By Tony Martins / Rémi Thériault photos
Everywhere he goes, Kwende Kefentse traces a thread through the range of cultural expression that he encounters. Then he makes that thread tangible.
“I have this disparate set of influences and I’m trying to demonstrate the way that they all sit together,” says Kefentse, whose day job as a cultural development officer with the City of Ottawa is increasingly intertwined with his after-hours activities as the DJ, producer, and hip-hop impresario known as Memetic.
“I feel like I’m doing them both full time,” he says of his dual occupations, “and I’m trying to make them less separate.”
He has an African name and is of West Indian heritage but Kefentse was born and raised in the Toronto area, where the rapid growth of hip-hop music helped him connect the dots between the sprawling city’s multitude of urban cultural flavours.
Since moving to Ottawa in 2001, Memetic has hosted a series of self-produced radio shows on CKCU FM and more famously partnered with DJs Zattar and Eric R beginning in 2005 on TIMEKODE, a hugely successful monthly dance party currently hosted at Maker Space North.
Experimental and unpredictable, TIMEKODE is an expression of the unconventional mix underscoring everything that Kefentse does. As a DJ—and more recently as a recording artist—Memetic does not hesitate to blend sounds from, say, Bollywood, reggae, disco and hip-hop, demonstrating how, as he says, “there’s a line that runs through it that connects everyone.”
Memetic literally traced one of those connecting lines—the City of Ottawa bus route #2, to be precise—when formulating his first vinyl recording project, Rideau2Richmond, a double album of experimental beats that will drop at local shops will be appear in stores on Monday May 25, and launched officially with a special edition of TIMEKODE at Maker Space North on Friday, May 22. The ambitious release is a compilation of tracks that sample second-hand vinyl that he pulled from record stores located along the bus route.
“Is it really a coincidence that the majority of the record shops have found themselves along Rideau, Bank, Somerset, Wellington and then Richmond?”, writes Memetic in the liner notes for the album. “The kinds of retail activity that leverage foot fall find the feet on integrated streets with lots of movement.”
Intrigued by how cities facilitate particular patterns of human interaction, Kefentse views the #2 route as one of Ottawa’s main arteries for musical expression—a facet of culture that he explores professionally as a member of the City’s award-winning Cultural Development and Initiatives team.
Kefentse currently leads an ambitious music industry project in partnership with local business leaders. The initiative resulted in the inaugural MEGAPHONO festival in early February, followed by a report on the Ottawa music industry released publicly in mid-March.
MEGAPHONO was three days of performances by regional musicians along with an impressive roster of invited speakers and guest delegates.
“We are trying to understand how culture impacts business and all aspects of community,” explained Kefentse, who was happy to note that the festival represented concrete action toward that understanding.
The report, meanwhile, titled “Connecting Ottawa Music,” is an in-depth exploration of how music can play a key role in the Ottawa region’s creative industries and economy. Included are profiles of the local music industries (benchmarked against those of comparable Canadian cities) and recommendations to support growth.
The report’s key finding is that while Ottawa is currently home to “an exciting level of new and established musical activity,” the city is missing the infrastructure and knowledge required to take advantage of that activity.
And the recommendations? Local music leaders should band together in a permanent organization and the City should develop an official music strategy.
“Now that the gaps and opportunities have been identified by the report,” says Kefentse, “the next step is that leaders of the local industry need to get together to determine which of them are the priorities to pursue over the next four years.”
“My next step is working with that group of leaders, cultural services and economic development to develop a formal commitment to action we can all buy into.”
Memetic plays host at Ontario Scene
Long established as host of Ottawa’s decade-old hip-hop festival House of PainT, Memetic will be front and centre again during Ontario Scene when he hosts Hip-hop Playground: Battles and Beats on Saturday, May 2 at Maker Space North. Curated by Toronto’s Manifesto Festival of Community and Culture, the event will include dance, music, graffiti art, spoken word, and more—making for the kind of eclectic blend in which Memetic feels right at home.
This content originally appeared in Scene, a free newsprint prologue to the National Arts Centre’s Ontario Scene. Available at all Bridgehead Coffee locations, Scene was created collaboratively by Guerilla, Apt613, and Herd Magazine.