Lemon Bucket Orchestra_ Montreal Jazz festival

If you could only choose 5 bands

Yet another music post. What can I say? Maybe its the singing classes or the 50-odd concerts I’ve attended this year. Music is, more than ever, a huge part of my life.

I’ve had this question in mind for years now. Such a silly question but also a fun conversation piece when getting to know new people (especially music fans): If you could only listen to 5 bands (or singers) for the rest of your lives, which ones would you choose?

I hear you saying: what a terrible prospect! And it is, but idea of having to choose 5 groups forces you to make tough choices and to think about the groups that hold the most importance in your life (or that you know you will never get sick of). I mean, you would have to listen to each and every song by these bands at least 100 times, if not more.

My top 5 has barely changed in years, the first four have never changed and number 5 varied a few times (Ana Tijoux and Rufus Wainwright were in the running). So here it is.

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Teenage playlist: going back to the late 90s/early 00s

Being a teenager is weird. As the years go by, it gets harder and harder to remember how things felt and how thoughts were processed during that oh-so-moody and hormonal era. Music is one thing that brings me back to the mindset I had back then.

My view on the world was extremely limited and I, like most teens, went through a rough phase (I had to be home schooled for a year due to extreme anxiety). Yet listening to the tunes that rocked my world back then doesn’t make me sad, nor does it activate some sort of blinded nostalgia and feeling of longing for a simpler time (it sure wasn’t).

In many ways, my life is so much better than it was back then. Still, there’s something about going back to those years through the power of song,i f only for a few minutes. I wanted so bad to be a rebel back then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at it: I once bought a Marilyn Manson cassette (the one where he is naked and has the body of an androgynous doll on the cover) and proceeded to throw it away after a few hours because it freaked me out too much. A true revolutionary I was…

Attending the Vans Warped Tour in 2002-2003 and wearing a Vulgaires Machins sweatshirt was probably as close as I came to being a punk (and that says a lot).

I graduated high school in 2004. This means that my teenage years occurred at the peak of boy bands, nu-metal, christian rock and pop-punk. Musically speaking, those were confusing times and although I’m glad some of the genres didn’t survive past the first half of the decade, I can still appreciate their small contribution to the history of music.

Although there are many duds, some really good music was being made. Therefore, as an ode to the track listings of north american alternative rock radios of the late nineties/early two thousands (99.9 THE BUZZ forever!), I prepared a playlist that showcases some of my favourite songs back then. I am not ashamed to say that I still enjoy each and every one of these songs, for many different reasons.

I have always listened to a broad variety of musical genres, including during my teenage years, but these are the songs that most remind me of my teenage years:

Cover photo credit: Flickr creative commons- Ted Van Pelt

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17- Ginkakuji temple

A look back at Japan 2012

Nowadays, we only have virtual pictures. We always look at them on a screen, which is fine, but I tend to miss the idea of having a physical copy of the photos. That’s why I love creating photo books. They can be used to curate the images and to use them to tell a story. After making books about my last two major international trips, I decided that I would tackle past travels.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to write a whole book telling the story of the trip we took to Japan in 2012. Instead, I gathered some of my favourite photos which were taken during the 3 1/2 week journey.

It’s weird to think that when I came back from Japan, I told people that I hadn’t really liked it as much as I thought I would. Perhaps a part of that feeling is due to the fact that I had just lost my dad and wasn’t in the best place, mentally speaking. However, nowadays, whether due to a veil of nostalgia or a deeper understanding of the beauty of what we experienced over there, I have extremely fond memories of that trip.

Without further ado, here is Japan 2012, the book: click this link to see the PDF file.

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Concert diary: summer 2016

Last year, as I was studying at La Montaña Spanish school in Bariloche, Argentina, one of my teachers told me that he dreamed of attending the Montreal Jazz Festival. He had no idea that his simple statement would make me realize how lucky we are to have so many incredible music festivals in this lovely city, including the Jazz Fest.

This summer, I decided that I wasn’t going to take these opportunities for granted and I proceeded to take in as many concerts as I possibly could. As summer comes to an end, I feel the need to turn to the written word to look back at everything I have experienced and to think about all of the wonderful music that has resonated in my years in the past few months.

I honestly don’t know if this is going to be interesting to anyone else, but I wanted to share this long entry, partly to express how much I love music and the act of attending concerts and partly to convince people to come visit Montreal during the summer.

Here are more than 5500 words, covering over 30 concerts, comedy shows and plays:

Eagles of Death Metal and Death from Above 1979 at the Metropolis

The first of many, many concerts was a double feature: Eagles of Death Metal and Death from above 1979. This power duo gave us an unforgettably intense concert, with incredible riffs, deep percussion beats that penetrated the public straight to its bones and beautiful moments that reminded us how music can be as powerful as any drug.

Eagles of Death Metal

Death from above 1979

Lemon Bucket Orkestra with Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra at La Sala Rossa

Words can hardly express how much I have grown to love the Lemon Bucket Orkestra over the past few years. From the first time I went to see them (mostly out of curiosity), as they were playing the festival grounds during the Montreal Jazz fest, I have been hooked to their infectious live shows. In my humble opinion, they are one of the best live bands in the world (well, among those that I have seen).

The Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra is another fantastic live band, which made the combo a night to remember! Since I was there for Lemon Bucket Orchestra, I had very few expectations for the Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra, although friends had highly recommended the band’s lively concerts. La Sala Rossa is a rather small venue and both orchestras count at least 10 members.

Not known for sticking to the stage, the musicians move around the room at various moments throughout the night, resulting in an unbelievable amount of intensity. In fact, the Lemon Bucket Orchestra created such a good vibe that they decided to bring the party out to the street, occupying, for a few short moments, the main thoroughfare that is Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Defying authority, they went on to play their last songs in a lovely little park, at 2AM.

Les Francofolies de Montréal

Les Francofolies is a huge music festival which stretches out over 10 days. It is meant as a celebration of francophone music from allover the world. Francofolies festivals are also held in La Rochelle (France) and Spa (Belgium). Here are the concerts I saw at the Francos this year:

  • Labess

Labess is famous for firing up crowds and boy did they deliver on both occasions when I saw them this summer! Born in Algeria, front man Nedjim Bouizzoui moved to Montreal in 2003. He started out playing in the Montreal metro and soon made a name for himself,  adding band mates along the way. Labess is a band of fantastic musicians that meld together various influences including rumba and traditional Algerian folk music.

When listening to the albums, the dichotomy between the darkness of the lyrics and the intricacy of the melodies creates a beautiful feeling of melancholy. However, during concerts, Labess love to get their audience to dance and they turn these same songs into veritable anthems.

  • Canailles with Bernard Adamus, Stephen Faulkner, Mononc’ Serge

What ties these four artists together? In a nutshell: irreverence, country music influences, late nights at the bar and unconventional voices. Canailles was the main act of the night and they chose the other three as their guests. And what a perfect combo it was. Just looking at the night’s lineup you know you’re in for a night of raucous singalongs and dark humor. For those not familiar with these artists, here is a short summary to give an idea of their sound:

Canailles: Quebec’s best folk-Cajun party band!
Bernard Adamus: Eclectic is the word for this folk-rock singer-songwriter who sings nostalgic songs about late nights spent drinking at the bar.
Stephen Faulkner: One of Quebec’s top folk singers.
Mononc’ Serge: The South Park of singers? Mononc’ Serge (uncle Serge) is famous for his sense of humor, which may seem vulgar and childish but actually works on many levels. His sound is hard to describe, as it changes from song to song. Nails on a chalkboard could be an apt comparison (and I love him with all my heart, so this should not be perceived as a critique of his talent).

And my dear Mononc’ Serge, just for the sake of it:

  • Tomas Jensen

During the military dictatorship which occurred from 1976-1983 in Argentina, Tomas Jensen and other members of his family were forced to escape. His brothers went to Chile and Tomas and his father made their way to Brazil and later, to France. Unfortunately, his uncle was one of the thousands of victims of the junta. Eventually Tomas came to Montreal, where he has been living for nearly two decades.

He quickly started making a name^for himself in the local music scene and released several solo albums in addition to collaborating with different musicians. His latest album is all about going back to the mother land, twenty years later, and reconnecting with the past. He recorded his album in Buenos Aires, with local musicians. Back in Montreal, his show at the Francofolies festival was at times touching and lively, mostly featuring songs from his new disc.

  • Élage Diouf

Les frères Diouf (Diouf brothers) played with one of Quebec’s most popular bands Les Colocs, which is how they started out on the local scene. After recording a few albums together, the brothers took on solo careers. Élage Diouf is a true entertainer, as well as a spectacular percussionist, which makes for a fun show.

  • Pierre Lapointe

Pierre Lapointe’s music and voice aren’t for everybody. He writes highly theatrical pop music that is kooky and poetic. He is also known for being arrogant, but anyone who is somewhat of an intellectual in Quebec is accused of being full of themselves, so his vast knowledge of art, literature and music is probably being be wrongly perceived as vanity.

I was a fan for a long time and sort of lost interest in the last few years but this 10 year anniversary of the multimedia show that he prepared for the La forêt des mal aimés album was an event not to be missed. The singer wore a costume, which would’ve seemed fit for a cheap 80s space movie, but it was all part of the look. The set and lighting design were a real treat, giving a real storyline to the whole set.

  • Kleztory

The name gives a good hint about the style of music that this band plays, a mix of traditional klezmer melodies, gypsy songs and blues. Kleztory was founded in the year 2000 in Montreal and has been touring internationally ever since. It was during this concert that I realized how much I love the clarinet, which is an integral instrument in klezmer music.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste at the Esplanade du stade Olympique

Bernard Adamus
Saint-Jean-Baptiste (June 24th) is our national holiday here in Quebec. Across the province, celebrations both big and small are held in all sorts of venues, many of which are outdoors.  I’m not the most patriotic person in the world so I don’t make it a yearly obligation to attend these activities.

More often than not, the host reads the same old separatist poems and a strange collection of has been singers play their one hit wonders from 1989. Not my idea of fun. Alas, I’m being overtly cynical. This year, the amazing Bernard Adamus played a lively set near our emblematic Olympic stadium. And I have to admit, an evening of singalongs with a colourful group of fellow quebecers almost made me want to wave a flag. Almost.

Festival de Jazz de Montréal/Montreal Jazz festival

We are truly lucky here in Montreal. This relatively small francophone metropolis hosts one of the most important jazz festivals in the world. Many of the greats have played here: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astor Piazzolla, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, BB King, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Stéphane Grapelli, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Keith Jarrett and so many more. Year after year they manage to surprise us with a nice combination of artists hailing from different scenes. Here is what I saw this year:

Free shows at the Jazz Fest

  • Tokyo Chutei-Iki

A group of 13 baritone-saxophone players. You read that right, this band is all sax and they sound fantastic!

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  • Mariachi Flor de Toloache

One of the few all-female mariachi bands! A few months ago I stumbled upon a video of the performance they gave at NPR’s Tiny Desk and was left speechless. I ended up playing the video on repeat all summer and when I saw that they were playing at the Jazz fest, I knew I had to go. As expected, they gave a lovely concert. Their crisp voices and infectious personalities shone through, even though the audience remained a bit shy throughout the first half of the show.

  • John Nemeth

After Mariachi Flor de Toloache, my friends wanted to hear some blues so we headed to see John Nemeth who was playing on the other site of the festival grounds. His music isn’t exactly innovative but it really delivers in its promise of playing some good riffs and getting the audience to sing along with great enthusiasm.

  • Jamie Cullum

The British superstar was here for one of the festival’s major free events. In the past, we’ve had Ben Harper, Stevie Wonder, Amadou & Mariam, Brian Setzer Orchestra, the B52s and Rufus Wainwright playing sets in front of huge crowds at the Place des Festivals. I knew Jamie Cullum by name and had a few of his songs on my Ipod, but I wasn’t what you’d call a fan.

However, when something is free and the artist is known for being an excellent showman, it’s hard to resist checking out what the buzz is all about! Turns out that a friend of mine is a huge admirer of his. Just seeing her enjoy the show so much made it a great experience. Plus. M. Cullum obviously had a blast playing with the excellent orchestra, which included the crème de la crème of our local Montreal jazz musicians.

  • Carlos Placeres

This Cuban troubadour moved to Montreal in the late 90s and quickly gained a following by playing his festive tunes. Placeres is all about spreading joy and buenas ondas, yet when you listen carefully, his lyrics are actually quite deep. He talks about his homeland and his experience as an immigrant. For this free concert at the Jazz fest, the singer won over the crowd almost immediately and the hour went by too quickly!

  • Fanfare Ciocarla and Adrian Raso

Don’t things tend to be even better when you have no expectations? That’s what happened when my friend and I stopped by the main stage without knowing who was about to play. In fact, it took me a few songs to recognize this legendary Romanian gypsy orchestra. The confusion stemmed from the fact that they were playing with singer/guitarist Adrian Raso, who has a sound that is closer to folk, country and gypsy jazz. Once again, the musicians were in top shape and the crowd was on fire!

Paid concerts

  • Edmar Castaneda (opening for Hiromi Uehara)

A man walks onto the stage with his harp. We have no idea what’s about to happen. The main act of the night is a trio of outstanding musicians (more on that later), therefore, the audience is filled with music lovers here to enjoy elaborate musical arrangements. Edmar Castaneda smiles at the audience and starts plucking the strings of his instrument. Soon, the room is filled with a rich melody, which actually sounds like it is emerging from at least five instruments. After he plays the last note, the audience immediately rises to its feet to give him a standing ovation.

Castaneda only played a handful of songs but we were treated to a great showcase of his talents. And I love the fact that he played a sequence from Libertango, one of Astor Piazzolla’s most famous compositions.

  • Hiromi Uehara

My stepmother introduced me to the music and colourful personality of Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara. Now in her late thirties, Uehara has been playing the piano for over three decades. Her talent was quickly recognized on the international music scene and before turning eighteen, she shared the stage with legendary jazz musician Chick Corea.

Proving that she was much more than just a cute kid with a lot of skills, Hiromi Uehara graduated at the top of her class at the Berklee College of Music and soon after getting her diploma, she started releasing albums which garnered a lot of praise.

The style of music she plays, which is often categorized as jazz fusion, is not for everyone. Yet even those who aren’t moved by these types of harmonies will be convinced by the sheer level of virtuosity that is displayed here. If not, perhaps Hiromi Uehara’s bubbly personality will win them over. With a constant smile on her face, dressed in an outfit that could only be described as unconventional for this type of setting, the pianist happily plays even the most complicated partitions.

With her on stage are two legends: bassist Anthony Jackson (Buddy Rich, Roberta Flack, Bireli Lagrene, Michel Petrucciani) and drummer Simon Philips (Jeff Beck, Tears for Fears, Judas Priest, The Who). The masterful trio has been playing together for the several years now. They appear to communicate extremely well and all three remain surprisingly humble considering their standing as musicians. It was a beautiful sight to witness as a spectator.

  • Jazz Street boyz (opening for Preservation Hall Jazz Band)

New Orleans and Montreal share a love for jazz. The Big Easy produces musicians and Montreal brings them over to play. But we also have our own local jazz scene with many talented players. The members of the Jazz Street Boyz bring together the best of both worlds: sounds that are borrowed from New Orleans jazz clubs mixed with a touch of Montreal flair. Opening for the Preservation Hall Jazz band was an incredible opportunity for these guys and although they seemed visibly nervous at first, they managed to win the audience over with their contagious good vibes.

  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The word legendary gets thrown around a lot but in this case no other term could capture how much of a reputation this band has garnered over their 50 years of existence. The Preservation Hall is actually a venue on Bourbon street, in the famous French Quarter of New Orleans. The band is an in-house band, playing several nights a week. They also tour extensively, bringing their festive set to cities around the world. Dozens of musicians have been a part of the group in the past few decades.

The current line-up has been stable since 2014 and includes members of all ages. Clarinet player Charlie Gabriel was actually celebrating his 84th birthday on the night when the band was playing in Montreal, so we were lucky to sing him Happy Birthday.

Although the band had to urge the audience to get out of their seats at the beginning, by the end of the show, everybody was dancing and enjoying themselves. For my part, since I had missed the opportunity to see them when I visited their beloved hometown, I was incredibly happy to attend this unforgettable concert.

Free concerts in the park

Ayrad at Parc Laurier

A running theme this year is that I went to see many of the bands that are a part of the local “World” music scene. I dislike that word, as it sort of squishes together anything that isn’t anglo-saxon, in terms of music. Thankfully, it doesn’t manage to erase the fact that there are so many fascinating musical traditions out there. Montreal is incredibly diverse and music from allover the world is being created here by groups formed by Canadians both born here and new.

Ayrad’s members hail from all corners of the world. Most of their songs include lyrics sung in arabic laid over a mix of berber, andalucian, reggae and raï sounds. This video is what turned me on to their music and I immediately fell in love with their warmth. The concert was a perfect Montreal Moment, with friends and families setting up blankets on the ground in front of the stage and enjoying the perfect summer evening.

Mamselle Ruiz at Parc Médéric Martin
Mamselle Ruiz will put a spell on you. The splendid Mexican diva is able to captivate the audience with just the sound of her voice. Despite the word I used, diva, she isn’t here to impress with her vocal gymnastics. Instead, she uses her skills to act more as a storyteller, recounting stories of death, spirits, witches and other tales of folklore. That’s not to say that her musicians aren’t good. Quite the contrary!

For this intimate gig in a small neighborhood park, she brought along two musicians, both of which highly compensated for the fact that the group usually includes at least two other players. Multitasking as best they could, the band, and Ruiz, also dealt gracefully with a few technically glitches, which never dampened the mood. The kids kept on dancing, the audience kept on singing along, the sun rays kept on descending behind the trees and everything about that evening was perfect .

Orchestre Métropolitain on top of Mont-Royal

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a global superstar in the making. The conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain just took on an extra job as musical director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, no less. He plans to keep on working in Montreal but since we may be seeing less of him, this opportunity for a free concert on the top of Mont Royal simply could not be missed.

The theme of the night was Czech composers: Smetana and Dvorak to be precise. Thousands crowded the belvedere, yet considering how silent the crowd remained throughout the show, just trying to take it all in, it was easy to forget that we were in the middle of the city, with a bunch of skyscrapers standing behind us. The only creatures who didn’t get the memo about keeping quiet were the cicadas who sang their ode to the heat and humidity, but Nézet-Séguin and his musicians just played along with them.

Festival Nuits d’Afrique

This festival is another of the major musical festivals that are held in Montreal during the summer.  Although the name refers to Africa, the artists that are invited to perform here hail from allover the world. Last year, Chilean superstars Chico Trujillo played a free concert where thousands of people, chileno or not, came to dance along to their highly festive songs.

  • Orquesta Aragon

Growing up, everyone has a beloved group or a singer that they heard when they went to their grandparent’s house. For me, it was Georges Brassens. For my Spanish teacher Maya, who grew up in Cuba, it was Orquesta Aragon. She told the class about the fact that they were coming to play a free show at the Nuits d’Afrique festival and we decided to go as a group to share this moment together. We were not familiar with Orquesta Aragon, who are living legends in Cuba. Founded in 1939, they have accompanied generations of Cubans, including Maya, who told us that for a moment, she felt that she was back in her homeland, without a care in mind.

Musically speaking, Orquesta Aragon is a traditional ensemble, known as a charanga, and they play a variety of styles including  cha cha cha, pachanga, son and danzon.

  • Labess

When I saw that Labess was playing again, I knew that I couldn’t miss this opportunity, especially at the Nuits d’Afrique Festival.

  • K-iri

When someone opens their mouth to sing and the audience is automatically stunned into silence, basically hanging on to every note and every word, you know you’ve got something good. That’s what happened the first time I saw K-iri. A friend of mine organized a small art event and between poets and theatrical performances, she had scheduled a set by this lovely duo. Their songs, all original compositions, are carried by a simple guitar, a violin and two soft voices, often meeting together in dazzling harmonies. They only played a few songs but received a rapturous applause from the crowd.

A few weeks later, K-Iri played under a dome at Nuits d’Afrique, after Labess. Along with their families, I think I was one of their most enthusiastic fans!

Forum Social Mondial opening concert

This year, Montreal hosted the World Social Forum/ Forum Social Mondial  which is held every year in a different city. It was the first time that the forum was held in a “First world” country. Over the course of a week or so, hundreds of civil society organizations meet and hold different events dedicated to various themes like social justice, the environment, politics and democracy.

During the opening celebrations, several local musicians that are known for their activism came together for a concert. The music actually started early in the evening but my friend and I were there to see specific bands so we started out by wandering around the site, mingling with people all here to represent their own cause, like Argentinians denouncing the imprisonment of Milagro Salas, or Brazilians protesting against interim president Michel Temer.

As the sun started to set, the real fiesta started, with Tomas Jensen, Mamselle Ruiz, Bia, Marco Calliari and others sharing the stage and singing a few classic protest songs like anti-fascist anthem Bella Ciao. Finally, to properly cap the evening, the always amazing Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra filled the stage with their unmatched energy.

As tradition goes, they ended the show in the middle of the audience. I actually heard a guy saying that this was the best show he had ever seen in his life. I wouldn’t go that far myself but that’s what this band does to people. They have the ability to federate the crowd and to bring so much joy to those that are watching them play. Everyone feels like they are taking part in something, and it can be such a lovely experience.

Boogat at Jardins Gamelin

I’ve been following Boogat’s career for a while now. Born in Quebec City to immigrant parents (Paraguay and Mexico), Boogat started rapping and singing back in 1996. In the past few years, he has started reconnecting with his roots, exploring more and more what it means to be Latino while growing up in another culture (or two, since Quebec and Canada are fairly distinct).

He mentioned in an interview that when people asked him what were his origins, he used to see it as racism, like this people were trying to classify him as a minority, automatically excluding him from the rest. Over time, he realized that it was just about them being curious and wanting to learn more about his cultural heritage. This prompted him to want to write about different things that affected him and his family, like the immigrant experience here in Quebec or the idea of leaving one’s home country.

On his last two albums, all the songs are in Spanish (whereas he mixed in some French in the past).  Between songs about Portuguese chicken and Sunday afternoons hanging out on Mont Royal, he includes some politically charged tunes, sharing the experience of a Mexican farm worker in the USA or criticizing the fact that many Canadians travel to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, never bothering to interact with locals. His music is a mix of Cumbia, Rap, Reggae, Pop and Samba, among other things. Now living in Mexico CIty for a while, Boogat stopped by for a nice outdoor concert at the amazing Jardins Gamelin.

Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra at Les Jardineries

Well, what can I say that hasn’t already been said in the other paragraphs. 4 times this summer. That goes to show how much I like this band.

Other indoor concerts

Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra at La Sala Rossa

Yes. Again. And there will be many other times.

(use your mouse to move the camera around, this is a 360 degree video)

Album launch party for Les Deuxluxes at La Tulipe

This was the last concert that I attended in the summer of 2016 and what a way to end such a musical (and magical) summer! I first heard les Deuxluxes right around the time when everyone was obsessing over the first season of True Detective. Set in a dark  and dreary version of Louisiana, the soundtrack of the show was quite gorgeously and hauntingly dramatic, as were the decors and the story. Legendary producer and musician T Bone Burnett was in charge of picking the songs, which were a mix of blues, americana, folk, country and rock & roll.

So when I heard the deep voice of Anna Frances Meyer, singing along to fellow band member Étienne Barry’s bluesy guitar, it brought me back to that same mood and mindset. Les Deuxluxes are from Montreal but they might as well have met in a dive bar in Memphis. Their look is pure rock & roll and their music is a mix of different influences, with a nice retro edge.

Singer Anna Frances is actually a classically trained singer, which gives her voice a lot of depth and vocal range. On September 15th, the feisty duo released their latest disc at Cabaret La Tulipe and their live show truly lived up to the amount of energy that pumps up their songs. Only complaint: they change instruments so often that between songs, there was always a bit of a lull, which didn’t keep the groove going! But they are both a treat to watch.

Shows that weren’t music

Comedy shows at Zoofest and the Just for Laughs comedy festival
Bref at Monument National (6 comedians that worked on this video series)

Bref is a french comedy series that ran in 2011-2012. Each episode lasted approximately 2 minutes, but contained enough twists to cover way more than that. However, one of the main draws of this series was its fast rhythm, which made it so fun to watch. The actors became famous in France (and somewhat known here in Quebec). 5 years later, they reunited on stage for a stand-up comedy show, which actually had nothing to do with the series, except for the fact that all of the comics that were featured during the set had something to do with Bref. Great, great fun. Just one little note to French comics though: enough with the caribou jokes. We get it. It’s been done a thousand times. (For those who don’t know, a caribou is an animal that is a part of our folkore and for some reason, French people are obsessed with them and are convinced that here in Canada, caribous are everywhere. I honestly don’t even know someone who’s every seen one in real life…)

Mado’s got talent (free outdoor drag and talent show at Just for Laughs festival)

The clip is not a part of the show but gives you an idea of the spirit of famous drag queen Mado and her girls. She runs a cabaret in the Gay Village where every night is drag night. I love that place and have had so much fun attending those crazy events ever since I arrived in Montreal. Mado truly is a Montreal icon.

Sugar Sammy (free outdoor show at Just for Laughs festival)

I am not always into Sugar Sammy’s sense of humor but I love, love, love the fact that this is a bilingual show. Going from French to English seamlessly over the course of one sentence makes it feel so undeniably Montreal. It was a free show, so why not?

Documentary theater

Pôle Sud- documentaires scéniques by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette and Émile Proulx-Cloutier

If I had to create a list of people that I admire in life, Anais Barbeau-Lavalette would definitely be on it. She is an accomplished author, documentary filmmaker and playwright.

What I love about her is that she always has such a poetic way of presenting both the story and its protagonists. She never gives in to prejudices, nor does she employ any cliches in the way that she portrays her subjects.

Barbeau-Lavalette herself has lead an incredible life. She has traveled all over the world, including in places where many people are afraid to go. Yet the stories she tells rarely ever focus on her experience. Rather, she prefers to give a voice to people who normally don’t.

With that in mind, after spending a lot of time immersing herself in foreign countries, Barbeau-Lavalette decided to leave her travel backpack at home for awhile. Instead, she went out to explore the streets around her house, with just a pen and a voice recorder in hand.

Centre-Sud is a low-income area near Downtown Montreal. Its population grew in the early 20th century, as many factories opened in the area. However, most of these factories closed during the post World-War-II period, leaving entire families living in poverty.

Unfortunately, the poorest of the poor were not able to move away in search of new jobs and living conditions in Centre-Sud progressively worsened. To this day, although there are some forms of improvement, it is still one of the areas with the lowest life expectancy and the lowest median income in Montreal.

As far back as the 50s, residents of Centre-Sud were seen as poorly educated and were treated as second-class citizens. Barbeau-Lavalette’s perspective in this live-action documentary was to meet locals who have grown up and/or spent most of their life in this neighborhood and to get them to tell their story.

The method she chose to bring everyone together is particularly interesting. Instead of going with a traditional documentary, as she often has, Barbeau-Lavalette and her partner Émile Proulx-Cloutier decided to use the stage to give the peoples’ life stories a whole other dimension. One after the other, the protagonists came on stage to “act out” their real life.

The people on stage are not actors, they are real people playing themselves. Barbeau-Lavalette met and interviewed each person separately, in the comfort of their own home or at a place that has special meaning to them. The interview is played as a soundtrack, which the audience hears as they watch the person going about their daily tasks, using their own furniture and objects. Between each story, the set is slightly changed, recreating a small piece of the next person’s environment, which gives further insight into their life and helps to carry the audience from one story to another. Barbeau-Lavalette is present on stage but she never interacts with the protagonists. Her presence is closer to that of a ghost, observing from afar.

Although it does aim to show us extremely private moments in these peoples’ lives, Poles-Sud documentaires scéniques is never voyeuristic. Rather, it reminds us that everyone has a unique story. Beyond prejudices,  these people who often aren’t invited to participate in any form of public discourse, whose experiences are not taken into account, get to share who they are on their own terms. That is the power of this new form of documentary making. Gone is the screen separating the audience from the people being featured.

One small anecdote perfectly describes this new proximity which was created by the show: after the standing ovation, people stayed near the theater’s entrance and chatted with the participants. Espace Libre, where the event took place, is actually located in Centre-Sud. Most of their programming features experimental theater and contemporary performances. Despite the fact that it is located in their backyard, locals rarely frequent this venue, which is seen inaccessible to them. Barbeau-Lavalette chose this place on purpose, to create a true dialogue between the often rich, somewhat bourgeois audience and the residents of Centre-Sud.

As a result, people who don’t usually mingle were brought together, quickly pushing past the mundane small talk and forming true camaraderie. I guarantee that no one in that room came away unmoved. In a world where it is way too easy to remain in your own little comfort zone, we need more shows like this, which shake us up in a way that is both gentle and vigorous at the same time.

Upcoming concerts and events:

Just because summer is over doesn’t mean that it’s time to start hibernating! Here are a few of the events that I plan to attend in the coming weeks:

A conversation with Iggy Pop : David Bowie is gone, Lou Reed and Prince too, Brian Wilson is retiring… There’s no way I would’ve missed the opportunity to see one of the last remaining legends of the 60s-70s. This isn’t a concert, Iggy Pop will be chatting with a local music journalist about his career and his life. This should be fascinating.

Adib Alkalidey

A comic I love.

Lemon Bucket Orkestra

This band definitely makes it into the top 10 things that I love about life. They are that good.

Seu Jorge: The life aquatic, a tribute to David Bowie

I love Seu Jorge and I loved his Bowie tribute album which served as a soundtrack for the Wes Anderson movie The life aquatic with Steve Zissou. All the more touching now that Bowie has left this planet.

Noel Métissé serré

Around Christmas time, Boucar Diouf, the only comic/philosopher/story teller/ marine biologist I know of, will be hosting a coneert with other lovely guests Le Vent du Nord (traditional Quebec music) and Patrice Michaud (folk singer).

A storytelling home_ Avant les rues

Cultural Diary pt. 4

So, these past few weeks have been crazy!

I can’t say I’ve got anything to complain about: this year I can finally take advantage of all the amazing things that are happening in Montreal during this time of the year. Just this past weekend, I went to five concerts and saw a live taping of a radio show that I love (La soirée est encore jeune). This city is truly an amazing place to be in the summer. The best part is that things are barely getting started! So, what I’m saying is, if you’ve never spent time in Montreal during the summer, what are you waiting for?

Anyways, here are a few things that I saw, heard and read in the last few weeks:

Movies

Avant les rues/Before the streets

It’s a shame that in Canada, so few movies feature stories about First Nation peoples. In Quebec, a film studio called Wapikoni Mobile does a great job trying to bring cinema to these communities and giving them the opportunity to tell their stories using that format. However, these films are rarely seen by a wide audience. That’s why movies like Before the streets are so important.

The story is centered around a young man named Shawnouk, who on the brink of adulthood, struggles to find motivation in his daily life. Early on in the film, he finds himself stuck in a bad situation, which ends up forcing him to face his guilt and his anger issues. Life isn’t easy on the reservation. Around him, alcohol and drug use are a part of the daily regimen for many of his peers. His sister, obviously underaged, is the reluctant mother of a toddler. Jobs are scarce and everyone carries heavy emotional burdens related to their own past and that of their ancestors.

As Shawnouk searches for a way to channel his anger, he ends up delving into a number of traditional rituals, rekindling his connection with the natural environment that surrounds him. Though in no way a magical remedy to his troubles, this form of treatment helps put his problems into perspective.

Before the streets is a deep, stunningly beautiful film, spoken almost entirely in the Atikamekw language. All the more impressive, considering that this is Chloe Leriche’s first full-length feature and that most of the actors are amateurs.

Demain

Demain means tommorrow in french. In this case, tomorrow as in “The future”. Where other documentaries focus on everything that is about to go wrong in our world, Demain was made specifically to take a bit of weight off our shoulders so we feel up to the challenge. The film starts off talking about the horrifying predictions that we’ve all heard a hundred times: upcoming exctinctions, war, pollution, famine and all that jazz.

Yet after a few minutes spent covering the bad news, the film’s narrators tell us that they’re going to look at what we’re doing right. Along with a group of friends working in the film industry, actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) and author Cyril Dion set out around the world to find small and medium scale initiatives that are truly making an impact. They travel to the U.K., the U.S.A., India, Scandinavia and France in order to speak to people who found simple ways of doing their part to make the world a better place. These solutions are fairly easy to apply and could be replicated in most parts of the world. Throughout the film, we meet people who, after getting tired of waiting for the government to act, decided to take matters into their own hands. Lots of great ideas are covered in different fields: economy, transportation, ecology, agriculture, education and democracy, among other things.

All in all, Demain is an interesting that should be seen by a large audience. However, there is one aspect of the film that could’ve been improved, which is the fact that these new ideas seem overtly positive. They never talk about potential drawbacks or limitations within these models. Maybe I feel that way because I have witnessed one of these models failing firsthand (local money). Nonetheless, this documentary’s positive aspects far outweigh the negative and I’m sure many people will feel inspired by it.

Serial Mom

I put this movie on my Netflix list, not knowing that it was a John Waters flick, Once I saw his name pop up on the screen, I knew I was in for a fun ride. Serial Mom is one of his most “standard” movies (no genuine dog poop eating scenes in this one!). Still, the storytelling and the plot reflect Waters’ view on normalcy: a typical suburban housewife who just happens to love hurting and murdering people. Sound too dramatic? Well, it’s all so over-the-top that it plays out hilariously. Kathleen Turner is perfectly wicked as the mom and Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake and Mathew Lillard balance things out as the naïve husband, the self-absorbed teenage girl and the horror-movie-obsessed son. The whole film is a blast. Absolutely delightful!

Books

Shrill by Lindy West

Oh, Lindy… Yes, I know… I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with this girl!

Lindy West is a writer, sharing her hilarious yet thought-provoking prose on various platforms, namely, The Guardian. I became a fan of her work back when she was writing for pop culture feminist blog Jezebel. Already, she had developed her distinctive style, gathering numerous fans, as well as an astonishing number of haters, along the way.

See, Lindy West has had it with the bullshit. As a woman in comedy, she’d heard one too many rape jokes where the victim is the butt of the joke. One particular incident that sparked West’s ire happened when a famous comedian told an audience member, when she made it known that she didn’t enjoy his rape joke, that it would be funny if she was raped by five men at that very moment. West felt the need to react in writing. At first, the article was one of many other cries of outrage. However, eventually, West became seen as the poster girl for feminist outrage and along with it, PC culture.

This whole controversy had created a divide between feminists and many comedians who found that their fellow comic had every right to say what he said, not matter how offensive it was. These comedians have huge followings, a portion of which are misogynist men’s rights activists. As a result, West became a prime target for a wide and relentless group of internet commenters, who filled up comment sections under each and every one of her articles with rape threats, insults and comments about her size (yes, Lindy West knows she is fat, no need to point it out). One man even went as far as creating a Twitter account using her recently deceased father’s identity to send her messages.

Strong as she is, West had never faced so much hatred.  Eventually, the intense volume of trolls decreased, though it never dissapeared. With all this experience being a woman sharing an opinion on the Internet, West decided to write a memoir. Shrill is glorious, consistently hilarious and beautifully self-aware. It tells the story of a lady who doesn’t exactly know how she found her voice and doesn’t really know what to say when people ask her how to be strong like her. What she does know is that she’s not afraid anymore and that she’s not going to be shut down by other peoples’ opinions. I love her.

Comic Book

L’arabe du futur volume 2 by Riad Sattouf

After reading the excellent but very light Retour au collège I was intrigued to find out more about Riad Sattouf and to read his other, more deeply autobiographical books. Born in Paris to a French mother and a Syrian father, Saatouf spent a good part of his childhood living in Lebanon and Syria. In a series called l’Arabe du futur (Arab of the futur), Sattouf illustrates the stories of his childhood. Through the eyes of a kid, we see countries that nearly always on the brink of war, dictatorship and other horrors. Nonetheless, the tone of the books remains quite positive, with many hilarious anecdotes. I can’t wait to read the first and the upcoming third tome of the series!

Music

Concerts I’ve seen in the last few weeks: Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra/Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Death from above 1979/Eagles of Death Metal, Tomas Jensen, Élage Diouf, Pierre Lapointe, Klezstory and Canailles/Bernard Adamus/Stephen Faulkner/Mononc’ Serge. All were amazing concerts.

Here is what has been playing on repeat on my IPOD these last few weeks: