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Published: 18 January 2024

Witch Prophet and Sun Sun on building sustainable dreams 

A few years ago, the polymath journalist Amanda Parris ruminated in a CBC story on her experience of walking into an 88 Days of Fortune event in 2009. In particular, she noticed what felt distinct: “Most of the performance-based hip-hop shows I had attended in Toronto drew a predominantly male crowd who invariably stood in one spot for most of the night, drink in hand, exhibiting practiced head nods.

But this was something else. The room was filled with men, women and gender-queer individuals. The performers had glow in the dark face paint. The head nods had been replaced with jumping, grinding and unapologetic excitement. “

Over a decade later, founders Witch Prophet, the Polaris Prize shortlisted artist Ayo Leilani, and producer, visual artist, and fashion designer Sun Sun have launched Heart Lake Records, a project and a place. Situated outside of downtown Toronto, they collaboratively run a label that works with “2SLGBTQ + women, non-binary, gender nonconforming BIPOC artists and allies in the areas of funding, mentorship, project management, distribution, bookings and grant writing”. It also functions as a newly-invigorated approach to evolve those initial spaces of transformative belonging into a multi-pronged creative outlet designed to stand the test of time.

As-told-to Melissa Vincent. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How would you describe how your artistic ambitions have evolved over time?

When Sun Sun and I met, we had a collective called 88 days of Fortune with 30 +artists. We were working with a lot of people to help them have a platform for their art, but also expand both of our comfort in music. My legs would shake uncontrollably on stage. It was like a really terrifying thing to do. But, because we had cultivated this community showcase, it felt a lot safer to do things without judgment. It was more like a space to grow.

With 88 days, we definitely hit a wall of sustainability. When it came to renting sound equipment or putting down payments on venues (even though they were DIY venues), Sun Sun was the only one within the collective who had a credit card. It became this cycle of, ‘we can do it, but not to the extent of what we actually really want to do.’

We were always doing things for free, and for the liveliness of the community. The vibe of it all was so exciting. That it didn't really matter — until it started to matter because obviously we can't sustain our lives on vibes. Financially it wasn't sustainable. Energetically, it wasn't sustainable. When we started focusing more on ourselves, we realized, ‘this is actually a business what we're trying to do’. So now, the question was: “how would we, as a business, survive in this world?’

Q: What’s been made possible by stationing yourself outside of the city, and what feels inspiring and generative about being where you are?

We intentionally moved out here because we wanted every day to feel like we were at an artist’s retreat. That was our goal. When we don’t have emails to do, or work stuff, it's easy to settle into your creativity and not fall into distractions. We're totally surrounded by trees. Even though we're just 45 minutes outside of Toronto, it really feels like you're in a completely different space. To experience this silence, to experience this sort of piece reminds us: What do we want to? Where do we  want to go?

For five or six years. I was on the I was the music chair for the Toronto Arts Council. Through sitting and reading so many different grants, of different labels, and of people getting yearly funding is when I realized, ‘Oh, there’s a vocabulary that we needed to use in our own grants to reflect the way that we hold ourselves and present ourselves. It was really like a learning moment of understanding that it didn't have to necessarily do with talent, but it has to do with hard work.

Q: What’s in your blueprint for the future? 

We’re connected with trying to change the zeitgeist of the world. This is the world we live How do we inspire people to create a better version of this? We're working on an Above Top Secret album that is inspired by all wars, on healing, the collective spirit, and on  raising our energy levels. We live upstairs and we're going to turn the downstairs into an artist residency. We're still in the process of renovating. We're really excited about the possibility of actually having a festival on our property, and allowing people who have never left the city even to experience a day or two of nature, of really unspoiled nature