Grand Analog's Odario Williams by Steve Chatterton

Grand Analog's Perfect Upbringing

Winnipeg's Grand Analog aren't your typical hip hop outfit; mixing beatboxes and turntables with live musicians and incorporating elements from funk, reggae and rock with true sincerity, they've earned the distinction of being one of the few decidedly non-jazz acts to be invited to play the Toronto Jazz Festival.

"In this day and age, we're comfortably an eclectic mix," says front man Odario Williams from his new home in Toronto. "If you think about hip hop today, hip hop in 2008, in general, that definitely doesn't fit in a jazz festival; it should be in a club somewhere... but I think we're an exception to the rule. We're very much into musicianship and melody and I think that's what resonated with the jazz fest staff. Can't speak for them, but that's my assumption anyway."

Having a very broad interest in diverse forms of music, Grand Analog gets a wide array of invitations to perform. "We've played indie rock events, we're doing a reggae festival one day and a funk festival another day, opening for a punk band, done it all," says Williams. "[Winnipeg punk outfit] Propagandhi asked up to open for them but we couldn't do it because we on the other side of the country at the time. Really sucks, but I really appreciated them reaching out and asking us to do that."

Watching the band live, Grand Analog's well balanced mix looks like child's play. Perhaps it has something to do with Williams being the son of a reggae DJ and being open minded about music in his youth.

"I used to be teased for the circles that I kept" he remembers. "Like my basketball buddies would tease me for hanging out with the punk rock kids, and my punk rock buddies would tease me for hanging out with the nerdy [kids] ... it's funny; I had a perfect upbringing - at the time I didn't know how perfect it was, until later I figured it out.

"The school I went to, everyone called it a skater school - a lot of punk rock going on through there - and me and my basketball boys, all we listened to was hip hop. That's what I grew up with, all of that. And I dated singer/songwriter girls; that just sealed the deal."

His unique approach to making music gives his band a mark of distinction in a world slowly coming around to the idea that hip hop can actually be musical. "I think there's a big chunk of people that like hip hop and want to like hip hop but just can't find something to appreciate, and I'm actually in the same boat," he confesses. "There's a lot of hip hop right now I'm just not digging."

But Williams remains optimistic; in his mind, there is hope for the future, with a decidedly local twist: "Canadian hip hop just might fill that void internationally. I totally think so."

Grand Analog performs as part of the Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival opening for The National Parcs at Supermarket (268 Augusta), Friday, June 20 at 10 PM. Advance tickets are $10.

Photo by Steve Chatterton

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