Toronto Through the Eyes of DJ Nana

You may know him from such events as Alto Basso's Dear Hip Hop (nee LOVEmovement), the monthly Shuffle Party at Revival, and the African Way Tour with K'naan and South African hip hop outfit Tumi and the Volume. In the past week, he's spun at k-os' record release party, hosted a weekly radio show, thrown a bumpin' monthly jam, and got the wheels a-turnin' on a new food-meets-music entertainment/dining concept in Toronto (psst: it's still very hush hush, but you heard it here first).

Meet Nana Jr. Gyamfi-Kumanini, aka DJ NaNa, the local hip hop beatsmith who brings new meaning to the phrase "life in the fast lane".

Waterloo born and bred, NaNa moved to TO in the summer of 1999 to attend York University. Over the past few years, he's made a name for himself in a city that's notorious for its tough-to-crack, disjointed hip hop scene. This past summer, he released his debut EP 543 and was part of the District Six cross-Canada tour. Add to the mix a weekly radio show, constant gigs and a monthly jam back in his hometown and you have the flurry of activity that is NaNa's burgeoning career.

With all that's going on, one would assume that NaNa must be pretty content. Not so. This is a man that has no patience for complacency.

"I can't settle for what I consider small accomplishments," shrugs the modest musician. "I am thankful for everything that happens and has happened so far in my career, but I am always striving for more."

On the surface, it would appear that Toronto has been very kind to him. Yet NaNa pleads otherwise - while he has found pockets of support, he believes there is far more ground to cover. When it comes to original acts and talent, the city, he claims, is far from progressive. NaNa finds the city's obsession with image disheartening, and scoffs at its reluctance to embrace music without tastemasters' glib-but-necessary seals of approval. He decries Toronto's approach to the assessment of talent: easily bought with frou-frou marketing budgets or hooplah from the right social networks.

"People need to start opening speaking out about the things they like and enjoy," he urges. "We need to make a habit of embarking on new experiences whenever we can, whatever it is. Of course, this is just my perspective as an artist and I don't expect anyone to fully embrace it. But all I ask is for people to stay conscious and to be open to new things."

The glass ceiling for hip hop in Toronto, NaNa claims, may eventually get the better of him.

"I'm not 100 percent sure that this will be the city that I ultimately stay in. As an 'urban' artist, Toronto has not been as progressive or accommodating to 'urban' acts compared to other world class cities. Although we have stepped up in the last three years, we still have a long way to go."

It was this discontent with the status quo that led NaNa to establish ear2muchconcepts. The company was founded to bridge the gaps between various players in Toronto's hip hop community through events and active promotions. Through his new organization, NaNa hopes to unite the city's disparate hip hop communities and push the scene towards collaborative growth.

"Once we take better care of ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually, and understand that the things we are looking for are no different from those around us, in our city and in our country, then I believe we will be a reputable force of influence around the world," he says. "The people at Beware of Dear are on the verge of making that dream a reality. Spread the word."


DJ NaNa on Toronto

My favourite place for...

...for breakfast: Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott, 416.324.1375). I normally get the French toast with a side of fruit, or the steak and eggs--though since I don't like eggs, I give the eggs to a friend and just eat the steak. Or sometimes I get both. My other brunch spot is Easy Breakfast (1645 Queen W, 416.537.5893). There, I also get the steak and eggs though, at Easy, it comes with a salad. And I ask them to put the steak in a bun and--bing!--they hook it up. It's nice. I get that and a waffle.

...for lunch or dinner: Ginger (695 Yonge, 416.966.2424) is highly recommended, though I'm a little scared to let out the secret. Get the large chicken noodle soup, or small if you're a beginner. I get that or the grilled chicken with rice. Or both. And another joint is The Friendly Thai (678 Yonge, 416.924.8424). Try the coconut chicken soup with an order of spring rolls.

...for drinks ...for dancing ...to unwind ...to get inspired: To be honest, I really don't go out that much. DJing has given me the opportunity to be in almost all of the city's clubs, lounges and places in between. I drink, dance, unwind and get inspired wherever I'm spinning, so when given the opportunity to stay home, I take it!

Everyone should know about: The range of talent in this city, let alone in the country, is almost unbelievable at times. I encourage everyone who reads this to take more pride in all things Canadian and to never take them for granted. We have so many different scenes. The unfortunate thing is that the majority of us depend on the power of influence for each scene's success. If it's not condoned by an influential person, place or thing, it's rarely ever respected.

Just in the city, there are LAL, Insideamind, Saukrates, Kamau, Luke F.O.R.C.E., Buddy with the Skillz, Dynamo, theartofraw, H4, alex vs. alex photography. [Breath] Ryan Paterson for graphic design, Che Kothari for photography, earwaks.com, project3media.

Biggest pet peeve about Toronto: The amount of people in this city doing variations of the exact same thing. There's this RZA quote I think of every time I question being unique: "Those who can't draw the crowd is still tracin'." Basically, it's easy to do the same thing but to contribute means you have to raise the bar - there are more people doing the same exact thing and not enough pushing on their own.

An ideal day in Toronto would consist of: I am having the hardest time coming up with an answer to this question. Basically, each day, I wake up thankful that I have another.

Finish the sentence "Toronto is...": The home of famous nobodies.

WE EAR2MUCH airs Thursdays from 8 to 9pm ET on Soulstream Networks. Archived sessions can also be found on the website.

Good Music, a monthly event, takes place at Starlight Lounge (47A King N, 519.885.4970) in Waterloo. In coming months, a Toronto spin-off will be taking place.

For details on NaNa's latest goings-on, including a bangin' new initiative that marries food and music (slated for a December launch), keep your eye on his MySpace page.


["Through the Eyes Of" is published on blogTO each Wednesday. Due to technical site difficulties, however, this week's piece was delayed. We apologize for the inconvenience.]

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