Sami Ghawi performs at West Beach Bar & Grill in White Rock. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey as ‘Music City’: Musician and business group sound off about the possibilities

‘The end goal of this entire project is to bring more music into Surrey,’ says Sami Ghawi

With some hard work and planning, Sami Ghawi thinks Surrey could be a more vibrant “music city” destination for people to hear and play a wider variety of music.

A musician by trade, he’s also a partner in a Surrey Board of Trade initiative created to raise the profile of live music in the city.

The board’s headquarters, on 104th Avenue, includes space for a Surrey Music City Centre Office, as part of a co-operation agreement with Ghawi’s FUSIONpresents company.

The office will “advocate for music and musician-friendly policies” and “help musicians and music businesses navigate government policies and regulations,” among other tasks, announced in July.

Other initiatives include creating “outreach strategies to the musical community,” building and promoting “access to spaces” and developing “the musical audience” in Surrey and also as a tourism project.

So far, Ghawi says, the feedback has been “fantastic, because the end goal of this entire project is to bring more music into Surrey, and that can only be great for everybody.”

Born Lebanon and raised in Kuwait, Ghawi moved to Montreal and honed his musical skills there before his arrival in the Vancouver area in 2004.

“I was working for L’Oreal Canada after doing my MBA at McGill (University), and decided that the skin-care world wasn’t my passion, and I needed to pursue my passion,” he recalled.

“There’s an exercise I do called ‘Think of 10 Things,’ and I do this with all my artists, and you think of 10 things you’re passionate about and then break it down to the top three that you’re completely passionate about and can’t live without. So for me, it was music, marketing and helping people, and I came up with a concept where I help people market their music, and that’s FUSIONpresents.”

Upon moving to the West Coast, Ghawi began performing at places on White Rock’s Marine Drive including West Beach Bar & Grill, where he continues to host a Sunday Night Jam.

More recently, the guitar-playing Ghawi has been a frequent performer at events hosted by Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT).

“As a musician, you need to speak the language of business, and that’s why people would hire you,” he told the Now-Leader. “Until you are an original artist who moves people with original songs, the path to get there is a business path, and you need to properly market whatever you’re doing. A fisherman doesn’t wait for the fish to come to him, and I think this idea is lost.”

SBOT has 6,000 member contacts, according to a release announcing the “music city” initiative in July, at businessinsurrey.com.

“Through the Surrey Board of Trade’s city-building initiatives, the bridge between arts and business has been developed over the past 12 years,” the board’s CEO, Anita Huberman, stated in the release.

“This is integral to grow and strengthen Surrey’s economy and local businesses.

“As a sector that is traditionally not engaged with its local board of trade or chamber of commerce, music represents a potential growth area for business support, economic development and membership. This also represents an opportunity for musical entrepreneurs to learn and network with others in the business community.”

The “Music City” project in Surrey was first heard in June of 2017, when Ghawi gave a talk about it during the inaugural Surrey Mayor’s Art Awards.

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For now, Ghawi and Pat Cleave, who works with him at FUSIONpresents, will be in the Surrey Music City Centre office once a week, or by appointment, at #101-14439 104th Ave., Surrey.

“At this point we are in an assessment mode,” Ghawi said recently. “The first step was, where are all the places that currently have live music, or can have live music. So we did a short assessment of all the venues for that, all the places too, like parks, museums and halls, that have, or could have, music, based on size as well.

“To be a place known for its music,” he continued, “you are also a place where tourists come, or touring bands come, to perform. In Vancouver you have shows constantly happening at venues like the Q.E., Orpheum, Rogers, BC Place, so you have everything from really small clubs to really large places. There isn’t that top end in Surrey, of course – no large arena. So what do we have? That’s where we’re starting. And part of that is also determining how many artists live and work in Surrey, and there are a lot of those.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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