All it took was a tour bus making a wrong turn to convince longtime barber and rapper Malichi Male to leave Toronto.
Back in 2016, Male, 47, was scheduled to perform in London, Ont., but ended up 30 minutes south of the city, in St. Thomas.
That wrong turn has changed the course of Male’s life.
“I was dumbfounded because I seen stuff I never seen before,” remembers Male, who has seven children.
In St. Thomas, children played outside by themselves and friendly people greeted him on the street, he recalled. That doesn’t happen as often in Toronto, he said.
Male’s family left Uganda when he was a young boy, and they spent a number of years living in New York before moving to Toronto.
“I lived in the most dangerous housing projects: Rexdale, Parkdale, and Jane and Finch,” he recalled about Toronto.
Within a few weeks of that stop in St. Thomas, and with a successful barber and clothing shop he’d opened in Mississauga at age 19, Male packed up his family and moved to the railway city.
A couple of years later, Male opened up a barber shop in St. Thomas and established the clothing line Saint T Apparel —which pays tribute to the city — opening two more stores in Rodney and Ingersoll.
“When I first got to St. Thomas, a lot of the individuals, especially the the teenagers, they were ashamed to be from St. Thomas,” he said.
“Sometimes when you live in a place, you don’t appreciate the place until someone else comes in and tells you, ‘The grass is not greener.’
“You’re living in a very green grass right now,'” he said.
It’s also the message behind his song St. Thomas Proud.
Opens recording studio with Juno Award winner
Last year, Male convinced his friend, Juno Award winner Choclair, to leave Toronto too, and the rapper now lives down the street from Male’s barber shop in St. Thomas.
“The only problem that I’ve had while I’ve been living here is that my couch has never showed up,” laughed Choclair in a recent phone call with CBC News.
The duo recently opened a recording studio at the back of Male’s shop.
“It’s a professional studio and it’s going to be wonderful and it’s going to be a great addition,” said Choclair.
“My plan is is to find the greatest talent on the planet — untapped talent — and take it to the next level,” said Male. “The teens, they could be the next Justin Bieber, but they don’t have an outlet.”
Male, who is a vocal critic of Justin Trudeau, also has political aspirations. He ran for mayor in 2018, but stayed out of the most recent mayoral run because he supported and endorsed Joe Preston, who won a second term.
“He’s a great ambassador for St. Thomas and loves where he lives, and we’re happy to him as one of our citizens,” said Preston. “He loves his community, so almost everything he does has something to do with St. Thomas pride.”
Male also threw his hat into this year’s Ontario election, running with the Consensus Party of Ontario in Elgin-Middlesex-London, a riding won by Progressive Conservative Rob Flack.
LISTEN | Malichi Male tells London Morning about a fortunate wrong turn that brought him to St. Thomas:
London Morning10:39St. Thomas Proud
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.