When Trevor Sinclair bought his 12-person passenger van in early August, he imagined it would make a great tour bus for NWT musicians. A week later, he was using it to drive his family to safety from a wildfire.
With August’s evacuation now a thing of the past, the van could be put to something like its intended use: ferrying Sinclair, Fort Good Hope rapper Crook the Kid, and Zimbabwe-born musician Munya Mataruse to Breakout West in Kelowna.
Breakout West is western Canada’s annual music showcase, merging an industry conference with a days-long festival.
This year, Sinclair said, he wanted the NWT to make an impression.
“Typically, we send artists to Breakout West, they perform and they go home – and then they’ve seen limited results coming out of that,” he said by phone last week, describing an event packed with buyers, bookers and agents looking for new acts to recruit.
“You’ve really got to take this opportunity, kick it up a notch, and show all these people what you’re made of. That is more than just presence on the stage, it’s also showing you know how to engage an audience, that you know how to market and promote yourself.”
The road trip from Yellowknife to Kelowna was designed to help demonstrate that, he said.
It featured a gig for Mataruse and Crook the Kid in Hay River, then a series of what Sinclair called “guerrilla performances” by the roadside, filmed by Cole Clark for a future documentary.
Meanwhile, the NWT’s Black Advocacy Coalition donated money to allow Mataruse to hire back his former band members for a special Kelowna performance. (Ordinarily, he appears on stage alone in Yellowknife.)
“I moved to Yellowknife because I just fell in love with the city,” Mataruse said, “but these guys have been bugging me. They were like, ‘Come back, Munya.’ Me connecting with my guys again, travelling to BC for Breakout West, it has brought a lot of memories from when we used to travel together, performing around the world. This is the best moment ever.”
He said he has even persuaded one band member, Tatenda Viya, to move to Yellowknife from Edmonton.
“I’m really happy that he’s going to be coming to Yellowknife. This guy produced my second album,” Mataruse said of Viya.
“He’s a versatile guitarist, versatile keyboard player. He will be working with everybody, collaborating with everybody.”
Viya said having the chance to join the Kelowna road trip and meet NWT residents before making his move was a “big thing.”
“I want to bring them to do Yellowknife because I think that’s a beautiful community,” Mataruse said of his band as a whole.
“People in Yellowknife, they’re hard workers each and every time they go to work. So when they are tired, when they need time to rest, they are seeking some good music – so there is a big opportunity for musicians in Yellowknife.”
There were opportunities in Kelowna, too. Another band dropped out of Breakout West, which ran from October 11-15, so Mataruse was given three separate showcase slots on consecutive days. Crook the Kid performed twice, including once as a featured performer at the conference on Saturday afternoon.
Breakout West “can be super important for your career,” said the rapper, real name Dylan Jones. “If you have your eggs in the right basket, it can absolutely be helpful.”
“It’s been wonderful to spend time with other musicians and get to know more about each other, and each other’s cultures, and experience working together,” he said.
“The flow became instantaneous and I think the music we’re going to make together is amazing.
“What I hope to get out of it is, you know, more of it. Make more connections between the North and the southern industry and meet some good people.”
There was one NWT nominee for an award at this year’s Breakout West: Yellowknife band Gnarwhal, shortlisted in the category Metal and Hard Music Artist of the Year, which was ultimately won by Manitoba’s KEN Mode.
Sinclair said this journey in the van was a winner compared to the last one, through the August smoke to safety after Yellowknife declared an evacuation order.
“Two screaming children or five screaming musicians?” Sinclair said, characterizing the difference.
“It was really awesome and just positive vibes all around.
“If you’re ever travelling through the NWT, you know there’s that big section where we don’t get any radio? It’s really handy when you have a large van with bands inside. We had live music in my van as I travelled.”