By Gareth Watkins
CALGARY — The Calgary Tower opened on June 30th, 1968 and was, for a while at least, the tallest building in the city at 191 metres. Toronto’s CN Tower, by way of comparison, is 553 metres tall and is classed as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Nevertheless, we Calgarians have a strange attachment to our little stick of concrete. It lights up red and yellow when the Flames are playing, red and white on Canada Day, there’s a restaurant on the top, it’s a ‘founding member’ of the World Federation of Great Towers along with its bigger brother Eiffel, and, there’s a huge musical instrument inside that can be heard all over Downtown- the Carrilon, a huge assemblage of tuned bells operated by keyboards, and one of the world’s largest musical instruments.
Kenna Burima arrived in Calgary at the age of 16. Right now she plays in two bands- The Pygmies and Beaver Squadron (she’s also been in the Pigeonettes and Foon Yap and Kenna Burima, as well as releasing her own solo work), she presents The Morning After on CJSW, used to write for this esteemed publication and this year alone she’s put on the Rock Against Harper show at Broken City and was a key organizer of the Femme Wave feminist arts festival. She’s now teamed up with Gene Poole of the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society (every self-respecting Calgarian should have calgarycassettes.org bookmarked) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the One Yellow Rabbit arts collective, one of the coolest things about this city, and to commemorate the life of Michael Green, one of the founders of the Rabbits’ High Performance Rodeo arts and culture festival and long-time advocate for Calgary’s arts scene.
“Calgary has this neat framework in that if I want to do something I can do it,” says Kenna. “We are an isolated city in a way and there’s also this element that I find that our scene isn’t necessarily fractured. The people in the folk scene play with the people in the indie scene play with the people in the jazz scene. Calgary is a big city but a small town.”
“We’re not like Toronto or Vancouver with these large populations,” says Poole. “So you have a lot of lifers trying to bring up the next generation and that’s what makes the music scene here unique.”
Calgary Songs will be a compilation of 30 songs by Calgarian artists, played on the Calgary Tower’s Carillon and reinterpreted by a diverse cast of local artists at the Royal Canadian Legion #1, with the tunes being played by the Galleria Trees sculptures on Stephen Ave throughout the month of January.
“Last year in the fall Michael Green wanted to commission me to write a piece for the Carillon in the Calgary Tower. I found that the music that’s normally played on the Carillon is mostly patriotic hymns, old tunes like Waltzing Matilda and Christmas Carols. That doesn’t represent Calgary as a diverse, multicultural city. We want it to be a list that’s not just everyone’s top 30 favourite songs. Yes we’re going to have some of the usual suspects, but to myself and Gene so that it celebrates One Yellow Rabbit and Calgary.”
“It makes a lot of sense for the Rabbits and High Performance Rodeo, tracing all the way back to the early days of the indie rock scene in Calgary. There has been a really great participation by musicians in the festival by bands. There’s a really cool link there, so being able to take thirty years of this amazing festival that kicks against the norms of Calgary and celebrate it with thirty songs, it’s really cool.”
What will be on the compilation? We don’t know just yet, but Burima and Poole have some ideas: ‘90s indie rock from Forbidden Dimension, Huevos Rancheros and Chixdiggit to modern masters Napalmpom and the band formerly known as Viet Cong. There are some left field entries from bands that were influential and are now on their way to cult status, like Skin Barn (who once opened for Nirvana) and ‘ground zero skate punks’ Beyond Possession. Country music, so embedded in our city’s Stampede-centric culture, will undoubtedly make an appearance.
There are also some restrictions: the songs must have been recorded between 1986 and 2016 and they must have been written primarily in Calgary, which means much of Tegan and Sara and Feist’s back catalogue is off limits, but Burima concedes that they’re so iconic that, one way or another, they’ll make an appearance.
We may be a cowboy town with an economy so embedded in the oil and gas that there should be a thriving secondary industry in sending letters of apology to all the nations that will be underwater once we burn through this province’s 93 billion barrels of crude, but we do on occasion produce some tunes worth sharing with the world. Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and the rest, listen up.
The Calgary Songs Project concert happens Jan. 15 at the #1 Legion. Band appearances include Napalmpom, Forbidden Dimension, The Von Zippers, The Shiverettes and Tom Phillips.AB, Alberta, Calgary Songs Project, High Performance Rodeo, High Performance Rodeo 2016, Kenna Burima