Article / Review

Nolan's social agenda plays out in her music

Ashante Infantry - Toronto Star Staff Reporter

In more than three decades as an activist musician, Faith Nolan has written hundreds of songs, but she cites a fledgling tune as her mission statement.

"The best song I think I ever wrote was when I was 16," says the 52-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist of "Divide and Rule Us," which appeared on her 1986 recording debut Africville.

The calypso track established her expansive social agenda: from incarcerated women in Ontario and Nigeria, to gay rights in California and Afghanistan, to homelessness in Toronto.

"We don't come as one part: you're not just black, you're a woman; you're not just black, you're part native," explains the queer daughter of a white Irish mother and African Canadian and Mi'kmaq father.

Faith Nolan will lead the 2009 Dyke March.  

"There's a constant bringing of all of one's self. I don't think it's possible to just liberate one thing. If we have gay rights, there'll be equality in the world. It all has to move for all of us together, or none of us.

"I feel like the best people in the world, people like Martin Luther King, have made the world a better place for people. I always wanted to be part of this greater movement to making humanity better for all of us."

The Toronto-based Halifax native was selected as Honoured Dyke to lead the Dyke March. After being nominated by Helen Kennedy, executive director of national queer lobby group Egale Canada, Nolan was selected by popular vote from a pool of three nominees at a general meeting of Pride Toronto.

"I'm very proud to be marching with my sisters and very honoured that people thought enough of me to do this. But I think it's all of us together, so I don't know that I represent anything special," says Nolan, who performed "Loving Womon" instead of making a speech at the meeting.

"I'm just one of the many dykes who care a lot and do a lot of work, and one of the many people in society who care. And we can move forward, and we have, and we will continue 'til we die."

Nolan uses her blend of folk, jazz and blues to document her experiences, which she finds therapeutic. Her current solo disc Mannish Gal includes the funky blues tune, "Not Good For A Longtime," about her challenges maintaining long-term relationships – "I will make you happy, but make it snappy / 'cause I'll be gone just like my pappy."

The self-taught musician who plays guitar, banjo, ukulele, bass, harmonica, harp and drums began her professional career performing in lesbian bars at 15.

"I started writing songs about what they call gay liberation, with a mix of black liberation and talking about Africville (the black Nova Scotia community where she was born), too," she says.

"Around the same time, I realized I knew nothing about slavery in Canada, or blacks in Canada. We had no idea where we had come from and there was a big denial about any native ancestry within the black community.

"I wanted to write about what it meant to live as a black person and what it meant to live as a woman and what it meant to live in poverty, because I remember growing up around Regent Park and being really ashamed that we didn't have money and that our house wasn't nice.

"I remember being really ashamed of being black, because I didn't have blonde hair and blue eyes and wasn't seen as pretty. All of those things deeply hurt and it was everyday life.

"I never write anything that isn't what happened, but hopefully it's kind of artistic and has a little bit of soul in it."

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2009

Faith Nolan - Compilation 1986-1996

Reviewed: D&D July 2003

Across the lunch table from us, sat this spontaneous sparkling woman, chatting briefly while we all ate our lunch. Later that day, I was fascinated to watch her strap a tambourine on her ankle, put on her harmonica holder and grab up her slide guitar. Faith was introduced as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, recently returning after performing in Nigeria at a women’s prison. Lyrically Faith tells of violence against women, poverty, racism and the need to struggle for a better world to live in. Faith has a deep commitment to social justice. With her lively music sprinkled with reggae, jazz, blues, spiritual gospel and folk, Faith had the audience easily joining in with the chorus.

Born in Halifax, Faith’s parents were coal miners in Cape Breton. Later moving to Toronto she clearly uses her music as a powerful tool to help bring social change for a better world. Faith’s toured across Canada, Europe, Japan and the States performing at benefits, concerts, music festivals and universities, composed and arranged music for the National Film Boards.

Her CD Faith Nolan Compilation 1986 – 1996 celebrates ten years of song; Faith’s approach of utilizing her song writing and voice to speak out for feminism, workers’ issues and children’s rights. Numerous websites – Faith Nolan.

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