The Halluci Nation opens Toronto’s music venue, the TD Music Hall

“There’s not enough 500-seater rooms around. To see a new one opening is important for the music scene in general,” says Bear Witness.

By Nick Krewen

Special to the Star

On Friday, downtown Toronto will welcome a brand new venue with a concert headlined by The Halluci Nation: TD Music Hall.

Located on the fourth floor of the Allied Music Centre building and complex that connects to the revitalized Massey Hall on Victoria Street near Shuter Street,  the state-of-the-art 500-capacity will provide a much needed space for emerging Canadian and international talent.

The Halluci Nation’s Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas is certainly chuffed to be christening the room with his musical comrade, Tim “2oolman” Hill that night.

“I grew up in Toronto and it’s always special to come back, but the opportunity to play a new facility and the size of a room that’s really needed right now is an honour,” he said. “There’s not enough 500-seater rooms around.  To see a new one opening is important for the music scene in general.”

Offering an immersive audio system featuring 58 speakers that Allied Music Centre president and CEO Jesse Kumagai asserts will make music “sound exceptionally good from anywhere in the room,” TD Music Hall will function as a catalyst venue for both Canadian emerging artists and fledgling international acts. 

“A great city for music needs a myriad of great venues, and the need for small, sustainable spaces is higher now than ever before,” noted Kumagai in an e-mail interview with the Star.

“TD Music Hall will be one of the most critical stops on an artist’s journey to Massey Hall and will serve as a new home for the music community.  

“The opportunity to create a space like this that we know will be around for generations to come was not one we could pass up, especially in light of the increasing challenges faced by live music venues.  Massey Hall was built as a gift to the people, and we see TD Music Hall the same way.”

Visually describing the venue as containing “floor-to-ceiling windows at both ends, a sophisticated and geometric acoustic wall running the length of the room, double height ceiling, and state of the art production,” Kumugai says the new room will also boast “the very best acoustics in the city,” 

 “It’s modern and elegant, but without being ostentatious,” he adds.

 “The patron experience will be great, with so much beyond the great sound, from great sightlines to sparkling new washrooms.  And like every other performance venue in Allied Music Centre, it is directly connected to the Centre’s three content capture studios for turn-key recording so we can share these experiences with an even wider audience.”

Designed in consultation with KPMB Architects, Charcoal Blue, Engineering Harmonics and Imagine Sound, TD Music Hall was financed in part by TD Bank, all three levels of government, Allied Properties,  Slaight Family Foundation and other partners and philanthropic donors.

TD Music Hall is part of the $186.5M Massey Hall Revitalization project, an endeavour that’s current just short of  3% of realizing its fundraising goal.

And the venue will get its first test when The Halluci Nation concludes the tour for its latest album One More Saturday Night – bringing along a dance and a video presentation – before fêting the world with new music and their infectious electronic powwow -step sound later this year.

“We’ve got a lot of new music coming and we’re very creative right now,” said Tom “2oolman” Hillman recently via Zoom.  “We’re in Los Angeles right now working on  new music and we’re in a really creative space. We’re bringing that kind of energy to the show as well. We can’t help ourselves – we’ll probably sneak peek a couple of things we’ve got coming down the pipe at the show.”

Hill said the duo are at that awkward point where they aren’t quite ready to name the new album, but just on the verge of nailing down the concept.

“Every day that Bear and I  spend together – in this creative zone – the concept gets more finalized,” Hill explained. “Once we nail down what it is that we’re trying to do,  these ideas and titles and everything start coming up. 

“So, I have a feeling that after the show that we do in Toronto, then at the end of the February, just due to all the awesome and creative vibes we’re surrounded by, we’re  going to have a more concrete idea of what we’re going to have going forward. We’re on the cusp of it: we can feel it.”

 Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas says one of The Halluci Nation’s mandates is “to uphold where we came from and where we’re heading,” with One More Saturday Night meant to close one cycle and move forward to start another.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re leaving everything behind,” he confirmed, adding that music from when the duo was known as A Tribe Called Red will continue to be performed. 

“So, we have a really ambitious album planned that put us in a position where we stretched artistically as far as  we could go. But we’re still creating dance for bangers at the same time.” 

Thomas did let it drop that some of the new music will feature Alberta’s powwow and Round Dance drumming and singing group Northern Cree – continuing the tradition of The Halluci Nation’s collaborative nature. 

“We worked with them producing their most recent album, and we took out of those recording sessions what we could draw from, so they’ll definitely be a big voice on this one for us,” Thomas confirmed.

 The duo is also likely to introduce some new voices into the recorded mix, as in the past they’ve teamed up with Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, Yasiin Bey, Black Bear, Haviah Mighty, Chippewa Travelers and John Trudell into the mix.

 Both Hill and Thomas say that the essence of The Halluci Nation is collaboration, including keeping their ears to the ground for up-and-coming artists.

“Right from the drum groups, which relationships over the years have grown closer and closer, and then with other vocalists and other producers coming in, that’s at the core of  who we are and what we do,” stated Thomas. ” It’s part of the reason why that name Halluci Nation has become our full-time name now.”

Hill says The Halluci Nation’s scope of artistry goes beyond the music.

“I don’t really think we do anything that’s separate when it comes to The Halluci Nation.  It’s always a group effort, right down to our management and other people that we collaborate with in music videos and even our merch: It all ties in together and is all working parts.  We would be nothing without those things.”

 It’s also due to the late Trudell – the influential Native American political activist, actor, musician, author, poet and former chairman of the American Indian Movement  –  that The Halluci Nation comes by its name, thanks to one of his poems he bestowed on them.

“Yeah, our name came from his conceptual work and a poem that he wrote for us,” Thomas explained. “I can’t remember a point in my life where he wasn’t a voice that was  around. I was raised in a house where my Mom was part of the American Indian movement in the ’70s and  she introduced me to him, through playing his music and poetry. 

“But it wasn’t until we were producing the We Are The Halluci Nation (A Tribe Called Red) album that we actually sat down and got to work together. He had written a poem that we were working with, and when we actually recorded it, he said, ‘oh, I put on another little bit on there you might want to use,’ and it was The Halluci Nation poem.”

Hill said he left a strong, lasting and continuing impression.

“He’s still  meeting us, even though he’s not here anymore,” said Hill. “He left a lot of work for us to just look at, analyze and actually practice and do it.”

 Although The Halluci Nation will be the first to play TD Music Hall, they won’t be the last: upcoming acts booked into the space including a three-night run by Toronto R&B performer Dylan Sinclair (Feb 14-16;) Forest Blakk (Feb. 18) and Nikki Yanofsky (Mar 3) are the next bunch, with future performers like  Deerhoof, Ombiigizi, Elise LeGrow and Whitehorse skedded over the next few months (Check for details.)

The International Indigenous Music Summit, Honey Jam, TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Lula Music and Arts Centre, the Lulaworld and Small World Music Festivals will also call TD Music Hall home – and future Allied Music Centre occupancies that will open in the next few months include a new, as yet unnamed 150-capacity community theatre and the Deane Cameron Recording Studio.

All in all, sounds like opportunities for homegrown musicians will be multiplying in the very near future.”Creating opportunities for Canadian artists is one of the founding principles of our organization and part of the basis of our charitable status,” said Allied Centre’s Jesse Kumagai. “So, the opportunity to create a space that suits their needs is very much part of our motivation.”