“I’ll rap you down the street, wave your signs in unison to the music,” calls out Kyle McKenna. It’s a little after two in the afternoon on Sunday, Feb. 24. McKenna’s standing in an alley next to the armoury. Beside him is a grey Colorado pickup truck with both doors open.
McKenna raps in The Caravan. Mike Ritchie plays guitar and keyboard; he’s sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck, fiddling with the stereo, turning it up, fast-forwarding a song to the third verse.
McKenna meanders down the alley and fronts a crowd of 22 plus Mark Bachynski, the drummer and Gesar Mukpo, a.k.a. ‘Chewy Guru’, the photographer. Chewy Guru sticks his camera in McKenna’s face; it looks pretty professional. Nearly everyone in the crowd clutches a placard: “Save our rivers,” “Question his motives,” “What up Steve?”
One woman is shaking tambourines, and somebody’s carrying bells. They’re jingling. Ritchie gets the song to where he wants it; heavy beats fill the street. The signs wave in unison before Chewy Guru starts shooting. Ritchie sprints down the alley to join the crowd.
McKenna raps the protest down the street to the tune of “What up Steve?” It’s the making of a music video of a protest against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Caravan released the video on YouTube on March 1.
The video’s production value is low. Chewy Guru followed the crowd with his camera turned to ‘video’ mode. He didn’t use a tripod and the crowd repeated the staged protest just three times.
“We’re doing it ourselves because we have no money,” says Bachynski during the shoot. “It’s part of the gag. Harper’s cutting all funding to arts. That’s why it looks so cheap.”
McKenna says “What up Steve?” could be considered a protest song, but it’s more their take on how people feel about the Prime Minister. It’s their way of creating dialogue with the man in power.
Allison Saunders, who joined the shoot and is dating Ritchie, thinks it’s an effective way to protest.
“It’s a creative way to contribute to the conversation,” she says. “People resonate with music.”
Bachynski says the release of “What up Steve?” was scheduled to correspond with East Coast Music Week (ECMW), which runs March 6 to 10. The Caravan is showcased in ECMW for the first time.
The Caravan has been together for six years. They released Emerald City, their first album, in 2010. The Nova Scotia department of culture and tourism gave The Caravan $3,500, which they used to make 500 vinyl copies of Emerald City. In 2011, the band was nominated for an East Coast Music Award for the track “Autumn.” The Caravan made a video for the song, “Words that make you feel good,” released in 2012. They received a $9,000 Muchfact grant from MuchMusic, which they used to pay the film crew.
A homemade music video slapped onto YouTube isn’t an unusual move for The Caravan. Along with playing the instruments, Bachynski and Ritchie work together to write, record, engineer and produce their albums. The Caravan record tracks with home-recording equipment. Their second, self-titled album will be released on May 24. Members of The Caravan pooled the money they made at shows and from song sales to fund the release of the album.
McKenna was inspired to write “What up Steve?” after he heard about funding cuts to CBC Radio. The cuts reduce exposure for up-and-coming bands; CBC Radio is one of the only ways for little-known or locally famous musicians to gain nationwide attention.
Bachynski says music is important. It’s an art and “art creates culture. It’s an integral part of society.” He hopes the music video for “What up Steve?” creates conversation, but he says he’s not “uber-political. It’s more how a layman would approach the situation.”
After the video shoot, the placards are piled next to the pick-up truck. McKenna’s glove-less fingers are purple, and the volunteers quickly disperse, teeth chattering. McKenna laughs. He says the shoot is the third of three scenes shot for the video. They were going for a “bleak, wintery feel.”
“It wasn’t too hard to get that,” he says.
Check out ‘What up Steve?’ on YouTube. Phil Harris filmed the first shot, Chewy Guru filmed the crowd scenes and Ritchie filmed the rest. He also collected and edited footage. The Caravan perform on Saturday March 9. For more information go to http://www.ecma.com/ecmw/schedule.