Archive » Arts and Entertainment

Aarvark Music and Culture: for music in the community

January 27, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

It was high school that launched the owner of Aardvark Music and Culture, Perry Joseph into music. Lots of students enjoy the bright lights of the adolescent stage as he did, playing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and as Fagan in Oliver.

Said Mr. Joseph in a telephone interview this week with the Citizen, “I met someone who was a guitar player. He taught me a lot. I’ve been pretty much writing songs and singing them since then. My first performance was at high school.” 

After a brief time at college, he moved on to Ottawa, where he played in clubs. Returning eventually to Toronto he played with a series of original music bands, meaning, “We wrote our own songs and recorded and played them.”

They were heady days in the late ’60’s and the ’70’s for the emergence of the great singer/songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Buffy Saint-Marie.

“It was hard at first but they made it through,” as he observed.

Mr. Joseph came to Orangeville at the time his mother decided to build a home in the Tanglewood Estates. His first job in town was as a cab driver in 1981 but since then he has had other jobs. For the last 13 years though, he has been working and managing his own music store, Aardvark Music and Culture.

Still, playing music always matters. He formed a band, Reel to Reel in 1988 and got together with his partner, who became pregnant and “then my son was born. I stopped my activities –in ’89 maternity leave was 4 months. So, I was a home dad. I didn’t like the idea that he was too young to tell us about his day [at a day care]. When he was old enough to talk to me about anything, we sent him to day care.”

Then back to work and back to music but the band members had moved on. He was asked how he felt about Reggae, which he loves and he joined the band, Tabarruk (from the Arabic word that is a form of blessing).

“This started me on my time with Reggae that’s gone on for 35 years. I’ve played with Peewee Ellis. He had left the James Brown Band [in 1969] to join Van Morrison [as collaborator, creating music and partaking in sessions]. Ellis died [in 2021] and it hit me a little harder than I expected – he wasn’t a big talker but he was a lot of fun to play with.”

Another musical luminary, David Swarbrick of Fair Port Convention came to Orangeville and Perry Joseph was thrilled to have played with the famous Swarbrick here at the Opera House. There followed a time playing with iconic musicians, when Mr. Joseph opened shows and travelled all over North America and to the U.K.

Otherwise, as he told us, “I had to have a day job; original music doesn’t pay all that well. I stopped doing physical jobs when I turned 40; there’s so many stories.”

Along with members of the Campfire Poets, they formed the Riddim Forward band (Jamaican spelling). Mr. Joseph’s son, David Joseph was there. Ryan Hancock played bass, Geoff Canlett played drums and Jamie Andrew is the hand drummer; they sang until the Campfire Poets got crazy busy with their own bookings.

“I’m writing some original music,” said Mr. Joseph. “There’s two forms of music which I pursue: Reggae and the other singer/song writer side. I had a writing partner Gordon Shawcross. We had a band, the House Plants. Gord and I wrote about 200 songs over the course of 12 years. He was also part in the early years of Aardvark. We produced an album called Living Room, some of the work I’m most proud of. It’s available at iTunes and there are copies here at the shop – artistically not financially it is a success.”

Which brought us to the subject of the shop called Aardvark Music and Culture, now in its third location, all on Broadway at number 145.

“This is my shop,” he said. “I entered in Aardvark because I thought it was a way to give back to the community, not necessarily a route to getting rich. It’s all about community; help people get into music. We built a new stage [in the building] where original artists can perform.

“Ben Garyfalakis has been working with me for about seven years – the service he provides is just so wonderful – he is a very engaging, polite and a lovely young man.”

In general, it is the music school that is the engine of the operation. They had to find new ways to work online, which is not lucrative. When the pandemic hit, they had 180 students. November 1, they started in person lessons but “the last thing we wanted to do was take any chances with the problem. Everybody had been so careful. This has been the toughest part of anybody’s life,” said Mr. Joseph.

Timing is everything, for better or for worse: he took possession of these new premises in February 2020; moved on March 13 and 14; opened on the 16th and closed on the 17th.

There has been amazing customer support, people “buying things from us they could have got somewhere else.”

One customer called and purchased a gift certificate for $1,500. The store sells musical instruments, electric and acoustic: Fender, Roland, Yamaha. It is also a record store, with new and used vinyl. That began by accident. One day, in the interest of boosting sales for the day, Mr. Joseph brought his records in and sold them and that helped start another line of product, along with many others.

A parent of one student, involved in writing grants sent Mr. Joseph emails to apply for grants during the pandemic, which was extremely helpful.

He said, “We opened for the community and the community returns with support. There’s definitely a symbiotic relationship.”

For the future? “I would love to get to the point where we can interact with the community in the way we planned,” Mr. Joseph said. “I would like to see my music school operating at [least] 50 per cent of our capacity. It would just be nice to have some sort of [what should be] normality; I would love to see people coming to enjoy a concert the beautiful performance place we created – even at 50 per cent. To welcome the community in the way we intended.”

He said: “This is the space I always dreamed of having. So far, we haven’t lost the investment.”

For more information about Aardvark Music and Culture, check out the website:

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.