Musician Nico Rhodes is the recipient of the City of Nanaimo’s Emerging Cultural Leader award for 2019. (Photo courtesy Craig Letourneau)

Musician Nico Rhodes receives City of Nanaimo Emerging Cultural Leader award

Culture and Heritage Awards ceremony happens at the Port Theatre on April 18

This is the second in a series of articles highlighting this year’s recipients of the City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Awards.

Nico Rhodes says there was no specific moment when he first developed an interest in music. To him, it’s been there “since the beginning of time.”

Rhodes grew up in Nanaimo surrounded by musicians, including his mother Jöelle Rabu, a longtime international touring singer-songwriter. Rhodes travelled with her from a young age and by now has seen her perform more than 1,000 times, but he never tired of her voice.

“The way she affected an audience always amazed me and I took that to heart, consciously or unconsciously,” Rhodes said. “Her performances define my philosophy around music and kindled my passion to a large extent.”

As a child, he knew he wanted to follow in his mother’s footsteps and soon started devoting his time to seriously learning the piano. The agreement Rhodes had with his mother was as long as he was practising, he would keep getting lessons, which he said taught him the value of a music education.

“That was when things really kicked in and it just kept escalating through high school and on to university,” Rhodes said.

Another of Rabu’s lessons was the value of versatility.

“She said in order to make a living, variety is a really strong trait and it’s actually been the source of a lot of my inspiration,” Rhodes said. “Constantly looking into different directions of how to express myself and how to challenge myself.”

Rhodes took that lesson to heart. He now works across Canada as a professional arranger, composer and musical director, as well as a multi-instrumental touring and recording artist. He’s currently in a duo with Nanaimo dulcimerist Rick Scott and he has written three musicals, one of which was recently produced by Qualicum Beach’s ECHO Players.

On April 18 Rhodes’s contributions to the arts will be recognized by the City of Nanaimo when he is presented the award for Emerging Cultural Leader. He said he was “over the moon” when he heard the news.

“I usually try to take things in stride but I was dancing around the kitchen and dancing around the living room and dancing around everywhere. I was thrilled,” he said.

Despite all his travels and the allure of relocating to a bigger city, Rhodes always comes back to Nanaimo. He even lives near his childhood house. He said he’s passionate about doing his part to help nurture the arts in Nanaimo, and now that he’s been dubbed an emerging cultural leader, he feels motivated to “double down” on his efforts and live up to that title.

“I feel this boost, I feel this launching forward, but at the same time I’m looking out and going, ‘OK, if this is base camp, then how much farther till the summit, if there even is a summit?’” Rhodes said. “I’m not trepidatious, I’m excited. I’m excited at the possibilities.”

WHAT’S ON … City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Awards ceremony takes place at the Port Theatre on Thursday, April 18. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7. Tickets are free but must be reserved.

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