Kitchissippi Reads: Soul in the City

By Bradley Turcotte – 

When Ali Misana began performing as a rapper and hip-hop break-dancer in the early ‘80s, finding an outlet to exhibit his talents was as challenging as executing a one-handed air flare.

After years of performing in talent showcases, Ali found success as a member of groups like New Tower of Power and 2 Hype and opened for De La Soul and Maestro Fresh Wes. His years of exertion inspired Ali to create Soul City Music Fest, along with co-founder, Cleavon Langlott, as a platform for emerging artists.

“Where do they go to showcase their talents, other than trying to put out a lower budget music video on YouTube?” Ali, an avid reader and book collector who performs under the stage name Captain, asks. “There’s nowhere to perform or to hone and nurture their skills. Part of being an artist is getting your chops out there on the stage and interacting with a crowd.”

Festival co-founders Ali Misana (left) and Cleavon Langlott are staging an eclectic event filled with music and games on July 22 at Laroche Park.

Now in its second year, the artists appearing at Soul City are an eclectic mix ranging from hip-hop and soul to spoken word and dance.

The diverse roster includes Ottawa’s English poet laureate, JustJamal the poet, and vocal artist, JENNA Nation.

Gaining exposure through conduits other than the Internet is a formidable task for up and coming artists, JENNA agrees.

“[Performing at grassroots festivals] is another way for artists to be seen and heard, to be able to share their music with their fans and create new fans,” JENNA notes.

An Ottawa-born soul singer, JENNA has collaborated with notable songwriters all over North America and Europe and will debut fresh material from her upcoming album at Soul City. Her new compositions have “a strong 90s R&B influence… while still keeping it contemporary.”

While some compare Soul City to Westfest and Bluesfest, Ali maintains Soul City is truly Ottawa’s only festival that is entertaining for all ages. Several interactive children’s events will grace the grounds and performers will keep their language kid-friendly. For the mature music fan, reggae and hip-hop tug of wars invite musicians to form teams of four along music genre lines and yank for the crown.

“Because hip hop is a little braggadocious, with a lot of male bravado… it’s for bragging rights until next year,” Ali explains. “Instead of making songs about each other, let’s take it to the tug of war.”

One of Ali’s picks for summer reading chronicles the ultimate power struggle: Nelson Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Profiling the South African president’s life and fight against the racist apartheid system, Ali describes the book as “captivating.”

Another read on the Soul City co-founder’s shelf is by award-winning Canadian writer Lawrence Hill. The book shares its title with a document that allowed slaves to escape America and settle in Canada as free people of colour.

“I just started The Book of Negroes. I saw the miniseries. I remember hearing the story when I was young, at a Black History Month event, but I never really knew all the details. The book is always better than the movie. I like Lawrence Hill as a writer.”

Echoing back to music, one of Ali’s favourite books is 2005’s Thru My Eyes: Thoughts on Tupac Shakur in Pictures and Words.

“I know Tupac’s life through and through but reading about his life, filling in a lot of the gaps and learning more about his life since his passing, that’s one book that stuck with me.”

Soul City Music Fest is at Laroche Park on Saturday July 22, from noon to 9 p.m.

This post is part of our annual summer reads issue. Read all of our 2017 profiles right here.

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