As Black Music Month wraps up for this year, I thought I might take some time before the end of my internship with the Oakville Arts Council to chat with Carlene Ling, the woman determined to bring awareness of the value of Black Music and Black culture to Halton region and Canada.
Recently Carlene, also known as Vanda Li, found allies in local mayor’s Rob Burton (Oakville) and Marianne Meed Ward (Burlington) to hold flag raising ceremonies on June 1 at their respective Town Halls. Quite an achievement, and a colourful musical addition to June’s culture calendar of events and the successful and lively Black Music on the Block which took place at Town Square on George Street.
When Ling refers to Black music, she has Afro-Caribbean music in mind. It’s a genre that’s a fusion of different cultures, sounds and styles. Dating back to the 1500’s, it’s influenced by African, Indigenous and even European cultures and includes sub-genres such as ska, reggae, calypso, salsa, merengue and more.
Born in the Caribbean herself, her parents were professionals from Trinidad who immigrated to Burlington under Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s ‘Open Door Policy. Activism in the arts seems to run in the family with Ling’s late uncle having been a founder of the Hamilton Caribana and her late aunt, Juliet Hamilton involved in bringing multicultural events to Spencer Smith park in the 1990's and early 2000’s.
After graduating from MM Robinson High school in Burlington, Ling studied at Sheridan in the musical theatre program. She left before graduation to have her oldest daughter and moved to Oakville. As a young, single mother she added two more daughters to her family along with diplomas from the Halton Business Institute in Administrative studies with specialization in Medical Office and another in Social Service Worker from Humber College - graduating from both with Honours.
She was accepted to the BSW program at York and attended for a few years, but eventually decided to take a break. She worked contract jobs in employments services while raising her daughters but dreamt of a different direction for her life.