By David Pratt
It’s Friday night at the El Mocambo and on its dimly-lit second floor some of Toronto’s urban music up-and-comers and hip-hop heads get together to hear and be heard.
After six acts of solo emcees, soul singers, DJs and groups, 2 a.m. approaches and a man gets on stage and begins a beat-less spoken word poem.
Far from the world of diamond necklaces and Bentleys, this is real, underground hip-hop. The man on stage is 24-year-old Ryerson information technology management student Paul Sackichand, a.k.a. Change,’ a name that “summarizes what I’ve gone through, and what’s coming,” he says.
Change is one member of the Toronto hip hop collective Pangea Project. Since the release of their self-titled album earlier this year, Pangea Project has been gaining popularity through a succession of shows.
From headlining club nights like the one at the El Mocambo, to performing on the same bill as Saukrates and Talib Kweli as part of the Toronto Urban Music Festival, their name and their sound is getting out there.
“Recently, we’ve had a lot of steady and good shows,” says Change. “We’re happy when people appreciate the music.”
The collective came together nearly 10 years ago at Oakwood Collegiate High School in Toronto. The four members of Pangea Project featured on the album, as well as other members, met at school through conversations about music.
“It was all for fun, we used to freestyle in the hallways,” says Change, adding that each member joined groups on the side throughout high school. “In 2000 we all came together as a collective,” he says.
Soon after, Ian Kamau, another emcee in the project, was performing at a show when he caught the attention of Canadian rapper k-os. “He heard Kamau on stage and offered him free studio time,” Change says.
In 2003, Kamau opened for k-os’ Canadian tour and Change took that year off school to tour with them as Kamau’s manager. “That year off taught me a lot,” says Change. “I saw new-found worth in school after seeing how everything I was learning fit into the real world.”
After his year off, he came back to Ryerson to “finish something I started.” Between school, a part-time job and shows with Pangea Project, Change finds time to get into the studio about once a week to work on his upcoming solo release due out next spring.
If his work on the Pangea Project album and his live performances are any indication, his solo effort should be a complex album. As a man whose list of musical influences varies from the Wu Tang Clan, to Pink Floyd, to Billie Holliday, Change has an eclectic musical knowledge to draw from. He says one thing he and the group bring to their music is honesty.
“It’s our responsibility as artists to be sincere, and it’s our duty to innovate,” he says. “You’ve got to stand out to some extent.” For now, Change says, “we’re still just glad to take what life gives us, if people are happy with the music, that’s mission accomplished.”
For the future, Change says that whether as an artist or as a businessman, “I’d like to be involved in a successful movement in music.”