equality. Aside from making the music, the process included researching which “causes would benefit best from these donations,” says Jones. It also meant engaging visual designer Dave Phenix, who created the powerful cover art. Adams shares that they later learned Phenix had drawn the image in mere hours. It was a cathartic experience, allowing him to release his own grief.
The group chose the U.S. organization, Secure ActBlue, to dispense earnings from the sample pack. “We felt that the secure ActBlue would help split the donations among 70 different organizations,” says Adams. “It gave us a way to spread the money around to multiple organizations that need the funds. We didn’t want to play favourites. We weren’t looking for any sort of thank you. Just doing our small part. So we didn’t feel the need to reach out to any organizations in advance of the donations.”
As of late June, the sample pack sales have exceeded the team’s expectations. “It’s honestly been amazing,” says mybestfriendJACOB. “In my mind, we were going to make maybe $1,000. To do over 18 times that amount, and still counting, is just an amazing feeling. Coming together allowed us to share this sample pack around the world. People from all over purchased the sample pack – some who purchased weren’t even producers. They had no way of using the samples, so they donated them to their friends who were musicians. It was a really amazing feeling,”
ILLNGHT is just as surprised at the pack’s current success: “It was amazing to see, and such a great feeling. I think that having producers from different countries in the pack helped us to reach more people. I hope that this will inspire our peers to do the same. Using our art to do some good in the world is a blessing. I believe that we can change things little by little.”
mybestfriendJACOB agrees: “The idea of using my art to help fight for causes I believe in is exciting. Eventually, I would like to see my art become a part of my philanthropic work. This small project really opened my mind to the ways I can continue to give back for years to come.
“It was an incredible experience seeing so many individuals buying the sample pack with their main intention to give back to the organizations we listed,” says Jones. “At the end of the day, it took us doing what we love and our like-minded goals to make a difference – I’m really honored to be a part of such a great project.”
Nahum is deeply inspired by how collaboration and community can contribute to change, in the smallest to biggest ways. “I hope that this shows most creatives the power they have when simply utilizing the people around them,” he says. “I feel like people at times can underestimate the resources they have, and the synergy that [that] can create. What was a simple thought [and] question one day turned into tangible results in a super-short time, because of a group chat of like-minded people – results that benefit the creatives, the consumers, and most importantly, the task at hand that inspired the project.”
Deploying their art as advocacy has energized all the members, and this initiative is just the beginning. “As people of colour and allies, we’re engaged in anti-racist activities every day in our daily lives,” says Waves. “We will continue to stay vigilant, mobilize quickly and use our art to combat any injustice that we can.”