To mark the 25th anniversary as the dean of Canadian hip hop, Maestro Fresh Wes (Wesley Williams) released his first album in almost 13 years – Orchestrated Noise – last summer.
With collaborations from myriad musicians, including award-winning soprano Measha Brueggergosman who sang in operatic Italian, Maestro expected big things.
The disappointment was obvious when he did not receive a Juno-award nomination.
“I was hurt for two days after I was not nominated,” the artist said in his keynote address at the Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association’s annual Black History Month event last Saturday.
On the third day, Maestro received a call from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Last fall, he performed Reach for the Sky live at CBC and the network executives fell in love with the song which is on the 18-track album. They decided to make it an Olympic theme for the just concluded Sochi Winter Olympics. The national TV broadcaster also played Maestro’s song, History Repeated, during Canada’s hockey games at the Olympics.
“I was hurt for a few minutes, but you never know what’s around the corner,” Maestro told his audience that included several young people. “When I fall, a voice always keeps saying, ‘Stick to your Vision’.”
Stick to Your Vision: How to Get Past the Hurdles & Haters to Get Where You Want to Be is the title of the artiste’s book which was released almost four years ago.
Spilt into three sections, expectation, operation and destination, Maestro offers tips on how to define and achieve one’s vision, what to do once you have reached your destination along with empowering strategies, inspirational quotes and practical exercises.
The Gemini-nominated actor and Juno award-winning artist said the myriad challenges he faced inspired him to write the book.
“When I was in Grade One at Shaughnessy Public School, the teacher requested that we draw pictures of what we wanted to be when he grew up,” he said. “I was the only Black kid in the class and I drew a picture of Bobby Orr who was the big hockey star at the time. I felt my drawing was a masterpiece, but it didn’t go down well with the class. One of the kids told me I can’t play hockey because I am Black. If I was meant to be a hockey player, I would be. The point is that was the first time that I had heard somebody tell me I can’t accomplish something.”
It certainly wasn’t the last.
As an aspiring rapper, he was often told he would not succeed in the music industry because he’s Canadian.
Maestro got his big break when he was asked to make a second appearance on Electric Circus, a live dance music TV show which aired on MuchMusic and City TV for 15 years up until 2003.
“I did Let Your Backbone Slide for the very first time,” he said. “A record company from New York was there that day and that’s how I got my first record deal.”
The classic single, which he recorded with DJ LTD and former manager Farley Flex, sold more than 50,000 copies.
Maestro began writing poetry at age seven and by 11 was rapping with influences from New York rap acts, including Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash. In 1988, he adopted the name Maestro Fresh Wes and recorded his independent demo, You Can’t Stop Us Now.
As an actor, he played roles in the series Metropia, Platinum, Blue Murder, The Line and Instant Star and in the films Honey, Four Brothers, Poor Boy’s Game and Get Rich or Die Tryin’.