A New Light Shines for the Black Community – Interview with KhaRå Martin

One thing most people don’t know about me is my vast collection of music from all around the world. Unless you maybe have read one or two of my articles in the past. On top of that, I also have a huge interest in art, as I have made some surreal films myself, and even some interesting drawings. One of those drawings has been predominantly attached to a family fridge because my little friend Phoenix loves it. But that’s enough about my art, let me tell you about some art that’s been hidden away for too long and deserved to be unearthed. I’m talking about a lot of Black Canadian history. It’s been unnoticed, unseen, undiscovered, and why is that? I would like to learn more about this long lost history, like the art, and photography of past events, and even some of the music. It just might become part of my collection. Well, as of recently, a series came out discussing long-lost Black Canadian history. Thanks to the help of KhaRå Martin, she has opened up a lot of ancient boxes, dwelled deep, and found a goldmine of cool cultural stuff from the ancient times before either of us were born. From there, it got made into a documentary series in 5  30-minute segments. I talked to KhaRå and asked her some more questions regarding the series, and how she got into looking up the history.


HNMAG: So tell me about Black Community Mixtapes. What inspired you to rediscover this history and breathe new life into the archives of culture?

KhaRå Martin: Yeah, so Black Community Mixtapes is a 50-year long remix of black history told through the lens of black people. Because Black history is Canadian history. This series was created by Oh Yeah Media Group at producing companies helmed by Alison Duke and Ngardy Conteh George. They came up with the idea for the show and have since been creating it. It’s been a 4-year process, I came on in 2019 and did research in the predevelopment stage. From then they went on to do other roles and now I’m the host. I’m really excited for Canada to rediscover its roots and its history. There’s so much uncovered and undocumented history that is in the basement and garages of families.


HNMAG: What does this documentary say in the 21st century?

KhaRå Martin: I think the importance of this series, again, is to discover the truth of things. There are 5 episodes, so we have an episode on hip-hop, and episode on Caribana, an episode on activism through photography and literature, and then the process of archiving. My biggest takeaway for millennials and Gen-Xers and the next generation is we need to properly need to archive our materials and our history. As well as being able to have a place in space so that we can call onto and look at this knowledge. Having a National Black Museum would be really wonderful in Canada. 


HNMAG: And was it hard to speak to so many people? How did you choose who to feature in each episode?

KhaRå Martin: I think what we wanted to do was show particular voices that haven’t talked on this topic before. When we think about hip-hop, we think about the rappers but really the people who had to interact with the rappers were the community radio DJ’s. They were the ones that were at the helm and forefront of curating what people listened to at that time. When we think of activism, we think of this but we don’t think of the photographers who were there capturing all of the photos in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. We’re very specific on going back to the community to uncover this history and fill in some of the blanks. 


HNMAG: How long did the whole process take in finding everyone and talking to them?

KhaRå Martin: From its conception, we all come up with ideas and then to its final execution and broadcast, it did take some time. Also the pandemic definitely slowed things down, but we kept pushing and chucking through because we knew this was an important story and that it’s a Canadian story that needs to be told. 


HNMAG: Did you find you learned a lot more than you expected?

KhaRå Martin: Yeah, I really think that people are going to be surprised on some of the histories that they learn about the first black writer, to the predominant black photographers that were capturing the social movements in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. For myself, it wasn’t necessarily about what I learned but the disinformation that is out there on our history of slavery and immigration to this country. That was just completely being debunked through this series. It really is to the best of its taking and accurate portrayal in telling of the history.


HNMAG: What was the most interesting information you ever discovered?

KhaRå Martin: I think it was just nice, there were so many interesting things. I think for me as a black woman, just reflecting. We talked about Miss Amelia E. Johnson, one of the first black female writers. About how far black literature has come, and what is considered Black Canadian literature. We go Amelia Johnson to Asha Romfield, one of the most recent narrative writers or novelists coming out of Canada. It’s really beautiful to see our history and what is deemed a Canadian story and how much we are deemed Canadian and Non-Canadian. I think that’s the point of the series is that we are and that this history and stories are. So they should be told. 


HNMAG: You’ve only recently started as a director. Do you find it fun and have lots of ideas on what to make?

KhaRå Martin: Yeah, so I’ve been directing for a little bit now, and I think that I have stories that I want to tell. In certain marginalized groups whose stories haven’t been told in this particular way, but my most recent story that I’m working on is Scarborough’s Love. It looks at this Romeo and Juliet-esque love story, from the perspective from 2 Scarborough natives. What’s really beautiful about that is we’re going to see Scarborough in a way that has never seen before. We’re going to see Black love in a way that’s never been seen before. 



KhaRå is also working on another project called Vs. The People, which is about the sustainability of the housing market through the black lens. She likes to take certain topics and tell them through a certain perspective, not just to educate, but show through a black person’s perspective.


HNMAG: Besides directing, what else do you enjoy doing in film work?

KhaRå Martin: I’m also a writer, so all the films that I’ve directed I’ve also written. I’m also an actress as well as a singer, so I wear multiple hats in the industry. That’s the game we’re at right now, you have to wear these multiple hats and I think it just adds to my acumen and knowledge of film. Also my knowledge of what I want to do because there’s so much I can get done. I can edit, but I am not by any means an editor. What is really nice about that is working with an editor and he’s phenomenal. I feel like we have a good repertoire and a good language, I can communicate with him as an editor, and that was also really important. They say the best directors have taken an acting class because you have to know how to speak the language of the artist which you are communicating with. 


HNMAG: Now back to the series, how big a crew did you have?

KhaRå Martin: We had a really small crew that was phenomenal. It was a BIPOC female-lead crew, in a lot of ways from one of our DP’s Ashley Iris Gill to the phenomenal makeup artist Roxanne, to Linae who did the boom-bap beat for the opening song, and then Alison and Gabby helming the reins for directing. We had a lot of really great eyes on this project and the crew itself wasn’t large. I would say maybe, 10-15 people but we had a lot of heart and a lot of passion to see the story be made. 


HNMAG: Do you hope this will be used as an educational resource in the future?

KhaRå Martin: Absolutely, I think that my favourite thing about school was when they rolled out the TV. I’m aging myself now but, when they rolled out the TV and it was time to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy, I was like “Okay, I’m going to learn about science in a cool and fun way!” and I hope that for the future generation, when they put this on a projector or open up a laptop or screen it, that the kids are really really excited and can’t wait to learn about history in this cool and fun way.


HNMAG: And would you ever look into hosting seminars in talking about Black History with the new culture you’ve learned?

KhaRå Martin: Yeah, I mean what I think is so great is that interviewing these historians, there are so many people that who have been doing the work and I think they should be the voices when it comes to teaching about these particular topics or about informing people of the topics. I think I’m versed in a lot of things and would almost like to moderate a talkback with some of the voices that we interviewed in the series. That would be really amazing, I would look forward to something like that.


HNMAG: And who is your favourite Black Canadian artist?

KhaRå Martin: Wow, that is a loaded question. I don’t know if I have a favourite Black Canadian Artist because when we think of the word ‘Art’, then encompasses so many things. Are we talking about literature, music, or art itself like paintings? I don’t think I have a particular favourite, but I think that in this series there are so many myths that are uncovered, and you may not know about. I would like to ask that question to people after they have watched this series. Who did they relate to the most? 


A great question to conclude on. The series has aired on CityTV already, but feel free to take a gander of it around here. Ask yourself that question afterward, and maybe ask some more. You never know what you might start thinking up or even about.

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