Starchild Stela is a prominent part of Montreal’s underground art scene, known mainly for their activist graffiti/street art, zines, and fine art. If you live in Montreal, chances are you’ve seen their work in the streets. If you haven’t, now you’ll probably notice them everywhere.

High-femme imagery and characters paired with bold slogans such as “support survivors” (of sexual violence) and “he won’t change, just leave” can be found painted on exterior walls, freight trains, and slapped on mailboxes/other public spaces in sticker-form. Fierce and powerful, they have a style that turns heads and makes a difference, from making drab infrastructure more aesthetically pleasing to making the world a better place.

Starchild Stela agreed to do an interview on how they got started, their relationship to DIY culture, giving back to the community, and their views on the Montreal graffiti scene.

by Starchild Stela

girlplague: When did you start doing street art/graffiti, and why?

Starchild Stella: This is a question that comes up a lot for me in interviews, and it’s a bit odd to answer for me because it was still an era where street art wasn’t popular yet. It wasn’t an enlightened decision, it wasn’t really planned.

I started because other people I knew were tagging, everybody in my circle kinda did it (although not seriously). Everybody had their name & signature. At that time we didn’t have access to fancy sprays and it was niche and you got to really suck at first, just the type of stuff teens who spent lots of time outside would do.

I really had not much going on in my life at that time besides struggling and being angry at the world, I was drawing a bit but “art’’ wasn’t really a thing for me. I was a “bad kid” and went through a lot with the justice system, was on probation (for other reasons) during pretty much all my teenhood and pretty much felt untalented and useless. I think I was also looking for something to do to deal with myself.

My first “graff” was pretty much the same character as I do today but it was really bad. We stole sprays in a car and we did it, and I remember, ah – that’s really something I could be good at. (This would be circa 2002-2003).

You make personal/art zines. Do you find a correlation between the DIY nature of both zines and graffiti?

There’s a DIY connection with everything I do, it is my lifestyle. Coming from a low income background and still being poor, unfit for conventional “work” because of disability as well as a desire for independence led me to live “for free” as much as I can.

I think it’s also grounded in a hope for community. Zines were an inherent part of my recovery, and so is graffiti. I don’t like rich people graffiti – lol. I think consumerism and technicality within the “industry” of graffiti makes it feel inaccessible to people.

I see it as an illusion; you can add flares and robotically paint something fancy looking but it won’t be interesting if you don’t have a genuine style. The truth is you don’t need fancy paint to make cool things. I don’t know, for me graffiti that is not DIY is likely to be boring and I couldn’t care less for art by privileged university students or 30 something graffiti uncles. This may sound cocky but the scene is so oversaturated!

The graffiti/street art scene is very male-dominated. How has this affected you as non-binary and femme?

Honestly I was so unaware of feminism before – the way people acted towards me within these circles made me really self-conscious of my gender, how I was never gonna fit in. Experiences of misogyny made me learn about anti-oppression.

Graff is a scene where women are still perceived as either sluts or wifey. Since I don’t fit in either category that just makes me an oddity. But at the same time, graffiti has no gender. If you put the work in, the people that need to know will know, it’s not about pleasing people, so at the end you do you. It”s about you and your friends fucking shit up.

by Starchild Stela

You do a lot of work fighting against rape culture, transphobia, racism, and other types of oppression. Is there a political agenda in your work, or is it natural to you because you are passionate about these topics?

At this point I don’t know if qualifying my art as “fighting” is correct; generally I explore in topics that affect me directly. For example, I do lots of work surrounding surviving traumas, especially in my writing.

I don’t see my art as activism but often people say that my work is political. But it’s fucking 2017 I think anyone’s work is political. As a white person, I think it’s inappropriate to call anything I do as anti-racist or anti-colonial, although I do my best to unlearn oppressive behaviours, to learn and pay reparations where it’s due. But these things are not a political agenda; I think we should all take the time to reflect in the ways we are complicit and support directly the work of people who are affected by these systems of oppression.

I try to “give back’’ to my community in various ways; however I tend to do work only about experiences I know. I’m highly interested in anti-oppression politics, read a lot, do my best to unlearn oppressive behaviours and recognize the ways I am benefitting from systemic oppression. I try to remain critical and humble.

You’ve been travelling a lot and doing a lot of work in other cities, including a residency at James Black Gallery (Vancouver) in July. What are your experiences with and feelings on doing work in places other than Montreal?

I have been here all of my life, so it feels good to get out. I am immensely privileged to be able to do that work. Montreal for me is my home of traumas. Going places I’ve never been, even if they are only a couple of hours drive away, makes the memories flow around and heal myself.

I am lucky. I want to meet new people and often feel stuck in Montreal. Travelling brought me perspectives. Right now I’m working on an upcoming show with Laurence Philomene to be held in Toronto.

You have a large following, including almost 10 000 followers on instagram. What do you have to say to fans who are inspired by you, and/or want to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow my footsteps is my main advice lol. I say that because I made lots of mistakes, learned some lessons the hard way. I’d just say do what you love with sincerity, be humble, even if you think you’re the shit there’ll always be people who will disagree.

Listen if you get called out, learn to take your space, and leave room for others. You don’t have to be under the spotlight all the time. Be aware of your privileges. Respect the people who support you. Have fun – you can’t have fun all the time of course, but if the work you do brings you joy, you are up to something.

Do you have any non-art related aspirations in life?

Live my best life. Getting my shit together. Baking the most delicious desserts on earth. Developing my practice as a witch. Being there for survivors. Develop strong friendships and travel if I get the chance. Being financially stable enough to support my family and my cats without stress. I want to put energy in healing & managing my PTSD, to live a healthy and joyful life.

You can view their work on instagram (@littlestarchild) and buy their art, zines, stickers and more merch in their etsy shop, or check out their zine distro

Anyone living in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough will tell you that unless you are construction worker with a cushy government contract, the area is a living hell. Entire blocks of main streets have been closed to construction and companies operate in flagrant violation of municipal noise and safety laws.

Everyone is afraid to phone in a complaint because of concerns of reprisals from people wielding heavy machinery. Businesses are suffering, people are losing sleep and getting noise headaches, and even buying groceries has become an obstacle course of spraying gravel and thoroughfares laden with holes, making it hazardous for the borough’s disabled and elderly and anyone with a baby carriage.

It is concerns over the borough’s construction problems and the offer of the most pragmatic solution that will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming municipal election in NDG/Côte des Neiges.

I had the privilege of speaking to one of the candidates for borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, a former journalist now representing Projet Montreal, a party running on a platform of accessibility for the disabled, cultural diversity, and administrative accountability, among other things. She is up against current Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s man, Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, and a newcomer, Zaki Ghavitian, who entered the race last Tuesday.

Montgomery welcomed me into her home in NDG. Though running for office, there is little that is politician-like about her. She met me at the door and cheerfully joked about how the humid weather impacted her curly hair. It did not feel like an interview but rather like a new friend inviting me for tea.

Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Why are you running?

SM: Part of the reason is what’s going on south of the border. I’m horrified by it like many people and I thought if good people don’t step up, the same thing could possibly happen here. Obviously I’m not running for president but it starts at the grassroots and can go up.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and I think it’s an amazing borough but I don’t think it’s at its potential. I think there are a lot of problems and I think there’s some incredible grassroots groups that are active here and I’d like to work with those groups and coordinate things better. We’re the biggest borough, but I’d like us to be the envy of the other boroughs.

What do you feel the current leadership is doing well?

I don’t think Russell is doing a bad job. He has a lot of experience as a politician. I don’t think he’s really into the job. He’s not here full time. He works downtown on the Executive Committee so he’s really only here a couple of days a week and I think this borough needs a full time mayor, which is what I would be. I have no desire to be on the Executive Committee.

What do you feel you can improve?

In terms of our borough, right now, construction is a nightmare. I would like to improve the coordination of it, the organization of it, and the communication about it. I would also like to improve communication with residents, so instead of having a thing where we meet every month at borough council meetings, I would like to hold casual once a month also in a café.

I think the borough council meeting can be a bit intimidating. A lot of people don’t understand politics – I count myself among them earlier in my life – I didn’t take a lot of interest in it. I think a lot of women and young people don’t because they don’t recognize themselves in the people who are running things, i.e. middle aged white guys. I would like to make it more grassroots, more democratic, more consultation, more discussion.

As mayor, I’m not going to have the answers. I’m going to have a lot of questions: Why are things like this? Why is it working like this? Why is not working like this? Which is my journalistic background. I have ideas, but I don’t have the answers. I think the people who have the answers are groups like Head and Hands and the NDG Food Depot, NDG Community Council, the Immigrant Workers’ Center. These are people at the ground level who know this is what we need and how do we get that.

Regarding the construction in NDG, what do you feel is the source of the problems?

A lot of this work is done by subcontractors, so there should be a mechanism to find them if their worksite is not secure for pedestrians and cyclists. We need people to go around and check that they’re properly set up.

To me it feels like there’s no accountability here. I remember being a journalist when the bridge collapsed. Heads would roll in other provinces for something like that and they didn’t here. No one was ever held accountable. I would want to know do they have a list of complaints? Do they have a list of what was done with those complaints? Was it followed up? How was it followed up? If it wasn’t, why not? Who is responsible here?

Do you think a standard protocol should be set up?

Absolutely! It’s all about accountability. You can’t just have a number people call and nothing happens. I’ve talked to people since the storm (the microburst which hit NDG particularly hard) where they’ve called in about trees and were told it would be 3 years, 5 years…

How do you feel the city reacted to that big storm?

From what I hear from residents, they were pretty impressed with the cleanup and I know that a lot of healthy trees came down. But I would like to know how many of those trees were rotten and how many of them had been reported because we were SUPER lucky that no one was injured.

I’ve talked to an arborist who told me that this borough is the most neglected when it comes to tree maintenance and a lot of the trees that came down were rotten. With climate change, we’re going to see a lot more of these storms and so that has to be a priority, maintaining those trees.

Montgomery chatted openly about the challenges she will face as the only female candidate running in the borough. Her focus is on improving access for people who rely on sidewalks, bicycles, and public transportation while making sure that the more problematic elements in CDN/NDG are held to account.

Her unpolitician-like demeanor is appealing to more cynical voters and her approachability makes her a sure contender. Whether she’ll be able to win over those who want to be led by a politician remains to be seen.

Niki Ashton is the Member of Parliament for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, Manitoba and one of four candidates currently running to replace Ton Mulcair as leader of Canada’s NDP and take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election. She is currently garnering quite a bit of support from the party’s grassroots who see her as the most progressive left candidate in the field.

Ashton is in Montreal for a large rally with supporters just three days before the deadline to sign up to be a member of the NDP, which allows you to vote in the leadership election. I spoke with her about how Canada has changed since the last time she ran, the need for real progressive change and not just faux progress and other topics. Plus, we do some political name association:

* Audio recorded and edited by Hannah Besseau

* The Niki Ashton Montreal Rally is tonight, August 14th at 7pm at La Vitrola, 4602 St-Laurent

* To vote in the NDP Leadership Election in October, you need to become a member by August 17th

* You can also vote in FTB’s NDP Leadership Poll

Comedian and writer Wyatt Cenac has performed standup in a variety of venues over the years, some big, some small, some rather unique. But does the type of venue affect his performance?

“It’s not the type of venue as much as the type of crowd,” he said in a telephone interview, “that’s the wild card. If it’s a rowdy crowd, you have to adjust for that. In theory you want them to pay attention to you but if they’re drunk and yelling and all that, it’s hard to keep yelling a bunch of jokes if you’re not able to compete with everyone else. If it’s a small, intimate crowd, you can get a little more personal.”

When he performed at Just for Laughs for the first time two years ago, it was in the Cafe Cleopatre performance space upstairs from the strip club.

“The crowds were great,” he remembers, “they were really fun crowds. All the shows I did at Cafe Cleopatre were super fun. I don’t recall having a negative experience. Even at the small showcase shows I did, the crowds were always fun and they seemed like they wanted to be supportive.”

Around the time he was last performing in Montreal, an interview he did on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast started getting attention. Cenac told Maron that when he was a Daily Show correspondent and writer, at-the-time host Jon Stewart once yelled at him in the writer’s room after he was critical of an impression Stewart had done of Herman Cain.

The two “made up” on air during Stewart’s final episode as host and since then the Comedy Central flagship show has been under new management, so to speak. I asked Cenac what he thought of the current Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

“They’re doing a great job,” he said, “with shows like that, it’s such a fun opportunity to get to make the show every night that you can comment on things and can also go and do field pieces. You can be very imaginative in what you do but at the same time be grounded in a reality that hopefully everyone has a context for.”

Cenac has previously worked with Noah and current correspondents Roy Wood, Jr., Ronnie Chieng and Michelle Wolf. He has high hopes for them and the people still working on the show who were there when he was.

“It’s a very interesting time for them,” he observed, adding: “They’ve definitely found their groove and what the show is and I’m very happy for all of them.”

Given all this, I asked Cenac if a return to The Daily Show was potentially in the cards for him.

“No, it’s it’s own thing,” he responded, “with shows like that, regardless of who’s behind the desk, when you do it you’re there for your time and when you leave it’s somebody else’s opportunity, somebody else’s ship to sail and I’m on the shore happily watching it sail…when you go, you go.”

Cenac’s comedy has always had a strong political undercurrent. With some of the current US administration’s actions just as ridiculous as satire, it could make doing political comedy tough. Cenac doesn’t think so.

“I think it’s still just as challenging as it’s always been,” he observed, “it’s funny because I remember after Barack Obama got elected in 2008 the conversation was ‘How can people do comedy when Barack Obama is President?’ He seemed to be such a well intentioned, nice guy that isn’t right for comedy, especially coming out of the Bush Administration where you had a bunch of ridiculous characters. I feel that comedy did well for itself for the last eight years. And in the previous eight before that, I think people were able to do well with characters that were equally as bizarre as the Trump administration has been.”

Cenac actually once did an impression of then-Senator Barack Obama. He didn’t think it was that good of an impression.

“The other problem,” he noted, “was I had to shave to do the impression. I kind of like looking like a werewolf, so I was not built for sketch comedy in that way.”

What he was built for is storytelling interspersed with astute political commentary that will have the audience laughing the whole way through. That’s what I experienced at his JFL set two years ago.

This year, Cenac will be across the street from Cafe Cleopatre hosting an All Access TV taping in Club Soda. If you want to know what to expect, well…

“I’m not 100% sure, I still haven’t figured it out,” he said (two weeks ago),  noting that he has been in Toronto for the past nine months working on a TV show, “it could just me me on stage trying to figure out the shooting schedule for when I get back.”

I’m sure it won’t be that, but if it was, I’m sure Wyatt Cenac could make it hilarious.

All Access Live hosted by Wyatt Cenac is July 29th at 7 and 10pm, tickets available through hahaha.com

* Featured image of Wyatt Cenac performing at Just for Laughs in 2015 by Jason C. McLean

Jessica Kirson is a comedian all can admire. She’s funny, she’s fearless and she has a versatility few comedians have, shifting seamlessly from social commentary to hilarious impressions. She has the kind of energy most can only match after several cups of caffeine, and though she’s been through her share of struggles, Kirson has managed to find humour in all.

Jessica Kirson is performing at Just for Laughs’ Ethnic Show this year. I had a chance to speak to her. Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Welcome to Montreal, you excited about being here?

JK: I’m very excited about being here! I LOVE Montreal. This is my fourth time doing the festival and it’s great.

SG: How would you describe your style of comedy?

JK: I don’t have a style. I do all different kinds of comedy, I do characters, pretty high energy, very honest, real, talk about my family a lot… I’m not really a joke teller, I’m more of a high energy comic.

SG: I notice you do a lot of impressions. Who do you like to do most?

JK: I like doing my grandmother, my Jewish grandmother mostly because it’s so familiar to me.

SG: What was she like?

JK: She was amazing. She was the reason I got into standup, she was the one who called me over to her table one day and said you should be a comedian, every time people are around you they’re laughing. I never thought I could do it but I listened to her and took a class 19 years ago. Very strong woman, powerful, very honest, she was beautiful.

SG: In the history of standup comedy there have been a lot of Jewish comedians. Why do you think that is?

JK: I think humour comes from pain… I think the Jewish community and the culture have turned a lot of difficult situations into humour and tried to find a lighter way of dealing with it… In my family there was always a kind of laughter and being silly and everyone joking around and this was a way of dealing with pain.

SG: You make a lot of jokes about being heavy in your comedy. Showbiz seems unfairly dominated by thin women. How has being curvy affected your career?

JK: I don’t talk about that a lot anymore because I lost a hundred pounds. I do talk about it a little bit because it’s a demon of mine, food and food addiction and binge eating and everything… I’m very honest on stage so I do talk about it… I don’t care what the industry wants or doesn’t want, I am who I am. I feel like it hasn’t affected me when it comes to being a comedian, being heavy/not being heavy. I’m glad I haven’t made a career because of my looks.

SG: Do you think comedy is more forgiving in that way?

JK: I think standup comedy is. I don’t know so much about movies and getting a major part on a sitcom but I’ve done an enormous amount of television and movies even when I was at my heaviest. I think if you’re funny, you’re funny and you get work, but I know for much more female comics now it’s much more a part of their persona and their image on the internet –about body and body image… and it was never like that when I started.

SG: You’re doing the Ethnic Show this year. Do you consider yourself an ethnic comedian?

JK: I do talk about where I’m from and my family and my experience and my background, so yes… I do a lot of different ethnicities and characters.

SG: Comedians seem to be having a field day with American politics right now. Are you planning to take a shot at it?

JK: I don’t talk about politics a lot in my act. I don’t think it’s funny. I’m actually pretty horrified at everything going on but I do talk about it in a roundabout way… For example, I might talk about gay marriage or something. I won’t talk about it from a serious point of view, I’ll talk about it making fun of people who are against it and why.

SG: You’re doing Just for Laughs the Ethnic Show. You’ve also got a Youtube channel, The Jessy K Show, and the Jessica Kirson Podcast. Tell me about those.

JK: I have different stuff online. I have a lot of stuff on the Jessy K Show on Youtube and I have a lot of videos on my Facebook page, and I have a new podcast called Fat Pig and that is with another comic, a very close friend of mine, Frank Liotti, and we talk about food addiction and funny stories with food and our struggles and we have guests on and stuff.

SG: Do you feel that will empower other women who go through the same stuff?

JK: It does. It empowers a lot of people, we get a ton of feedback and emails and all kinds of things and people just love it because we’re very very honest. We talk about our own experiences and also make light of it.

SG: How do you feel about Montreal audiences?

JK: I think Montreal audiences are incredible. A lot of times it’s real comedy audiences so they want to see it, they want to laugh, they’re smart, they’re cultured. I love Canadian audiences.

SG: Are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the coming year?

JK: Working on a television show right now about my mother being a therapist and I have a lot of stuff going on online. The podcast has been growing and growing.

SG: If you could say one thing to your audience right now, what would it be?

JK: Be silly, always be silly and not take things too seriously and try and find humour in every situation when you can, when you’re ready, and fight fear and do things that feel uncomfortable because you live once.

Jessica Kirson performs as part of The Ethnic Show running until July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

This won’t me Moshe Kasher’s first visit to Montreal, or to Just for Laughs. The comedian, writer and actor has been performing regularly here since his first appearance at the fest in 2009.

“I love Montreal,” he stated in a telephone interview, “this will be my fifth or sixth time coming to Montreal, so I feel like I know the city and I like it. The only thing is I’d like to get out to the wilderness surrounding the city. Other than that, I’ve seen it all…You guys already know this, but you’re a special city.”

2017 will, however, be the first time Kasher hosts JFL All Access. This is also the year where he became a TV talk show host with the new Comedy Central show Problematic (airs on MUCH in Canada).

“With my podcast, we were doing a topical show every month taking on a different topic and then the political climate changed and there needed to be more big conversations,” Kasher said, explaining the origins of the show.

“Conversations are important,” he continued, “and conversations, I think now more than ever need to happen. What is happening in our world is that when we disagree with people we stop talking and my philosophy on life is that when we disagree with each other we should begin having conversations.”

Problematic sees Kasher talking to a variety of internet trolls and provocateurs who are unable to hide behind their handles as well as celebrity guests and pundits. Shows are centered on a particularly, um, problematic corner of the web.

The show, which has already completed its seven episode first season has a stated mission to “bring peace and harmony to the internet”, a mission he is trying to accomplish on cable TV. I asked him why not do it on the web directly.

“Maybe we will. I’m still waiting to figure out if we’re doing more, so maybe for the next one, if we’re not, it will be on YouTube or Hulu or something like that,” he said, later adding that the distinction between the web real life is fading and the distinction between the internet and TV is something which will soon disappear.

Something that remains different, for Kasher, is performing live in front of an audience:

“That is one of the great divides between the internet and real life is that you cannot fake a live performance.”

While performing for TV and the web as well as in films offer a similar experience, for Kasher, there’s nothing quite like performing for a live audience.

Montrealers will have a chance to see Kasher in his live element when he hosts All Access, something he promises will be “wild and exciting” while featuring a wide array of comics. He is happy he is getting the chance to host one of the All Access TV tapings at a festival that welcomed him since he was one of the “new faces” of comedy.

Just don’t expect him to weigh in on one of Montreal’s most longstanding controversies. I asked this frequent visitor what he thought about our bagels and he admitted he likes them, but when asked his preference between Fairmount and St-Viateur, he responded:

“I don’t know that I’d want to involve myself in a political controversy.”

All Access Live Hosted by Moshe Kasher is on July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Gina Yashere is a Just for Laughs veteran, recent contributor on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and the host of this year’s JFL British Show.

FTB’s Samantha Gold speaks with her about Montreal, raunchy humour and the difference between the current British and American political situations:

Brit(ish) hosted by Gina Yashere runs July 26-28. Tickets and info at hahaha.com

* Featured image of Gina Yashere’s 2015 JFL performance by Éric Myre, courtesy of Just for Laughs

Sasheer Zamata is a comedian, actress, writer, former Saturday Night Live cast member and the ACLU’s Celebrity Ambassador for the Women’s Rights Project. She’s also performing an OFF-JFL solo show as part of Just For Laughs this summer in Montreal.

FTB’s Samantha Gold spoke with her about being a black woman in the comedy world, her upcoming visit to Montreal, the different merits of sketch comedy and standup comedy and more:

Sasheer Zamata performs as part of OFF JFL, tickets and info at hahaha.com

The RCMP is investigating an upsetting incident in Surrey (BC), where a 16 year-old black girl was handcuffed and taken down in a case of “mistaken identity”. Ruth and Gary Augustine told CBC that they have lodged a formal public complaint on behalf of their daughter, who prefers not to be named in order to avoid harassment on social media.

The teenager says she was waiting at the Newton bus loop last Friday, on her way to a job interview, when two Mounties showed up and started asking her questions. They were apparently looking for someone wanted under the Mental Health Act. She says that she started backing away when they called her a “high-risk mental health patient”. She soon found herself on the ground under the two officers, with her hands behind her back. That’s when a bystander, going by the Facebook name of Ash Hotti, started filming:

The teenager can be heard crying and cursing, shouting “My name is not LaToya, ask me what my name is!”

When one of the officers realizes that the bystander is filming, he threatens to seize the phone as evidence. The bystander demands that the officer explains how it constitutes evidence.

“This is fucking wrong, be ashamed of yourselves!” Hotti later says, assuring the teen: “Don’t worry I got everything on film.”

“Yeah, you can send it to her phone and they’ll get charged,” suggests a second bystander.

When the officers checked the girl’s purse for ID, they found that they had the wrong person. They uncuffed her and left. The teenager told CTV news that neither officers asked her for ID before they tackled her, but that she would have complied if they did.

The Surrey RCMP have issued a statement on Wednesday after the family lodged a public complaint.

“Information was received regarding an individual who was wanted on a Mental Health Act warrant. There were concerns for this individual’s health, safety, and well-being. Officers subsequently located someone matching the description and apprehended a female at this location. Once it was learned that it was not the correct person, the 16-year-old female was released immediately,” stated the letter.

They deemed the situation “extremely unfortunate” and assured that senior investigators are in contact with the family. “We are certainly mindful of her young age and how upsetting this was for her and her family” said Superintendent and Operation officer Ed Boettcher. “I can assure you that we have resources dedicated to investigating the incident.”

People of colour too often misidentified

According to the director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Pho Niemi, mistaken identity cases are woefully common, especially for people of colour. “We get a case like that every year,” the director said.

Why? Police descriptions of suspects tend to be a lot less detailed when they’re not about Caucasians. “Almost every time, the description is too broad and race becomes a predominant factor,” says Niemi.

If this was the case in Surrey, he thinks the family should ask for more than an apology and pursue legal action.

“If the police officers were looking only for a young black woman, then they would be in trouble with the law in terms of discrimination,” Niemi affirmed. “It opens up every young black woman in the area to a police arrest and detention.”

Just last February, a man named Errol Burke was held at gunpoint and arrested while trying to buy milk in Montreal, before the police realized they had the wrong man.

Niemi, who has also worked for the Quebec Human Rights Commission, is further concerned about how the officers intervened with a person they thought to be a high-risk mental health patient. He questions whether the officers are trained to handle such cases.

“When one intervenes with a person known to have mental health issues,” he remarked, “there is a way to intervene in order to reduce the likelihood of breaching that person’s civil rights.”

Almost 600 immigrants were subjected to a peculiar probe into their French language skills, despite having already passed the required government tests. The provincial Ministry of Immigration summoned hundreds of students and temporary workers to a French spot check that would determine whether or not their application for permanent residency would be accepted, in what immigration lawyers call an abusive procedure.

“The standards on which those decisions were made are not legal standards. They cannot be found anywhere in registration or regulations,” claims Olga Redko, who is part of a team defending 16 of the rejected applicants in court.

At least 585 immigrants, most of which are students from India, China or the Middle-East, were on track to get their permanent residency as skilled workers through the Quebec Experience Program (QEP) when they were summoned.

To benefit from that program, applicants have to prove that they have a certain proficiency in French, namely by completing classes or passing official exams in Ministry-approved schools. So it was an unwelcome surprise when, after having done so, they received a letter summoning them to a supplementary interview with Ministry officials because the Ministry wasn’t convinced their French was good enough.

Once there, they were put on the spot through an oral examination that lasted between 30 and 45 minutes, where they had to score at least seven on a one to 12 scale to pass. 321 of them failed and saw their application rejected as a result. They will have to wait another five years before they can start the application process over, if their visa doesn’t expire before then.

Teachers and lawyers argue that this failure rate is not surprising considering that it was a surprise evaluation that took place in immensely stressful conditions and, contrarily to the usual Ministry exams, it didn’t account for skills in reading, writing or comprehension.

Reasons for supplementary evaluation still unclear

Many of the students were told, in the letter or afterwards, that the Ministry had reasons to believe that they had given false or misleading information in their application.

“But they weren’t provided those reasons or any explanation of why the Ministry believed that,” maintains Olga Redko. She says some of her clients even submitted supplementary documents to prove their credentials, like transcripts and attestations from the school board, but were still rejected.

Communications Advisor for the Ministry of Immigration Amina Benkirane says that “it’s not exactly” that the Ministry believes that the students provided false information about passing the required tests.

“The Ministry identified practices that aim to circumvent the goals of the immigration programs designed for international students, like the QEP, so we are currently reviewing those files,” Benkirane claimed. She says that she cannot reveal anything about said practices, because of it is part of an ongoing investigation by UPAC, the anti-corruption unit.

The investigation she is referring to was launched in December, following reports of “irregularities” in the international department of the two major English school boards in Montreal, Lester B. Pearson and the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). According to information gathered by the CBC, most of the applicants that were called in were doing their French exams with one of these two institutions.

Olga Redko can’t confirm the percentage, but she knows that it is not the case for all the rejected applicants. Either way, it should not matter, since the two school boards remain on the list of Ministry-approved institutions. Indeed, the official regulations of the QEP plainly state that completing a Ministry-approved French program fulfills the language requirement.

“If the Ministry is unsatisfied with the quality of the training provided by the institution or anything else going on there, then the Ministry has to take it up with the institution itself. It has nothing to do with whether the student completed a program or not,” argues Redko.

She and her team are asking for a judicial review of the procedure, seeking the nullification of the Ministry’s decisions regarding their clients. They had started with four clients but they now have 16 and others could join in, since the Ministry is still conducting the exams.

* Featured image: Montreal offices of the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion via Google StreetView

Montreal will invest $3.6 million over two years in a brand new institute dedicated to developing electric and smart transportation. This investment is part of the city’s efforts as a member of the C40, the Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The Institute of Electrification and Smart Transportation will have three main mandates: favouring cooperation between regional partners for research and development of sustainable transportation, establishing international partnerships and stimulating the commercialization of new technologies. It will be situated in the Quartier de l’innovation. The École des technologies supérieures (ÉTS) , McGill University, Concordia and UQÀM are all expected to partner in the project.

“The Institute will make use of Montreal’s assets as a city of innovation to galvanize efforts and knowledge, and shine on the international scene,” Mayor Denis Coderre claimed in a press release. The announcement was made on Wednesday, during the 52nd Congress of the Association québécoise des transports.

The Mayor’s office claims this is an “important step in the realization of [their] ambitious strategy for the electrification of transport.” Indeed, the creation of the institute is one of the 10 points of the 2016-2020 Strategy for electrification and smart transportation outlined last summer.

Other measures put forward in the plan include exchanging city vehicles for electrical cars, electrification of public transit and developing a second, purely economic plan to encourage the local development of the electric transportation sector.

However, the opposition at City Hall is not too impressed with the new institute. Projet Montréal’s transport critic Craig Sauvé says that they have seen no serious plan or content backing up the announcement.

“That’s pretty much the Coderre style,” he observed, “announce a project that will most likely garner positive headlines but without doing any substantive groundwork before the announcement.”

Although Sauvé admits that the city’s efforts for electrification are a good thing overall, he believes it is a short-sighted strategy.

“The Coderre administration is very car-focused,” he claimed, “they still have this vision that is out of the 1950’s!”

According to Sauvé, the city should put more money into better bike lanes, urban planning and public transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“You can electrify everything you want, but it won’t solve the traffic, it won’t solve the pollution still created by the production of new cars and road networks,” he argued.

FTB contacted the city’s executive committee for further comments, but was still waiting for a reply at publication time.

Mayor Coderre announced earlier this week that the city is investing at least $24 million in Formula E, a major international car race featuring only electric cars. The event will be held downtown on July 29th and 30th. The Coderre administration hopes that it will serve as publicity for electric and smart transportation in Montreal and boost the city’s status as a leader in climate action.

Back in November 2013, the government of Quebec had promised $35 million for the creation of a province-wide institute with the same purpose. Many cities were interested in hosting it. The promise did not survive the change of government.

 

* Featured image: electric cars in Berlin, Germany, all credits to Avda, Berlin – Potsdamer Platz – E-Mobility-Charging, CC BY-SA 3.0

Angélique, the story of the black slave tortured and put to death in New France (later Montreal, Quebec) for allegedly setting the fire of 1734 that burned down the only hospital and left hundreds of people homeless, is most remarkable for the fact that so few Canadians know about this incendiary incident in Montreal’s history.

It’s a story with everything: chaos, love triangles, danger, a woman’s determined quest for freedom.

Yet, despite these features that make Angélique a perfect candidate for telling and re-telling, like many stories of slavery in Canada’s history, and many narratives sympathetic to disadvantaged people of colour, the story of Marie-Joseph Angelique has been largely ignored until very recently.

In fact, the play currently being billed as the first collaboration between Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau d’Hote Théâtre, is the first time this story has been presented on stage in Montreal, the city where the true story took place. It is running from March 15th to April 2nd at the Segal Center.

Angélique is the story of the strong-willed black slave tortured and put to death for allegedly starting the fire of 1734, which burned down the majority of what is now Old Montreal. Though it was generally accepted that Angelique did commit the crime for which she was accused, it has recently been argued that she was innocent, convicted on the basis of her reputation as a rebellious runaway and hard-to-control slave. The evidence used to convict Angelique would not stand up in a modern court of law.

“I am a very proud Canadian, and a very proud Montréaler, but I don’t think we are doing ourselves any favours by not acknowledging the bad along with the good in history,” says Black Theatre workshop artistic director Quincy Armorer. “I’ve noticed this play is educating a lot of people about some of the forgotten or ignored times in Canadian and Montreal history, and I am very, very happy to be a part of letting people know this happened here.”

Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic director for Tableau d’Hote Theater, agrees: “As someone who generally tries to be aware of where we live and the land we are on, and the fact that it’s stolen land, and Canada is not the land of milk and honey…to have zero-ZERO-knowledge of this show, it spoke to our educational shortcomings of telling the stories that make up this city, Quebec and Canada”

“I didn’t even know about this before,” adds Jenny Brizard, the lead and title actress of Angélique “They didn’t talk about slavery in Canada at all when I was in school.”

Having left her native Montreal to pursue a career as a dancer in Toronto, Ms. Brizard has returned in a blaze of glory with a breakout performance as the title character in Angélique. This is her first professional acting role, and though the performance seemed a little manic at times, this is certainly fitting as an artistic choice for a character under an incredible amount of mental, emotional and physical stress.

Speaking of artistic direction, the costuming decisions in this production were extremely powerful, working as an additional layer of social commentary. ‘Upper class’ members of society began the production dressed in contemporary business wear, and ended the production dressed in 1730s period clothing. Conversely, slaves began the production in period clothing and ended the production in contemporary street wear, or in Angelique’s case, an orange prison outfit.

The closing images of a modern black woman being put to death for a crime, with no evidence that she had committed it, while being looked upon by people stuck in the past, were extremely powerful and speaks to the ongoing issues with class and race that still exist today. The play ended with Angelique hearing the drums of her homeland (drums were banned in New France in an effort to sever slaves from their culture) and dancing her heart out in the traditional style of her childhood, which she had been previously embarrassed and nervous to display in New France.

The musical backdrop of Angélique was completely percussion based, set to an original composition by SIXTRUM Percussion Ensemble. The use of drums served as a clever musical allegory for Angelique’s struggle and personal erasure, due to the nature of the importance of drum music in Angelique’s internal life and history versus their ban in New France.

When Angélique is first introduced at a slave purchasing block, thick chains were used as an instrument by SIXTRUM, who were playing above the stage. It was fresh, creative, and enhanced the narrative.

Though the script, written by the late Lorena Gale, doesn’t claim to be completely factual (and how could it be, when the source material is from the 18th century), one creative inclusion bothered me:

In the play, Angélique is repeatedly raped by her master François, and it is implied that she gives birth to a child fathered by him. Though I couldn’t find any historical rumours that this had taken place in real life, and the father on record for Angélique’s children is listed as fellow slave César (played with subtlety, depth and range by Tristan D. Lalla), I can understand its inclusion in this play. This is the story of a black slave woman, a group that is underrepresented in the telling of their stories and for whom rape, and the subsequent fathering of children, by white masters was most certainly a frequent occurrence.

Where I take issue that it is then used as THE major point of contention between Angelique and Francois’ wife Thérèse. I think, in a story that already has so much drama and intrigue, it’s a bit lazy to then add as a major plot point, a shift away from Angelique’s real struggle, towards a jealousy fight between women arguing over the affections of a shitty guy. It reinforces the stereotype of women as petty and jealous, and having nothing more of substance to do or think about than the affections of a man.

In fact, this same theme is echoed again between Angelique and Manon, a Panis-Native slave, who in this play rejects Angélique’s friendship and sells her out at trial over Manon’s love of César, who in turn loves Angélique. According to the historical record, Manon more likely tried to divert suspicion to Angélique for self-preservation as she herself could have been severely punished if suspicion had fallen on her own shoulders.

However, I suppose pitting women against each other over a guy once again adds easy intrigue and a familiar stereotype. Despite the historical setting of the play, it’s 2017, and I think we can do better.

Overall, Angelique is a skillful and extremely important retelling of a chapter in Montreal history that is conspicuously absent from most history books. It is powerful, visceral and necessary, and with tickets starting at $22, much more accessible than the majority of professional theatrical productions.

Bring a date, bring your mom, bring a history or theatre buff, a lover of Montreal, or even your favorite arsonist, but don’t miss Angélique’s first (and certainly not last) tour in Montreal. It is a tribute to a powerful and strong woman who was persecuted until the end by a society that did not value her.

Only one question remains in the fiery tale: Did she do it?

“At this point, I don’t really care…if she did it or not,” says Ms. Brizard. “The fact is, she didn’t have a fair chance. Period. And that’s how I approach the work. She didn’t get a fair trial, a fair chance, as a woman, as a black woman. Period.”

Angélique presented by Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau d’Hote Théâtre runs through April 2nd, 2017 at the Segal Centre, 5170 ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine,  tickets available through the Segal Centre box office

Moms Demand Action New York State Chapter Leader Jaime Levy Pessin is a modern and efficacious woman living in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two children. As I enter her home for the interview I witness a person who makes multi-tasking seem as natural as waking up each morning.

As interview starts, some Moms Demand Action business is taken care of, a call answered, her daughter Cora and son Noah’s activities are settled and their dinner is prepared. This all happens over the course of maybe two minutes and Jaime is calm and polite as we get down to some questions.

S- For readers new to Moms Demand Action give us a brief history of the organization.

J- Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, which left six educators and 20 six and seven year-olds dead in their elementary school. A mom in Indiana, Shannon Watts, started a Facebook page with the idea that we needed to have a Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the gun violence prevention movement. And her page spread like wildfire.

New York City was one of the first chapters to form. Weeks later we held our first annual march across the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 1,000 people showed up in below-freezing temperatures to march with us.

Since then, we’ve grown to 3 million members in all 50 states. We’ve joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the umbrella of Everytown for Gun Safety. We are a nonpartisan, grassroots group committed to passing reasonable, evidence-based laws that are proven to reduce gun violence.

Do you know Shannon Watts and in what ways is she still involved in Moms Demand Action today?

I first met Shannon at our first Brooklyn bridge march. She has since turned into a great figurehead of the movement. She is a volunteer and founder.

Shannon travels the country and meets the other volunteers. She does speaking engagements, does press and fundraisers. As she is traveling she makes a point of stopping by and seeing what all the other volunteers are doing. She has really gotten to know all the people across the country who are working as part of this thing that she created.

I think she is still a little bit baffled that she started this movement but Shannon is always very adamant in pointing out how much every person has played a part in it. She doesn’t view Moms as her creation, she sees it as if she did this one small action and then everyone else kinda filled it in throughout the country.

This is what is so cool about volunteering with Moms. There is a sense that every single person has something to contribute. Whether you have ten minutes or ten hours there is a place for you. She wants to make sure that message comes through.

Can you tell us what led you to your role as a leader in Moms Demand Action -New York?

In the days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I was devastated. I didn’t personally know anyone affected, but a six-year-old boy named Noah was killed. My son is named Noah and was four at the time. I was paralyzed by fear and grief. During that time, Shannon’s Facebook page somehow popped into my newsfeed, and I had a realization: If I am not part of the solution, then I’m part of the problem. And that’s when I started volunteering.

In the early days, we really were a motley crew of volunteers – “accidental activists” is what we called ourselves, because none of us had ever done anything like this before. My career had been as a journalist for traditional media, so I was never allowed to publicly express a political opinion – forget about planning a rally or meeting with elected officials!

I’ve been involved in the organization in a bunch of different roles since we got started. I currently run the New York state chapter, which is massive compared to how we began!

But another project that I helped start, which I think is truly special, is our Mother’s Dream Quilt Project. It’s a series of quilts that incorporates fabric from victims and survivors of gun violence. We hold quilting bees around the country that bring together victims, survivors and everyday Americans who believe we can do a better job of preventing gun violence.

With all the concerns about civil rights coming up around the Trump administration, why do you think gun violence is so important?

After the election, I did a lot of soul-searching around this question. In a way, this seems like such a small piece of the puzzle.

“I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.”

But then I realized: I’m worried about voter suppression; the idea of people with guns showing up at the polls to intimidate other citizens is chilling. I’m worried about immigration; what does it mean to have vigilantes with guns patrolling the border?

I’m worried about hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, and I’m worried about violence against women; we know that the presence of a gun in these situations makes them vastly more dangerous. And I’m worried about the unfair treatment of African-Americans in this country, so I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.

Can you tell us both about your personal experience and Moms Demand Action’s presence at the Women’s March in DC on January 21st?

I thought the Women’s March was so inspiring. I met a few fellow volunteers at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn at 4 a.m., and there was bus after bus after bus loading up for DC.

Moms Demand Action had nearly 1,000 members come in from around the country to join the march. Being in a crowd with so many passionate citizens gave me hope that this administration will not break our spirit.

I think the key takeaway, though, was that it’s not enough to march. It feels really good, and it’s important, but we have to take it home to our communities and get involved in our local politics.

We need more women running for office, whether for school board or Congress. We can’t just pay attention when it’s time to elect a president – we need to start developing a bench. So I hope – and I think that it’s happening – that the march has compelled people to start working seriously in our own neighborhoods.

What are some of the highlights of Moms Demand Action-New York’s current six month plan?

The new administration is in the pocket of the gun lobby; the NRA contributed more than $30 million to Donald Trump’s campaign – they were his single largest donor. So we are going to be working very hard to push back against the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda of guns everywhere for everyone.

“What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales.”

One of the major pieces of legislation we expect to be fighting is something called “concealed carry reciprocity.” The gun lobby would like for permits to carry concealed weapons to be treated like driver’s licenses, where one state’s permit would be recognized across all state lines.

Here’s the problem: The standards for getting a concealed carry permit vary wildly from state to state. In New York, you have to undergo a background check, submit character references and show a proven need to carry a concealed weapon in order to get that permit. In Arizona, there are no permitting requirements at all. New Hampshire also just rolled back their already weak permitting program.

With reciprocity, a New Yorker who couldn’t pass the rigorous standards here could travel to another state, get a concealed carry permit and legally carry a hidden weapon in Times Square or on the subway.

As a New Yorker, this is a direct threat to my safety. The idea that “guns everywhere” make people safer is patently untrue. New York State has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country. We also have one of the lowest rates of gun ownership, and some of the strongest gun laws. There is a direct correlation: stronger gun laws keep us safe from gun violence. Concealed carry reciprocity would make our state a much more dangerous place to live.

Another priority for the New York chapter is going to be relationship-building with our elected officials at the statehouse. We’re planning our first-ever Lobby Day this spring, and we’re going to be meeting in-district with our representatives as well.

We believe that, much like the same-sex marriage movement, the gun violence prevention movement will win at the state level. We want to continue to develop relationships with our state representatives to make sure that they will keep New York at the forefront of sound gun policy.

Our overarching goal is to ensure background checks on all gun sales in the United States. Many people don’t realize that the law as it stands leaves gaping loopholes in the system, making it very easy for a felon or a domestic abuser to purchase a gun without a background check. And background checks are proven to work: suicides, cop killings and domestic violence-related deaths all go down in states that ensure background checks on all gun sales.

What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales. When you take the question of gun violence directly to the citizens, they will vote in favor of common-sense gun reform.

In 2016, despite the dismal election results nationally, we actually won three out of four ballot initiatives by asking residents of California, Nevada and Washington State to pass stronger gun laws. It was one of the few bright spots in the progressive agenda last year.

We have quickly become the strongest counterweight the gun lobby has ever seen. That’s why we’re committed to getting this message to our elected officials: The other side is scared of losing their guns. We’re scared of losing our children. Who do you think is going to win in the end?

What are some things the modern, busy adult can do to stand against gun violence?

What is great about Moms Demand Action is that we offer so many different entry points for people to get involved. You can spend five minutes a week signing petitions and calling your senators, or you can get more deeply involved and meet with your elected officials or plan events. We need all levels of commitment.

The first thing you should do is text JOIN to 644-33, or visit our website to officially sign up as a member. Soon you’ll hear from someone in your local chapter about ways to get involved. Like the national organization on Facebook (or the New York chapter) and follow us on Twitter (@momsdemand) to get national calls to action.

For students, recent grads and parents: Did you know the gun lobby is pushing to allow guns on college campuses and K-12 schools? We defeated 16 guns on campus bills throughout the country in 2016. But the gun lobby is going to keep trying, and we’re preparing to fight. Ask any educators you know to join our Educators for Gun Sense campaign by sharing the link.

For people who want to spend an hour or so a week volunteering for a good cause, consider joining the Gun Sense Action Network. We do a lot of phone banking to voters in states that are playing defense against horrible bills.

This makes a huge impact. Last year, for example, the Georgia statehouse passed a sweeping guns-in-schools bill. We were able to drive at least 30,000 calls to the governor’s office, and eventually he vetoed the bill – even though he’s typically an ally of the gun lobby. People who join our Gun Sense Action Network can make calls from home, on their own time!

(ED’s Note: While most joining options are for Americans living in the US, making calls is, of course, open to Americans living abroad and Canadians as well)

How many people in America die from a gun each day?

Moms treat gun violence like a public health epidemic, which it is. What disease kills 93 Americans a day? That’s too many people so we should treat it as such. Unfortunately, Congress has barred the CBC from actually studying gun violence. The US government doesn’t actually study this even though it is a public health problem.

One thing that many people don’t realize is how prevalent gun violence is in our country. About 30,000 people a year are killed by gun violence in the U.S. – 93 a day. Twice that number are injured every day. But I think it’s the ripple effect that really makes the point.

A study came out recently that said the probability of knowing a gun violence victim is 99.85 percent. Think of that: Nearly every single American will know a victim of gun violence in their lifetimes! That’s insane.

I’ve seen it play out personally. When I started volunteering for Moms Demand Action, I didn’t know anyone (as far as I knew) who had been a victim of gun violence. But since December 2012, I have had one friend on lockdown with her daughter at the Kansas City JCC while a shooter killed two people in the parking lot. My sister’s childhood friend was shot and killed in his car in Miami. One of my husband’s relatives lost her granddaughter when the granddaughter’s husband shot her in front of their two kids in California. A close friend of mine was at the Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim with her three kids when a gunman opened fire.

It just gets closer and closer. That’s what keeps me up at night, and that’s what motivates me to keep going.

 

The Candyass Cabaret: Shimmies and Showtunes is at the Cafe Cleopatre (1230 boul St-Laurent, 2nd floor) this Friday November 18th, doors at 9pm show at 10pm. It features burlesque, drag and other theatrical entertainment. $10 at the door. I will be there with my fellow performers naked for the world to see.

I have been active with the Buffalo Infringement Festival and was very inspired to go to the Infringe Mecca of Montreal to see where it all began. Two years ago, Fifi Laflea and I made the trip for the Montreal Infringement Festival and we had no idea the honor it would be to perform with the Candyass Caberet at the historic Cafe Cleopatre.

candyass

Being in the dressing room even felt special. I wondered what incredible creatures from times past got ready in front of these very mirrors? I truly cannot believe that special place was almost a thing of the past.

In a world over saturated with sex it is a challenge to truly titilate someone with art. Burlesque is my life. It is an old tradition of theatrical bawdiness with blatant political intentions.

A major highlight of my career was a the 2014 Montreal Infringement Festival where (dressed in horrible white trash drag) I pulled several American flags out of a very large glittery plushy penis to the song “America, F*ck Yeah!” during that Candyass show, with Fifi Laflea as my beautiful assistant. It was definitely a statement about how the rest of the world views Americans and our culture of waste and over privilege.

It is even more important now to be a sort of cultural ambassador with my art due to the election of that pompous Cheeto nightmare. I have a responsibility to show the world that not all Americans are like him, not all of us support hate, most of us are scared, we are angry. We are going to speak out and stand up. Art is the first line.

I asked Velma Candyass, world renowned burlesque performer, a few questions. She is also one of the ringleaders that helped to save the Cafe Cleopatre from demolition. She also does incredible tours of the Montreal Red Light District with Donovan King, and runs her own burlesque troupe The Dead Doll Dancers. She is an absolutely incredible performer, a super babe, my burlesque crush, and a total sweetheart.

candyass-cabaret-3Wow, I am very impressed that this is the 50th show! How do you feel about 50 Candyass Caberet shows?

Im shocked at having produced this much under the Candyass concept. It’s a lot of work but I genuinely enjoy the challenges involved in managing a show and herding the artists

What was the theme of the first show?

If my foggy brain recalls, it was not too long after the victory saving the Cleopatra venue. So it was a ‘welcome to the cabaret” theme with lots of variety arts, drag queens and burlesque with a european cabaret flavour.

Why did you choose a Showtunes theme for this one?

Why showtunes? Why not? It was a theme that several of my regular artists really wanted to have and since I hadn’t featured musical theatre type acts in awhile, I felt was a great idea. No matter what, everyone has at least one musical they like, so therefore the artist should be able to develop an act based on an old favourite .

What are your favorite musicals?

I personally like Chicago, Cabaret, Avenue Q, Contact, Wicked, West Side Story and The Producers .

I know a lady never tells her age, but how long have you been doing burlesque?

Oh gawd a long time. Long enough to see the transitions in the styles of burlesque going on. And some of the Legends passing on.

What is your biggest inspiration?

Oh gosh, I would say The Velvet Hammer Burlesque was a definite aha moment along with Le Scandal Cabaret. It was all bubbling underground and dynamic.

candyass-cabaret-5

Who is your burlesque crush/icon?

Tiffany Carter and April March are my burlesque crush/icons. Completely different styles and eras yet wonderful legends to learn from.

What are your thoughts on the political importance and impact of burlesque?

It’s 2016 and a woman/person stripping naked and in control of their bodies is still a big deal as evidenced by some of the crazy things going on in the world. Political burlesque acts are an important expression and, just like the court jester, tell the stories that wouldn’t get told otherwise .

What are your thoughts on the Infringement Festival?

Infringement festivals provide a place for artists to create and have their say. Its getting more and more difficult to be able to afford to participate in many of the large(r) mainstreamed festival and this provides a DIY experience to develop one’s skills.

* Photos (except for backstage shot) by Argaive

* Candyass Cabaret: Shimmies and Showtunes – Saturday, November 18th, Cafe Cleopatre, 1230 Boul St-Laurent, 10pm (Doors 9pm). $10

Young Paris is a NYC-based rapper and rising voice in the world of fashion. Having recently singed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, we Montrealers are lucky enough to catch him in action this Saturday, October 22nd with No Kliche, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy.

Here is an interview I conducted with Young Paris, discussing his roots, inspiration, and connections to Montreal:

I’m curious about your relationship to music as a child, as you were growing up. Did you learn instruments or sing in groups? Or was music something you came to later on.

My parents were world renown performers so you could imagine music was always around us growing up. From as long as I could remember, I’ve been playing the djembe and dancing. Music to our family has always been second nature and till this day we still perform together.

You draw from so many different areas in your image, your music, and your live show. It’s clear you are inspired by vibrancy and individuality in all its uniqueness. Are there some non-musicians that really shape your aesthetic approach to your image, your music, and the creative process in general?

Yes, I’m inspired by the fashion and the art world as well. I went to college for Fine Arts and my mother was a play writer as well, so I try to translate those references in my art. Artists / Designers like Alexander McQueen, Basquiat, Nick Cave, and Yinka Shonibare, for example, are artists I’ve been super inspired by.

Congo has a much-celebrated history of dance music, some of which comes out in your music – but is there a Congolese rap tradition you feel connected to?

No, my rap history comes from growing up in NY!

What is your musical community like in NYC?

NY has a vibrant range of musicians. In my circle, I know some of the dopest underground and notable artists but I try to stay in my lane. There aren’t many artists creating my type of music and Afrobeats generally is just becoming very popular in the states.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how art can help bridge the gap between cultural traditions without getting sucked into the mainstream media machine of mass representation and stereotyping. You seem to be navigating it very well – but have there been some major challenges? Is Jay-Z someone who understands your vision?

Social media is a great way to see raw talent and I’m always excited for what the people I’m following are coming up with daily. I think the bridge has been created, but it’s important to respect certain symbols and traditions.

Sacred art, for example, is so accessible now I think it’s up to the curators to translate their inspiration with caution and take time to do their research before shining light on the beauty and talents of these artists. For me and my situation at Roc Nation, I have complete creative control and they are open minded to my ideas.

Any plans for a fashion line?

Potentially 😉 but i will be collaborating with brands as a creative director.

Have you been to Montreal before?

Yes i lived here for nearly 2 years.

Also! You can win a free ticket to see Young Paris this Saturday if you answer this question correctly:

Q: What is the name of his new mixtape?

Email your answer to contactdjazia@gmail.com, and see you at the show.

Young Paris plays Théâtre Fairmount, 5240, Avenue du Parc, Saturday, October 22nd, 9:00pm (Doors at 8:00pm). If you don’t win tickets, they are $12 and available through the box office.

I have it on good authority that Genghis Khan would have been a huge Slayer fan. Galloping double-bass drums and furious riff-based thrash seems like a natural fit for the Golden Horde charging through the steppes of Central Asia. Just add booming Mongolian throat singing and horsehead fiddles that sound like a blade being drawn, and you have the perfect recipe for an incredible live performance.

The crowd at Foufounes Electriques got a taste of that Friday evening, when the Nomadic Folk Metal Horde known as Tengger Cavalry charged into town at the end of their North American tour with Incite.

Tengger Cavalry with FTB before the show
Tengger Cavalry with FTB before the show

These guys aren’t just fronting about the whole horse thing, either. In addition to using folk instruments like the Igil, Shanz, Morin Khuur and Throat Singing, Tengger can ride too.

“Yeah, I’m okay on horseback,” muses Nature Ganganbaigal (Guitar, Vocals) at the beginning of our pre-show chat. “One time, I went to the Mongolian grassland and I had to stay on a horse’s back for one hour because he ran off from his owner. I got the bridle on, and I can gallop no problem…I’m more comfortable playing guitar, but I can make a horse go, too.”

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Alex Abayev

While experimental genre-defying music is always exciting, it’s unfortunate that a lot of this blending of traditional music with contemporary styles can be seen as a gimmick, or attempting to cash in on the novelty of “look at us, we combine The Monolythic ‘Old’ with The Monolythic ‘New!’”

The obvious workaround is authenticity and commitment to what the artist is creating as a performance that creates something new, unique, and hybridized instead of just two distinct styles – see Canada’s A Tribe Called Red, and Chile’s Matanza for examples of groups who do this well. Tengger Cavalry does this spectacularly in the studio, but live it’s even more impressive.

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Nature Ganganbaigal

Tengger Cavalry presents a fascinating live show because these musicians focus their stage presence into capturing the sonic rush of stampeding cavalry as opposed to attempting to shoehorn sacred Mongolian traditions into popular contemporary music.

“When you travel a lot, and play from place to place, you’re already living a Nomadic lifestyle,” says Alex Abayev (Bass). “And since we’re all together, it’s like a Unity we can all feel,” chimes in Josh Schifris (Drums). Alex continues that with their music, “we can make people feel connected to the Steppes, even if they’ve never been there.”

To paraphrase from the acclaimed Coeur d’Alene author Sherman Alexie, writers from Indigenous cultures are often better off treading lightly on hallowed ground. Writing about sacred traditions and exhibiting them for public consumption outside that cultural group is an invitation for people searching to give themselves cultural capital via conspicuous consumption of “the other” (“look at how cool and open-minded I am, I saw a ~~Mongolian Metal band~~ last night”).

“When I was in high school, I listened to a lot of metal, which meant I listened to a lot of Scandinavian bands bringing traditional music into their sound,” explains Nature when I asked about the genesis of the band. “I thought, ‘well, why can’t I do this with my own culture? Why not create something brand-fucking-new?’”

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Josh Schifris

The band tells me that “talks are happening” about a future tour in Turkey and Central Asia. “We get a lot of messages from Istanbul, with fans telling us that we are their nomadic brothers.” This current tour has been a blast for the band, and despite weeks on the road, they show no signs of fatigue; if anything, they’re coping with post-tour depression now that the constant gigging has finished.

Canada has treated them well, with some of their favorite shows taking place in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Josh has asked me to include a note to Neil Peart shouting out Rush (and the Great White North in general) as major inspirations to this band.

“The most important thing is about what’s in your music,” says Nature. “We see ourselves as combining cultures, not combining genres. We’re all from different backgrounds, but we’re all in this band.”

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Nature Ganganbaigal

The band would like to express their sincere appreciation to the tour’s sponsors, Kay’s clothing (UK) Killer B Guitars, Rock N Roller, Reunion Blues, Sinister Guitar Picks, and Strukture.

 

Photos by Cem Ertekin