Tonye Aganaba

i. I work as a:
Singer-Songwriter, Social Justice Advocate, Arts Educator & Facilitator

I write and produce music, tour regularly, play local shows. I paint, do photography, and have a real passion for design. I have developed an arts based education program providing kids with creative ways to deal with issues of race, addiction, media and self-care.

ii. I do this creative work because:
It has never been more important! It has long been known that people gather around the arts…live shows, art galleries, dance recitals, jam sessions and much much more. In a city that lacks the foresight to invest in a sustainable economy that benefits its citizens – I believe that art in all its forms is a VERY powerful way to provide insight and educate our fellow humans. We have been robbed of creative energy in this city – and the family of artists to which I belong are dedicated to fighting the ongoing destruction of our creative communities.

iii Personal qualities that help me in my work are:
Funnily enough – its the (dis)abilities that I have that power my work these days. The last three years have seen me grow through an MS Diagnosis, Depression and Anxiety, six spine fractures, and appendicitis! The relentless health challenges seemed unfair and insurmountable – but they taught me some amazing lessons. Exercising self-care, speaking kindly to myself, the benefits of human connection, and how to make something out of nothing!

iv. The greatest challenges around doing this work are:
Remembering to be compassionate to myself. I am obsessive about things when I get excited, and often I will pursue my cause until I burn myself out. It is great to be dedicated and hard-working, but in the end – you MUST take care of yourself, your family, and your soul crew – or the results are disastrous. Isolation and an inability to deeply connect with others are other issues that have arisen – and as I move forward, I constantly edit and reposition myself so that I can make time for self, and others – this act gives me the power to remain consistent in my creative endeavours.

v. Creative childhood hobbies:
When I was a kid I was into the same things I am now! Creative writing, music, drawing, acting and socializing. I went to an arts school when I was growing up in England – and they really fostered my creative passions by sending me to amazing English Camps set in country side castles, or setting me up with recording studio time to create music. I was nurtured and encouraged, and as a result – I knew my gifts or leanings quite early on.

vi. Other creators who inspire you:
MAN! This is a crazy one…there are so many. I think, in Vancouver I have incredible respect for Tom & Kalissa Landa of The Paperboys, Locarno, BC World Music Collective. Two of the most INCREDIBLE human beings I have ever had the pleasure of sharing space with. Its not easy to be a touring musician leading multiple projects and bands. You are on the road 30 or more weeks of the year with gruelling schedules, personalities to manage, and so many moving parts to control. It would NOT be surprising to hear that relationships fall apart under that kind of strain and stress….but somehow (hard work of course) – these two manage to thrive and spread UNDENIABLE love and joy wherever they go.
Photo – Liz Rosa

Jewel of the Moon on Soundcloud

vii. Training that has helped me succeed in this career:
I have LIVED. My life has been an often unbelievable journey thus far, with stops in Europe, Africa, The Middle East and much much more. I have been financially stable but emotionally dead, and poor as a peasant with nothing but peace and positivity in my heart. LIVING has taught me about reality. Living as a black woman in a fundamentally racist colonial empire has taught me that it is my responsibility to educate myself, and use my gifts to liberate those who are oppressed.

viii. The biggest myth about this type of work is:
That you do NOT need to practice! Creatives must spend time in reflection and contemplation about their crafts – if we don’t our work becomes stagnant and uninspired.

ix. Some proud career moments:
Opening for Aloe Blacc at Science World, Singing in the ancient ruins of Baalbek in Lebanon, Playing Montreal Jazz Fest, getting signed to 604 Records, getting unsigned and surviving 6 months in the forest!

x. If you want to work in my field, I suggest that you:
Think long and hard about what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your dreams. There are lots of long nights, isolated work, strange hours, and judgement. You have to be kind of insane to be a creative…the constant rejection cannot be good for the psyche. BUT – we live for it! I live for it. For the rush of the unknown, and the desire to be GREAT.

xi. A professional goal I have for the future:
To travel the world sharing art & music with marginalized communities in third world countries.

xii. If you want to see my work, go to:

Catch me every Monday in May and June at The Keefer Bar in Chinatown, or on the last Wednesday of the month at Calabash Bistro. I am proudly represented by Cubbyhole Artists.


Header: Pie created by Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin
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