Q-and-A: Haviah Mighty tackling racism in Canada Day performance, new video

TORONTO — Haviah Mighty says she hopes this Canada Day marks one of greater reflection on racism within our own country.

The Brampton, Ont.-raised hip hop performer, whose album "13th Floor" picked up last year's Polaris Music Prize, will take the stage as part of CBC's "Canada Day Together" broadcast.

She'll perform her track "Thirteen" against the backdrop of her new animated music video for the song, which recounts how racial prejudice has persisted in different forms throughout the generations.

While it might not be as celebratory as viewers may expect, Mighty said she's not comfortable partaking in Canada Day events without acknowledging some of the darker sides of the country's foundation.

"I celebrated Canada Day as a kid with a flag and the fireworks," she said.

"But it's important now that we teach — not only ourselves, but our kids, our friends, our family — the history of this country. To understand it better. To truly celebrate it is to know what's going on."

Other musicians taking part in the two-hour "Canada Day Together" broadcast include Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Alexandra Streliski and Alan Doyle. The special airs on CBC at 8 p.m. in various time zones across the country.

Mighty's "Thirteen" music video, which debuts on July 1 shortly before her taped Canada Day performance, was illustrated by Toronto artist Theo Kapodistrias, and brings to life some of the thematic elements of her album.

She spoke with The Canadian Press about the growing conversations focused on racism in Canada, her own research into Black history, and why she wanted to lend her voice to the Canada Day festivities in a year that's seen a rise in the consciousness of anti-Black violence.

CP: Your song "Thirteen" is a reference to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the abolition of slavery — but you've emphasized those ideologies extend beyond one country, because racism is worldwide and proliferates through generations. Can you talk about why you wanted to bring this conversation to Canada Day?

Mighty: Especially because of the shift in the climate, this is the best time to possibly make an impact on people who might've never thought about the themes of transgenerational trauma. For me, it's also holding myself accountable. If I'm going to do this performance... I'm going to utilize a platform that will reach people that would otherwise never hear my music. Maybe it can incite some conversation at home or a little bit of different thought. Sometimes it's nice when people don't really have a choice, it just comes up on their TV.

CP: When you won the Polaris prize for "13th Floor," the album's direct acknowledgment of the Black experience — and racism — in Canada seemed like a revelation to some. Such conversations weren't especially "mainstream," for lack of a better word. But did you feel that way at the time?

Mighty: I feel like the conversations discussed with "13th Floor" are discussions that members of certain communities have already been having. I don't think that I was on the cutting edge of understanding these concepts by any means. But I do think talking about it openly in spaces that might've not necessarily understood that point of view (has changed). Even putting that record out, there was a higher likelihood that audiences would be smaller because of the topics and themes. But now it's this mainstream conversation. So I feel like the audience is bigger, but the conversations are still the same, because the history is the same. This climate has enlightened me to learn more about things that I kind of just scratched the surface of.

CP: And you've been pretty open to your followers on Instagram about the research you're taking on yourself. Can you tell me more about that?

Mighty: First of all, being active in ways that are not musical is a big one — thinking about (how) you can make changes in an actual real-world way. (I'm) doing more critical analysis and understanding the relationship of the history they teach you in high school, and the history they don't teach you in high school. As a Black person who is recognizing more and more than I don't know much about the lineage of my people, I recognize there's pieces missing. I understand the concept of slavery, but in high school I was learning about the origin of Black people through the start of slavery. I know that it's only one piece of the puzzle, so the more and more I recognize there's pieces missing, the more it interests me to not only research the history of what happened to Black people in this country but also other persons of colour, because you get these parallel stories.

CP: The combination of COVID-19 and the stark reminder of racism has been especially difficult for many Black Canadians. You seem proactive and have a very positive mindset. How are you staying optimistic considering the times?

Mighty: I feel despair. I always try to see the best in all of it and, in an interview I'm going to tell you all those wonderful things I've learned. But if we're talking about despair I definitely feel it, in terms of discrimination and race. With the pandemic, I have no idea when I'll be back playing shows, so spending can't necessarily be the same, you have to adhere to a smaller budget. Your mental state is not inspired by anything other than your house, your social distancing and trying to stay motivated. I feel like I've remained optimistic within this because I can just only assume at some point, things will shift again.

Watch Haviah Mighty's "Thirteen" music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV7n6CyJqaA

— This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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