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Record label aims to amplify marginalized voices from around the world

Acts include Haitian hip-hop crew, Chinese rappers, U.K. artists

Steph Forster wants underdog musical artists, particularly those from less developed countries, to be heard.

So the 28-year-old founder and executive director of the local non-profit Nehemiah Art Foundation launched a for-profit subsidiary, Nehemiah Records, in July.

Forster went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to deliver supplies and ended up filming a documentary. She decided its score should be composed of Haitian music, met a hip-hop crew living in a tent city and recorded them rapping in Creole.

To attract a broader audience for her bilingual documentary that she will submit to film festivals next year, Forster decided English should mirror the Creole on multilingual tracks.

Fresh IE from WinnipegCanadas first hip-hop artist to be nominated for a Grammy Award, in 2003will echo lyrics sung in Creole on Forsters documentary soundtrack with the aim of getting marginalized voices heard.

[The songs are] about how theyre living in poverty, how they survived the earthquake, theyre now in a displacement camp and just struggling to survive and have gone through a lot of human rights violations and a lot of stuff, lost family members, loved ones, friends, Forster said. Basically, its songs to encourage and give hope to the Haitian people about inspiring them to keep going, dont lose the faith and just kind of send a message that someones out there listening to you because were producing this music.

In a month, Forster has signed six acts to Nehemiah Records, the Immigration Click hip-hop group from Haiti, two hip-hop crews she recruited from China and artists whove contacted her from the United Kingdom, France and closer to home, Langley.

She says Nehemiah Records will focus on 20 acts. Forster plans to sign six artists from developing countries other than Haiti over the next two years. She also hopes to advance musical talent in the Downtown Eastside, where Nehemiah Records is based.

Forster is encouraging each act to choose a charity to partner with so they can donate a portion of proceeds from merchandise, albums and gigs.

I tell my artists, listen, you need to do your due diligence. You cant partner with a charity that in two years is going to pop up in the newspaper saying that they stole $20,000 and had sex with a kid or something, she said.

Nehemiah Records plans to release an EP in October and give the proceeds to charity. Forster has helped artists record their music and arranged press photos free of charge. In turn, the artists dont expect to make money at this point in time. Its all about establishing a digital footprint, she says.

The Re:LIFE Group in Calgary has partnered with Nehemiah Records and Forster is a spokesperson for its M_DNA Strategy, which tailors leadership training to personality type. She said Re:LIFE is providing Nehemiah Records with capital and helping it become a publicly traded company.

Nehemiah Records requires its artists to keep their language clean to appeal to the greatest number of listeners.

We work with people regardless of cultural, social, economic barriers, whether theyre living on the margins, what religion or denomination they are, what colour their skin is, sexual orientation, Forster said. I really want to get that across to people so that they dont feel like, Oh well, Im in a death metal band, theyre doing humanitarian work.Theres a big market for death metal.

Forster, whos studying Entertainment Business Management on a scholarship at Vancouver Film School, is focusing on artist recruitment, copyright issues and royalties.

I dont want to be another stupid white person coming into a tent city and taking advantage of people. I want to leave a good taste in their mouths. I want to show them we care and were coming back, she said.

Forster says she first met the head of Immigration Click in April and told him shed return in July.

They dont have a phone. They dont have email. And so I literally just have to show up in the country and go back into the ghetto and find them, she said. And when I showed up, you should have seen the look in his eyes. It was just like Santa Claus himself was in the room with a big bag of presents. He couldnt believe it, that this blond white chick from Vancouver, Canada, came all the way back just to take him and his buddies into the studio and produce the music.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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