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Oct 13, 2023

5 min. read

In 2014, singer-songwriter Mel Larkin’s passion for self-expression and social change brought her across the bridge from her home in Prince Edward County, Ont. She had been invited into the community of Tyendinaga, just a short drive north, to help Mohawk youth tell the colonial history of Canada through songwriting. Her partner and fellow musician, D’Ari Lisle, built a mobile recording studio, and Darkspark was born.

The two were invited back year after year, and in 2017, Darkspark received a grant to replicate the experience—coined Four Directions—across the country, bringing a team of music producers, videographers and filmmakers to 15 remote and urban communities. It’s hard for Larkin to pick just one favourite song from that time. There’s the haunting Waiting for Change by youth in Attawapiskat First Nation, made especially heartbreaking, given the continued lack of resources and support allocated to that community. Then there’s Taught by the Best from Rankin Inlet, a joyful celebration of the wisdom passed down through the generations.

Darkspark accumulated more than 36 million impressions across their social media platforms, and Four Directions was recognized by Barack Obama and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. But then came 2020. “We were on the verge of having to shut the whole organization down,” Larkin recalls. Instead, the couple sat down and conceptualized their latest project, Versions, inspired by Lisle’s experiences as a first-generation Jamaican Canadian. “There is a Jamaican musical tradition called ‘versioning,’ where one producer creates a beat, and various artists record different songs on top of it,” says Larkin.

Versions offers a year-long fellowship for young Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) emerging artists. The selected fellows (chosen from 1,000 applicants from 51 countries) will spend a year writing, recording and releasing songs about their personal experience with racism. “In addition, they’re all conceptualizing and implementing a social impact project in their home communities,” notes Larkin. There will also be a global call-to-action at the end of the fellowship to encourage youth from around the world to submit their own songs on the topic of discrimination.

“We weren’t sure how we would be able to build a community in a virtual setting,” Larkin says. But the family vibe they’d been able to create with their earlier projects hasn’t been lost, she notes. “It’s all been pretty amazing.”


Do you know of a Good Place?

We want to celebrate community organizations that strive to make life better for all. Send nominations to drivenbygood@caasco.ca to share their stories.

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