How a music collective called Trifecta produced a city soundscape in the Canadian prairies
Josh Gonzales

11:38 5th September 2017

Canada is well known for its cultural diversity, but that variety doesn’t thrive in every part of the country. Take my province of Saskatchewan for example. Also known as the land of the living skies, Saskatchewan (or Sask for short) is situated right in the middle of Canada’s vast landscape. When you look down one of our gravel roads, you’re a hundred times more likely to see a palette of clouds pulled straight from a da Vinci painting than you are to see a two-story building (unless you count granaries and barns. We definitely have London beat in that category). In the southern half of the province, where most people live, never ending wheat fields stretch across the horizon. People joke that you can see your dog run away for days. It’s only a slight exaggeration. The skyline is a flat expanse allowing the breeze to steadily rush truckers to their next destination.

Unfortunately, for a long time the lack of geographic diversity was also reflected in the music scene. Known for its farming and agriculture, Saskatchewan is, not surprisingly, recognized for its country, folk, and rock artists. What more would you expect from the center of “Canada’s bible belt”? Sask’s alternative music communities have always been strong here, but for the most part they’ve been self-reliant individual niches. Hip-hop heads and hardcore kids barely talked. The punk bands existed sans the electronic DJs.

Founded mainly by first and second-generation immigrants, Trifecta was created to bring these communities together. They understood what it meant to be different, to always feel like they were on the outside looking in. The southeast Asians were discriminated against in high school by teens who claimed “Asians can’t rap” and that “chinks can’t sing R&B”. The females were overlooked and objectified by the male dominated scene. Building a community that accepted people without prejudice was not just a stance being taken by social justice warriors. Creating Trifecta was helping to fulfill a fundamental human need for the artists.

While major folk and country artists thrived in Saskatchewan’s overarching monoculture, artists in most other genres were left to fend for themselves. Trifecta wanted to create a platform for all of these voices to be heard. In 2014, these instigators brought Saskatchewan’s alt-music communities together in Regina, Saskatchewan’s queen city capital, with a free outdoor multi-genre arts and culture festival. Not only did the festival boast a variety of artists with divergent musical styles, but it also brought other visual and physical artists into the fold. The festival showcased artwork from vendors across the province and featured slacklining and yoga during festival hours. Audiences were exposed to artists they’d never seen before, or probably even considered seeing.

Personally, coming from Sask’s folk scene, I’d never seen any Saskatchewan hip-hop before. It opened me up to a whole other world, one I was eager to immerse myself in. People embraced Trifecta because, compared to most major city centers, there isn’t a ton to do here. Our province’s two major cities each have essentially the same population as York and we don’t enjoy nearly the same level of connectedness to other hubs as people do in densely populated areas of the world. The nearest city with over a million people is a seven-hour drive away. A flight to Toronto is two and a half hours and is five times more expensive than a flight from London to Berlin. Also, there aren't any scheduled trains getting us anywhere either, so you better crank up the tunes and hope to God you don’t fall asleep (although, if you do doze off, the roads are so straight you might make it to your destination safely anyway. Just kidding. Kind of. A 700km drive in the Canadian prairies typically consists of more “slight bends” then actual turns).

While we don’t have a nightlife that would make city dwellers envious, there’s a strong emphasis on community building. The collaborative idealism was always there, it just wasn’t focused on every genre of music. Trifecta gave those of us who felt like arts outsiders a flag to rally around. The ball started rolling and it’s been pretty hard to stop.

The Trifecta Music Festival was born in 2014 and it continued yearly in 2015 and 2016. It’s since expanded into a year-round concert series. It’s not uncommon for a solo folk acoustic act to open for a hip-hop group at one of these events. This inclusive subculture infected artists, breeding the type of collaboration that eventually grew into what the Trifecta artist collective is now.

Since the most recent festival in 2016, Trifecta has focused most of its efforts on developing and exporting artists from within the collective. This past year, hip-hop/R&B duo DGS Samurai Champs and electro-soul singer LOA began staking their claims internationally. Everywhere they went crowds were amazed at these energetic urban artists, wondering how the hell these entertainers came from the same small scene that produced artists like folk troubadour Colter Wall and country powerhouse Jess Moskaluke. Trifecta is also growing a number of artists back home with the ultimate goal of getting the entire collective on an international stage.

Right now, Trifecta is mainly composed of artists in urban genres. This was less intentional and more a product of the musical landscape; the developmental infrastructure and mentoring these niche artists needed simply wasn’t readily available in Saskatchewan. Trifecta’s founders looked at urban hotbeds like Toronto and Atlanta and were inspired by the community based approach (because the internet). These artists didn’t listen to the naysayers heckling them at their own uni bar for being “FOBs” (a derogatory acronym used against immigrants meaning “fresh off the boat”). They didn’t back down when ridiculed for not adhering to gender norms. They didn’t care about gaining recognition once they had “proved” themselves as “female” or “Asian” artists. Even given their various heritages and upbringings, the original Trifecta hustlers were united to build something that suited their tastes and proclivities instead of giving in to bullies who tried to shove them down. Troglodytes could sneer and mumble demeaning comments at them for not knowing the time of “the game”. They’d decided to play a different sport altogether.

To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure if being born in Saskatchewan was good or bad for Trifecta. On the one hand, being as far away as humanly possible from Canada’s hotbeds of Vancouver and Toronto while still existing in the same country made the initial growth period difficult, to say the least. Without YouTube and Soundcloud it would have been pseudo impossible.

But for any creative endeavour you need time and space with your own thoughts, and I don’t think Trifecta grows into what it’s become if it originated in a large urban centre. Who’s to say the artists in the collective would have the same voices if they couldn’t take a ten-minute drive and be completely lost in the stars? Does a kid bathed in city sounds dream the same as one washed in the wind? And as terrible as it sounds, does someone who’s never experienced discrimination hold the same resilience as someone who has? Saskatchewan showed everyone involved with Trifecta the value of creating meaningful relationships, but it’s lack of variety also drove these ambitious kids to craft a new creative space. It’s impossible to create a false dichotomy; growing up in the prairies was both a blessing and a curse.

No matter what happens next, being involved with Trifecta has taught me this: even if you literally live in the middle of nowhere, seemingly isolated from the world, you never know who you might connect with. You just have to build something beautiful for the world and then have the bravery to share it. Trifecta did this and broke the mold in a place known for its uniformity. The Saskatchewan horizon may be as flat as ever, but the living skies are on the rise.

Discover more about Trifecta below: