If you were a Canadian kid fascinated by popular culture in the 1990s -- former MuchMusic VJ Tony "Master T" Young was the coolest personality on TV. Upon his retirement from a busy TV career more than a decade ago -- he had interviewed the likes of Canada's first woman Prime Minister Kim Campbell, Eminem, 2Pac, Janet Jackson and Madonna. I caught up with Tony as he reflected on his MuchMusic years as well as the current state of popular culture in Canada.
Tony -- as a new immigrant in the 1990s you were a great role model on TV. Reflect on your time with MuchMusic for me.
I feel proud that a lot of immigrants I've met over the years embraced what I did on MuchMusic. I think, my experience, enabled them to feel like there was something for them to identify with on the Television airwaves. I'm also grateful to Moses Znaimer and Denise Donlon for letting the cultural content continue on the programs X-tendamix and Da Mix which were just supposed to be urban music video shows. Presently, I feel as a community, there really isn't a strong positive reflection of the African Canadian experience on TV.
I had a lot of memorable years on MuchMusic and with the help of my wife Paula and Dalton Higgins, I was able to publish my semi-autobiographical book Much Master T, One Vj's Journey (ECW Press). (Yes I know shameless plug but it documents a lot of the memorable interviews and some of my life story emigrating from England to Canada) Right up until I left, I was blessed to have produced and hosted a show that played black music and reflected our culture in a positive light. I'm grateful to MuchMusic for giving me the opportunity to do that. I am sure, the good ratings helped out as well all due to the many strong passionate fans of both shows.
When you look at TV -- MuchMusic, MTV -- what are some of the changes you are seeing that maybe have been rare in the 1990's?
With all the explicit language and sexuality that's aired on TV these days, it wouldn't have happened in the late 80's and 90's on MuchMusic. Back in the day, rap videos were scrutinized for violence and for being too sexual. With the content on these channels today, I think they've pushed the envelope a little too far. Like as I used to, I still inform parents they have to have an understanding as to what their children are reading, playing, watching and experiencing on line and guide them accordingly.
Another big thing is, the reality based programming taking the place of actual videos being played due to the advent of YouTube. But more importantly, everyone these days as well as in the past, wants to be a star and many avenues are now available for people to put themselves out there such as again, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. One can be seen and heard thru many avenues rather than waiting to be told who the next big thing is according to record labels, Muchmusic or MTV.
If we look at the media currently, advertisers are finally realizing that other ethnic groups actually bank, drink beer, use beauty products, drive cars etc. and the numbers seemed to have gone up in terms of visual representation in TV ads even more so since President Obama was elected. I just wish the major networks would also start to reflect ethnic diversity on newscasts and television programs. I understand when they seem to be appealing to particular ethnic groups for economic reasons. I wish they would look at the diversity of this country, its changing visual fabric and be a lot more inclusive of the various cultures of Canada.
If any of your kids were looking at following in your footsteps, would you encourage them to do so?
Well, both my sons are very talented and have worked with my wife and I on several musical projects, have appeared on TV and have their own music videos. Most of these projects were born out of their desire to create something media based and I definitely support that. My older son's predominant interest is in Basketball right now as he has grown past me - 6'3" as a teenager while the younger one is extremely creative, both in music and in the arts.
When he is asked "what would he like to be in the future", he responds by saying "I am an ARTIST mostly abstracts, and a soccer player" I encourage all their interests and would be very proud if they seriously followed in my footsteps on any level in the future.
Thank you for being a great role model Tony - anything you would like to add.
At the moment, I feel an urgent need for us as a people to come together and properly claim what is ours through unification, education and tolerance, even among our own race. So much of what has been built up on our backs is currently being navigated by other passionate cultures that are lovers of the urban experience, capitalizing on our creative talents, as we sit by and voice our opinions even support. It is unfortunate that we do not even actually take the bull by the horns and control our own cultural properties.
I wonder if this is whether we don't have the credentials to access the funding or economically raise the seed money to do so. I must also wonder if we are just getting pushed out of the system because of a few bad apples and their negative track records as well, ageism may also come in play here as well.