Music in the time of a pandemic

Singer-songwriter Ashley “Ms. Paige” Johnson.

Ashley “Ms Paige” Johnson, a Schulich BBA graduate, is a woman of many talents; not the least of which includes carrying on her family’s long-standing tradition of representing the Caribbean music scene here in Canada. Her mother, Debbie Johnson, is a six-time Juno award winner. Her grandmother, Angela Johnson, was one half of the celebrated Trinidad & Tobago duo, Ed & Angela Johnson. One might say Johnson has music running through her veins.

With 35 singles and as the recipient for both the 2013 and 2016 Caribbean Music & Entertainment Top Soca Artist award, Excalibur wanted to get Johnson’s perspective on what challenges she faces as a musician who thrives on live performances, and how she adapts to the current restrictive conditions created by the pandemic. We wanted to know what area of her art provides her with the most comfort, and which of her songs she feels best speaks to this moment in our collective experience. Here is what she had to say.

Q. How has music continued to be a part of your life, despite facing many restrictions in lockdown?

A. As someone who is genuinely passionate about mental health, I recognized the need to connect an audience through music, as lockdown and quarantine sparked a global feeling of loneliness. On a whim, I sat down at my piano on March 19th and kicked off daily Karaoke a la Paige videos shared through my Instagram platform at @MsPaigeMusic. The daily musical sing-a-longs spanned 24 weeks, only taking a break on Blackout Tuesday in solidarity for global awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, the personal toll of the pandemic — amplified by the exhaustion of continuing to witness Black people who look just like myself and my family continuing to be marginalized, brutalized, and killed — became too much and I paused Karaoke a la Paige for an indefinite period of time, returning for a short stint during the holiday season as a countdown to Christmas.

Q.What are some of the ways that you feel music as a practice may benefit your mental wellbeing?

A. In addition to the daily Karaoke a la Paige endeavour, I turned to music as a creative outlet throughout the pandemic, self-producing 12 Acapella tribute videos celebrating the musical contributions of artists who have been most impactful on my own musical journey. It began as a birthday tribute for Janet Jackson on May 16 and evolved into a weekly celebration highlighting phenomenal women such as Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, and Aaliyah to name a few. Each tribute was vocally arranged, recorded, and put to video by myself in my home set-up and shared on a weekly basis over a 12-week period throughout the late spring to early summer of 2020. Although the weekly videos came to an end in the early summer months, I also shared a short Acapella tribute rendition of Michael Jackson’s They Don’t Care About Us to celebrate the King of Pop’s birthday in August — SHAMON! These can also be found on my social media platforms on both Instagram and YouTube at @MsPaigeMusic.

Q. Have you felt more, or less creative throughout the pandemic/lockdown?

A. Truth be told, I’ve been fairy musically silent for two and a half years as my last single was released in the summer of 2018. While my writer’s block definitely continued throughout the pandemic, this unprecedented time of uncertainty also provided an opportunity to connect a global audience through music via social media and enabled me to make my own contribution, no matter how small, to helping people feel connected even while apart.

About the Author

By Carla Lopez

Former Editor


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