Site preserving musical legacy strikes right chord

Generals Gathered, a metal band from Thunder Bay. Simply Saucer, a punk band from Hamilton. Fear of Dogma, a rock band from London.

Odds are you haven’t heard of any of these bands, but Jonathan Martel is doing his best to get the word – or in this case, music – out to the masses.

The King’s University College graduate has been working feverishly over the last year toward the launch of the Ontario Independent Music Archive (OIMA), an online repository for new and emerging musicians in all genres to post and share their work with the public. The site also collects, preserves and promotes older independent music from across the province that was originally produced in small batches on vinyl, cassette and CD, making it available to new audiences.

This may come as surprise, perhaps, from someone with a History and Political Science degree. But Martel said he found a way to merge music into his studies.

“I had a great professor, Alison Meek, who teaches American History, and she let me write all my essays on rock ‘n’ roll and how it ties to history,” he said. “I spent way more time than necessary, for a history student, in the Music library.”

While he found a lot of books on the history of punk in England or rock in the United States, there was only the occasional book on Canada and it usually centred on the big names.

“There was nothing on those smaller bands who may have come out with one album that was really good, but where are they now, where is their music?” he said.

Martel would soon contact Mario Circelli, former station manager at CHRW-FM at Western, who himself had created the London Music Archive, The two would create the Music Association of Canada and, with assistance from the National Campus and Community Radio Association, would apply for and receive a two-year grant ($224,500) from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to launch their initiative.

“Our ultimate goal is to make anything that was written, recorded, produced by a Canadian to be available online,” Martel said. “It’s almost out of a sense of nationalism. Independent music is part of Canada’s culture and national identity. It’s definitely something we need to preserve. It’s part of who we are.”

With the OIMA website launching this past month – which coincided with seven regional concerts to highlight local music – more than 1,000 songs, and even spoken-word poetry, have already been uploaded. Martel encourages artists to upload their own music to the website to grow the archive, as well as invites the public to learn more about independent music in their country.

“Every day is a surprise with what we’re getting,” said Martel, whose next endeavour is to take the archive national. “Whatever type of music it is, it’s part of that Canadian identity. We’re all about digitizing and preserving it. There’s definitely a lot of work, but if I can find an excuse to do research and listen to music all day, that’s awesome. Somebody has to do it.”