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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston
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Art Matters Forum on Music

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Art Matters Forum on Music

Toronto, Monday, March 2, 2009

Welcome to this Art Matters forum on the music that brings us together, this time, in the heart of Toronto, a multicultural city like no other.

Wherever there is music, walls come down, new possibilities are born, and hope is reignited in our hearts and minds.

We are no longer haunted by the spectre of hardship, inequity, and despair.

We are no longer faced with the scourge of sectarianism, prejudice and the “everyone for himself or for his clan” mentality.

Instead, dear friends, we are simply sisters and brothers in humanity, happy to share that moment, our hearts beating in time with a single rhythm.

And it is in that spirit that we have gathered today.

To talk about the music that brings us together—be it classical, jazz, hip-hop, rock, salsa, reggae, bhangra. You get the idea.

Now more than ever before, these musical genres are redefining themselves in the same way that cultures are intermingling, influencing one another, enriching one another, as we see here in Toronto, a cosmopolitan city par excellence, at the crossroads of all the world’s trends, celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.

More and more, the music of yesterday and today, the music we call our own and the music we are only beginning to discover, is becoming interconnected, creating new languages, new ways of imagining the world and new forms of self-expression.

So much the better.

Because in so doing, they offer us a buffer against the imperatives of the market that would seek to narrow and homogenize our creativity.

In fact, the blending of musical styles and genres is finally allowing us to celebrate music for what it truly is: the expression of an identity, an experience and a social consciousness.

Hip-hop, for example, was born in the African-American and Puerto Rican ghettos of New York.

Drawing from the reality of poverty and dispossession facing countless youth, it fused African-American, Caribbean and Afro-Latin music to generate a powerful grassroots manifesto for change.

Although it has evolved into a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry, in which violence against women, homophobia and crime are sometimes glorified; much of underground Hip hop has remained true to its roots, reintroducing citizens, particularly youth, to the virtues of dialogue, critical debate, and concerted action.

In Canada, urban culture has become the hybrid voice of disadvantaged African-Canadian, Aboriginal, Asian, Latin American, Arab and White youth, excluded from mainstream music production.

It is a voice that now echoes around the world, among those who are and have been the victims of social exclusion.

One voice that carries the voices of many distinct cultures.

I see the emergence of new styles and blends of music as an extraordinary source of renewal and diversity in this era of conformity.

Which is why I am delighted that so many artists, from every musical genre, have agreed to share their experience and thoughts on the music that touches what is profoundly human in each of us.

We often say that music is a universal language.

And who better to talk to us today about the unifying force of creation and the power of art than urban artists?

That is why I wanted urban artists to take part in this Art Matters forum.

Since being appointed as governor general, I have sought to make the institution I represent a place where the citizens of this country can make their voices heard, particularly youth, whom I have made one of my priorities.

In cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, former gang members have told me point blank, “Your Excellency: the urban arts saved my life.”

Their message was echoed when I visited inmates in a provincial jail. It was clear once again: the urban arts can give so-called “youth at risk” the impetus to lay down their weapons in order to work with their peers to make their neighbourhoods, their communities, and the wider society a better place.

So from these moving encounters was born the idea of holding Urban Arts Forums not only here, in Canada, but in other countries as well.

Through these forums, I have seen with my own eyes how the work of these artists transforms despair and indifference into hope and action.

I have seen the arts give a voice to those who had been silent.

I have seen the arts ease tensions and offer youth an alternative to the stranglehold of street gangs and the nightmare of drug use.

I have seen the arts galvanize an entire community to rid itself of gangs, violence, and drug trafficking.

This is not to diminish the aesthetic value of art as a good in of itself.

Rather, it is simply to affirm that the time has come for us to acknowledge that art has the power to inspire, to heal, to transform, and to rehabilitate.

And we must use it.

It is thus incumbent upon all of us not only to continue creating and producing, but also to share our craft with the emerging generations, among which many are searching for that helping hand to guide them through the storm.

Every gesture counts.

Every action can make a difference.

Thank you for accepting our invitation. Jean-Daniel and I and our entire team could not be happier.

Thank you also to the City of Toronto and to its mayor, Mr. David Miller.

Of course, your participation comes as no surprise in a city as culturally vibrant as Toronto. Thank you, so very much.

And finally, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Foundation for its invaluable collaboration.

This morning, we announced the names of the 2009 recipients. They are: Peggy Baker, Édith Butler, Clémence Desrochers, Robert Lepage, Murray Schafer, George F. Walker, James Fleck and Paul Gross.

Five of this year’s recipients, Peggy Baker, Murray Schafer, James Fleck, Paul Gross, and Edith Butler are here with us this evening.

Thank you for joining us.

I will now turn things over to my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, who spearheaded the Art Matters initiative.