In celebration of Black History Month 2022, Arts Help is partnering with Canadian music non-profit Waveland to highlight over twenty up-and-coming artists as part of our Black Artistry Series, a year-round initiative showcasing Black talent. Each artist featured in this year’s event is performing in Waveland’s Black History Month Virtual Music Festival and giving an exclusive interview with Arts Help.

Though she loves all types of music, the heart of Toronto-based musician Venessa Morgan lies with the messages and melodies of R&B Soul. No matter the doubts she may hold, the singer-songwriter finds both comfort and confidence in music's universal ability to move us emotionally and physically, turning heads just with a song.

In the following interview, Venessa Morgan discusses what inspires her, the causes she is passionate about, and how music can make the world a better place.

What inspired you to get into music?

I’ve always loved music — listening to it, harmonizing to songs of all genres I’d hear on the radio, I thought this was something everyone did!

I really started to get into music when I joined my elementary school and church choir. I always found joy within music, and I guess like other artists, people saw the spark before I did. I remember watching and being in complete awe of people on Youtube who’d post weekly covers like, Tori Kelly, Christina Grimmie, AJ Rafael, Passion, Jessica Sanchez and so much more. I realized that damn, I guess this really is a thing!

Do you have a go-to song or artist that you’ve been listening to  lately?

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Cleo Sol, I’m absolutely in love with her new album Mother. The best way I could describe this album and Cleo Sol herself is, healing, soothing  and colourful; but not busy. From the titles, the compositions and the artwork, I love the simplicity yet angelic components of this masterpiece.

I feel like it’s so easy to get tangled up in the trap of perfection that we often forget about the art and enjoyment of creating music. It’s so lovely and refreshing to see artists continuing to create music that they enjoy making and not conforming to what the music industry says they should create. New music with timeless meaning and message.

Why do you think music is such a powerful tool for creating  positive change?

It sounds so cliché when we say that music has the ability to create positive change but it’s the honest truth. Music is in our day to day lives in all parts of the world. The same way your  friend group has the ability to influence your way of thinking or doing things is the same way the music — specifically the lyrics, you listen to have the ability to change your life. We take for granted the power that music holds over us. Sad? Listen to music. Happy? Listen to music. Cleaning? Blast some music.

You are more likely to tap into a societal issue if your favourite artist uses their platform to create music and visuals regarding the issue. Artists create music that gives us the ability to create pictures and story lines in our head. I’ve listened to songs made up of personal stories at my lowest times, eg. Jojo’s latest album, Trying Not to Think About It, which speaks about her battle with anxiety and depression, and remember feeling comforted by the fact that someone else and others felt or feel the same way.

It's crazy to think that some of the music we listen to has the ability to encourage us to do simple tasks such as getting out of bed in the morning.

Guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Arts Help believes that art is a vehicle for social change. Out of the 17 SDGs, which one are you the most passionate about?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal I am the most passionate about is Zero Hunger. The facts and statistics are gut-wrenching to read, but it is something we really need to speak about.

I think we can all agree on the statement that no one should be hungry, no one should be without food. With numbers rising especially with the pandemic it’s so saddening to think of all the people who may be suffering right now to put food on the table for both themselves and their loved ones. Imagine working a busy 8-hour shift and going on your lunch break 6 hours in, “starving” right? But are you really?

Billions of people — including children — don’t have regular access to food and clean drinking water. We need to not only educate children today on this issue, but adults as well. It’s so important that us adults show the current and upcoming generation the power that they have the ability to hold. New social media platforms, fundraising websites with educational information on causes, food banks, potlucks etc.

Together we can feed each other. You may think that having 1,000 Instagram followers means that you’re not “Influencer Material” but an audience is an audience. Sometimes all it takes is one person to change the lives of many people.

What steps can we take to make the music industry a more  inclusive space for everyone?

The Music Industry is something all of us have dreamt of, artist or not. All eyes and lights on you, a fancy stage, the glitter and the glam, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how toxic the industry can really be. There are so many people trying to make it in this world that are left in the shadows while others of a specific image or sound shine brighter than the sun.

It’s so important  that we recognize those who prefer to stand alone with either a guitar or a piano rather than sharing the stage with a band, or the introverted, quiet and shy individual who often gets labelled as awkward or weird. I’m noticing a lot of large social platforms, specifically for upcoming artists, who only showcase artists with tons of experience and a set amount of followers. Similar to jobs on Indeed, how do you expect someone to grasp experience if you’re not willing to take them on and train them?

I also have noticed that more or less, a lot of music is starting to sound the same due to the industry’s depiction of what a hit record sounds like. We need to move forward by taking a step backwards. The industry needs to do better at recognizing and appreciating talent without thinking about how to manipulate the art of the artist.

We all deserve to grow and glow in a safe space, not a place of envy or control.

To listen to Venessa Morgan's music and follow her on social media, click here.

Follow the Black Artistry Series on social media with the hashtag #ArtsHelp365

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