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Calgary Tower broadcasts 30 years of local music over downtown core

By Jason Herring, January 12 2016 —

Calgary has a deep, growing musical history that’s often overlooked — and it just keeps growing. Artists like Chad VanGaalen, Rae Spoon, Tom Phillips and Dragon Fli Empire exemplify the diverse music to emerge from the city over the past three decades. Now, One Yellow Rabbit and the High Performance Rodeo are commemorating that history with the Calgary Songs Project: 30 Songs Celebrating 30 Years.

The Calgary Tower’s carillon will play the songs.

The Calgary Tower’s carillon will play the songs.

Local songwriter Kenna Burima took on the project, which coincides with HPR’s 30th anniversary. Her goal was to showcase the most iconic songs to come out of Calgary’s music scene in the last 30 years. But when Burima began searching through local history, she decided she needed some help to compile a thorough list.

“I didn’t get to Calgary until 1996, so there’s easily half the history of the 30 years I wasn’t here for,” she says. “And there’s so much of the Calgary music scene I’m not familiar with.”

That’s why Burima reached out to Arif Ansari, the founder of the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society. Ansari has been archiving and documenting Calgary music for a decade on his blog, so Burima thought he was the perfect fit for the project. Ansari explains the long process of choosing 30 songs to represent the city.

“We reached out directly to friends, musicians, people we know who were connected to the scene and asked them for their top five,” Ansari says.

“The idea was to get as many song ideas as we possibly could, then filter through those to see where there was consensus as to what songs should be included.”

“We had a very long list that we eventually whittled down,” Burima adds. “About a third are chosen by Calgarians that were submitted, and the last portion is curated by myself and Arif.”

After the list of songs was finalized, Burima went to work creating a medley of the tracks that was performed at HPR’s opening night on the Calgary Tower’s carillon, a giant instrument comprised of a set of bronze bells. A recording was made after Burima’s performance, which plays at the Calgary Tower on weekends at noon until the end of January.

“The carillon looks like a little organ that sits in the corner of the lobby of the Calgary Tower, and you can press a button and hear the bells,” she says. “This instrument is being amplified to all of downtown, so it was a surreal experience thinking that all of downtown was listening to the bells and the music of Calgarians.”

In addition to the recordings playing from the Calgary Tower, the original versions of the songs will play on Stephen Avenue in front of Bankers Hall.

The project culminates with a concert at the #1 Royal Canadian Legion on Friday, Jan. 15 and features artists like Napalmpom, Tom Phillips and the Shiverettes covering all 30 songs. Ansari says the organizers had fun setting the event up, giving artists a couple songs that fit with their style and some songs that are “a bit off-the-wall” for the musicians.

The final list of songs chosen for the project sparked some healthy debate within the Calgary arts community, something Burima says shows the depth of Calgary’s music scene.

“A list of anything can be really difficult to compile, because for every one song on that list, there’s another 30 we could have included,” Burima says. “There’s thousands of songs written by Calgarians that warrant a place on that list. But we focused on the fact that it’s just a snapshot, a collective playlist of songs we thought would be cool to perform on the carillon.”

Calgary Songs Project: 30 Songs Celebrating 30 Years will continue until the end of January.

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