Why Polaris Prize-winner Kaytranada – a gay black man from an immigrant family steeped in the worlds of hip hop and R&B – is the new face of Canadian music
When Halifax party promoter Will Robillard-Cole heard the Kaytranada and Sango song Down4U, he reached out and flew Celestin to the East Coast city for a show. It was the first time he’d been on a plane since moving to Canada. Robillard-Cole, then still a business undergrad, liked the producer’s music so much he offered to manage him. “Hearing his music, I had never heard anything like it before,” Robillard-Cole says. “I was just like, ‘Why isn’t he famous?’ “
Celestin, by then, had dropped out of high school in order to tour. “I was that close to finishing history, but I had to do the exam earlier than everybody else,” he says. “When I came back from tour, and they told me, ‘You didn’t pass the class.’ ” He kept putting out releases, through SoundCloud and mixtapes such as Instrumental Hip Hop Is Dead. With a manager to steer his brand, word of Kaytranada just kept spreading. Soon, touring consumed his life.
But the rush of it all – the drinking, the smoking, the travel – consumed him. He almost put out a proper album, but got stifled by the label. He felt as though his life wasn’t going anywhere. And there was something else that he’d avoided admitting – that he was gay. “Growing up in my hood, people were like, very masculine, and when you’re not masculine, you get bullied and shit like that,” he says backstage at Echo Beach. “I used to be bullied all my life, and I was like, I’m not gonna let myself get bullied again. So for me it was, like, out of the question.”
Last winter, though, he hit a breaking point, and began to tell people. There’s a lot about coming out he’s still getting used to, including the word gay itself – in our conversation, he prefers to use the word homosexual – but being open has helped him shed a long-standing discomfort. “It was like denial, denial, denial. Like, damn – am I gonna be like that for the rest of my life? I don’t know about that. So I guess it was a good thing that I came out to my parents and my family.”