Multiple Juno Award winner and world music promoter Billy Bryans died today after battling lung cancer. He was 63.
While he is best known as the co-founder and percussionist of 80s eclectic pop group the Parachute Club and co-writer of the enduring anthem "Rise Up," Bryans was a promoter, producer and DJ, who worked tirelessly to promote world music, most recently Cuban. He was instrumental in the implementation of Best World Beat Recording category at the 2002 Juno Awards, which was then renamed Global Recording of the Year and, since 2003, World Music Album of the Year.
"He was such a local hero on the scene," jazz singer and Jazz FM91 host Jaymz Bee wrote on Facebook. "He loved so many styles of music and helped so many people. I saw him regularly at Lula Lounge and aside from playing and producing he always knew what to spin to keep things happening on the dance floor. An all around Music Man! The Government, Time Twins, Parachute Club...I knew him back in the day and he never stopped. What a great life lived!!!"
Another music industry veteran, concert and festival promoter Derek Andrews, who specializes in folk, jazz and world music, wrote an extensive eulogy on Facebook page, which included the lines: "Billy strolled in and out of the blues community over the years, eventually finding that his shuffle rocked, and like many of us was seeking a wider world view. I danced to his music, we danced on the same dance floors, he made many people dance."
The Montreal native was a member of '60s beat group MG & the Escorts, before relocating to Toronto and becoming involved in the blues scene, playing in various groups and co-producing Downchild Blues Band's hit "Flip, Flop and Fly." He was a key figure on the famed Queen Street scene in the late 70s and early 80s, performing in new wave acts such as The Government, and producing records for groups as diverse as rockabilly's the Bop Cats and jazz-jug revivalists the Original Sloth Band.
While working at Daniel Lanois' Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton, Ontario, his production of the avant-pop duo Time Twins found their way to the ears of Brian Eno, who ultimately became Lanois' production partner for U2.
Bryans' career experienced a boom when he met singer Lorraine Segato and joined her feminist rock band Mama Quilla II, whose EP was produced by Lanois. The pair - who remained friends and collaborators to this day - then created soca/reggae/rock group V and the groundbreaking Parachute Club, which mixed politics with cross-cultural rhythms and netted four Juno Awards, 1984's Most Promising Group and Single of the Year ("Rise Up"); 1985's Group of the Year and 1987's Best Video (for "Love is Fire," a duet with John Oates). Their 1983 debut was produced by Lanois; the follow-up, All The Feet of the Moon by Michael Beinhorn and 1986's Small Victories by the band, Oates and Mike Jones.
In 1989, Parachute Club dissolved and Bryans became further entrenched in world music, helping to bring it to the consciousness of the Canadian music industry and public. In addition to the new Juno category, he produced the first compilation of Canadian global sounds, The Gathering, which won a 1992 Juno.
A drummer with the South African jive group Siyakha, Bryans also established the Mundial Music pool for DJs and journalists and produced albums for such acts as Diego Marulanda, Afronubians, Shego Band and Punjabi by Nature. His two productions for reggae dub poet Lillian Allen both also won Junos. He even added a global flavor to an album by children's artist Raffi.
In the last decade, Bryans pursued his passion for Latin music, working with singer Laura Fernandez and rapper Telmary, while bringing top Cuban acts like Los Van Van to Canada. As a DJ spinning the latest Latin dancefloor tracks, he took the talents he displayed at the now defunct Bamboo club to Babaluu and Lula Lounge. Parachute Club also reformed in 2005 and played periodically. They were inducted into the Canadian Indies Hall of Fame at 2006's Canadian Music Week and performed their last show in August 2008.
Last week, with Bryans in a hospice with increasingly failing health, a benefit for him was held at Lula featuring Alex Cuba, Jane Bunnett, Son Ache, Samba Squad and more. Bryans will be honored in a memorial May 6 featuring artists from throughout his career. Details to be announced.